By Simeon Nwakaudu
For those Nigerians and non-Nigerians who have carefully observed proceedings around and within the public universities, this is the era of growth. Make no mistakes; there are very serious challenges, but the process towards attaining the days of glory are effectively in place.
It is common to hear people weep bitterly over the decaying infrastructure in our schools, the lack of research projects and the poorly trained graduate and other real issues bedevilling university education. While these challenges are present with us, they are being tackled frontally for the improvement of these institutions and the university system.
The high level political will to ensure quality university education for Nigerians has been at an all-time high under the Jonathan administration. Managements of public universities and owners of private schools are aware that should the hammer of the regulatory commission, the National Universities Commission, NUC, fall on them, no recourse to political godfathers would save them. The case of the University of Abuja is a clear example. The NUC stood its ground, while it received maximum support from the Federal Ministry of Education on the issue of the accreditation of four courses. Today, that university has carefully addressed the anomaly pointed out by the regulatory commission. This has been to the overall benefit of the system.
Flowing from the issues that arose during the accreditation crisis that rocked the University of Abuja, the NUC has taken the principled stance that no university in the country will be allowed to run a course unless it passes through its rigorous test of accreditation. If you go ahead without NUC’s approval, you do so at your own risk.
The strong and responsive decisions that have been taken by the NUC will in the long run completely change the fortunes of university education in the country. As expected, such courageous moves are being resisted by some ‘stakeholders’ who believe that NUC’s success would amount to them losing the strongholds of ‘their pots of pecuniary benefits’.
However, the re-positioning of our public universities remains an agenda far more important than the benefits that accrue to any single individual. The Federal Government is working committedly towards ensuring that the nation’s public universities climb the international universities ranking scheme.
To the Supervising Minister of Education, Barr. Ezenwo Nyesom Wike, the vision of the Federal Government is to ensure that in the next few years, Nigerian universities will be amongst the best 40 globally.
He said that he is convinced that this goal can be achieved because of the enormous strategic work being carried out by the NUC with the active support of the Tertiary Education Trust Fund, TETFund.
According to the Minister: “In the next few years, I have a vision that our public universities will be ranked amongst the best 40 in the world. My vision is premised on the wonderful job being done by the NUC. The Executive Secretary of that commission, Prof. Julius Okojie is a determined and courageous Nigerian, who has carefully worked hard to implement the policies and programmes of the Jonathan administration in this regard.
“NUC may have its challenges, but it has performed creditably well. It has been directly involved in the development of critical manpower for our universities, the historic establishment of new public and private universities and the maintenance of acceptable standards in our universities. As we speak, Nigerians are beginning to have confidence in the outputs of universities and I believe that better results are ahead of us”.
Two years ago, the Jonathan administration assured Nigerian academics that it will resume the funding of research programmes to kick-start the process of innovation and economic recovery of the nation. When that promise was made, it seemed far-fetched. Many academics derided it. Two years down the line, the Federal Government has fulfilled its solemn pledge. It has allocated N2billion for the National Research Fund domiciled at TETFund. Now, the ball is in the court of academics that can prove their mettle and make fundable proposals. Anyone who claims that government is not funding research is either a liar or simply a mischief maker.
On Tuesday 12th November, 2013, the Supervising Minister of Education, Barr. Wike disbursed research funds to the first batch of beneficiaries. A total sum of N266, 570,615.00 was disbursed to 13 successful first batch beneficiaries whose research proposals were considered relevant and approved by the Board of Trustees of TetFund.
TETFund established committees of technocrats that worked on the proposals of different academics before arriving at the 13 with fundable research proposals.
The National Research Fund is open to every tertiary institution to access in the following research categories: humanities/social sciences; science, technology and innovation; and other crosscutting areas relevant to the national development.
Wike summed the revival process taking place in the nation’s university system thus: “I must say that from inception, the Federal Government under President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan is, and has been committed to the funding of higher education and basic research as a means to stimulate economic development, spur innovation and advance Nigeria’s global competitiveness. This partly informs Mr. President’s unprecedented decision to establish the twelve specialized universities and to invest massively in the on-going rehabilitation of infrastructure and retooling of the existing ones.”
With the execution of key infrastructural and manpower development programmes across the public universities landscape, it is certain that the country has deliberately moved into the era of sustained improvement of our university system.
Simeon Nwakaudu is the Special Assistant (Media) to the Supervising Minister of Education.