• Friday, May 17, 2024
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Whither Nigeria’s higher education system?


Akin Yusuf

I feel deeply sad and terrible writing this piece as our Universities have once more come under lock and key. My sadness arises mainly from the fact that I am part of this system. Quite frankly, I have tried to pull out on a number of occasions, but the more I tried, the more I realized that this is one job that gives me real fulfillment. Working as a University teacher could also be infectious. In spite of the material deprivations that one goes through on a daily basis, yet, the job shields you from the seeming confusion in the larger society. It also disciplines you and further enables you to lay very little emphasis on material well being rather directing you to the search for knowledge, which is the real source of ultimate happiness. Of course, this may not be comprehensible to anyone who does not belong to this group; again, it is also for this reason that many University teachers are often tagged eccentric or utopian. In fact, any University don worth his onions is essentially a contented person, more interested in impacting knowledge, while deriving a sense of fulfillment in the exemplary behavior as well as overall success of his students.

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Having said that, it is self evident that economic and social developments especially since the 16th century have been driven by the advancement and application of knowledge. Education in general and particularly higher education is fundamental to the construction of a knowledge economy and society. It is also true to say that society of the 21st century is facing a myriad of problems including raging conflicts, biting poverty and hunger, deteriorating environment as well as limited natural resources. Hence, the clue to addressing these issues and at the same time advance the steps of mankind lies in deep contemplation based on the free thinking of individuals propelled by a sound higher education system. This is given that a modern university for instance, is a large, complex organization with multiple stakeholders, increasingly involved in a world of global competition yet, at home, the subject of much probing and public scrutiny.

It is against this background that in its latest bid to rise to great power status, China has recently been spending billions of dollars to transform its Universities especially by wooing top scholars and building cutting-edge research facilities. Of course, the result is self evident. Also, in the past few days, higher education students in Germany have been staging protests against the deplorable condition of the sector. They have criticized their overcrowded classrooms, crumbling campuses and rising tuitions while calling on their governments to “back education and not banks”. This is in spite of the fact that six German Universities are presently among the top global one hundred.
Given the foregoing and against the backdrop of Nigeria’s quest to join the top twenty economies by 2020, one would have expected that education would be accorded a pride of place in national planning and resource allocation. To the contrary, Nigeria’s education and in particular higher education system is bedeviled by poor funding, shortage of quality staff, dearth of infrastructure, near total absence of current books and journals, cultism, infringement of institutional autonomy and freedoms, disharmony among Unions, inconsistent and ill-conceived policies, amongst others. But poor funding seems to be the greatest challenge, resulting in poor remuneration of staff, persistent unrest (cult practices, strikes etc), brain drain, inadequate facilities etc. In the midst of global competition for world class status, Nigeria’s higher educational system has continued to depend on limited sources of funding including: support from federal and state governments constituting more than 98% of the recurrent costs and 100% of capital costs; student contributions towards living expenses on campuses constituting less than 1% of the total operating costs of institutions; private contributions by commercial organizations in the form of occasional grants for specific purposes; and, interest earnings on short term bank deposits and rent on properties. Other sources include endowments, fees/levies, gifts and aid from international organizations. In the face of dwindling government resources and other competing needs public funding of Universities in Nigeria has also suffered tremendously.
It was arguably in a bid to get around this problem that government decided to liberalize the education sector leading to the debut of private higher institutions of learning. That these private institutions have joined the fray to clamour for additional funds even from government only goes to show the enormity of this challenge.
In the circumstance, we seem to have very limited choices. First, an internationally competitive higher educational system is a sure step in building an economy that will bring home the dividends of globalization. Hence, Nigeria should aim at providing its citizens with necessary skills to compete internationally. Second, world class higher education is necessary to incubate and support the development of local/indigenous businesses. Nigeria’s goal therefore should be to establish a system that is unsurpassed in the world; which will use the ever-expanding frontiers of knowledge to create the highest quality of research and teaching; and, at the same time, serve our youths, our nation, region and global communities at the leading edge.

Let me conclude by saying that the on-going strike by different Unions in Nigeria’s Universities is not at all in the interest of this sector that is already at its nadir. Government should therefore go out of its way to immediately find a solution. We cannot afford to play politics with our educational system, which in deed is our future. This also agrees with the common Chinese proverb, which says that “if you are thinking a year, sow seed. If you are thinking ten years, plant tree. If you are thinking one hundred years, educate the people. By sowing a seed you will harvest once; by planting a tree you will harvest ten fold; and, by educating the people you will harvest one hundred fold”.