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*Nigerians Deserve Quality Education
By Ifeatu Agbu
There is no disputing the fact that education is the key to any country’s significant development. In spite of this, however, many developing countries fail to give priority to the sector. Policy makers in these countries know too well that knowledge is the fuel that fires the engine of growth. It is for this reason that UNICEF recommends that developing countries should appropriate 26 per cent of their annual budget to the education sector. Unfortunately, this has been largely ignored by most of these governments, including Nigeria.
The situation in Nigeria is particularly worrisome because one would expect that a nation with vast oil wealth should use a substantial part of its resources to develop its human capital. It is indeed ironic that Nigeria, despite her oil wealth is sharing the dark basement with highly illiterate societies. A recent Global Monitoring Report on education shows that Nigeria is one of only 10 countries that account for 72 per cent of the global total number of 796 million illiterate adults. It is also one of the 15 countries with more than half of the world’s 23.6 million out-of-school children.
Owing to the rot in our educational system, many young Nigerians are now queuing up in foreign embassies to obtain visas to study abroad, even in fellow African countries like Ghana and South Africa, where the learning conditions are better. Unfortunately, the government appears to be nibbling at the problem rather than tackling it holistically. Just recently, the Federal Government approved nine new federal universities to bring the total of universities in the country to 117. Ordinarily, one would say the more the merrier. But that is not the case here, as the problem of funding the universities and education generally is still largely unaddressed. ( Continues below….. )
Photo Above: Map of Nigeria showing its 36 states and capital (Abuja or FCT)
Logically, there are chances that the new universities would face the same financial predicament as the ones before them. So, increasing the number of universities may not solve any problems for the beleaguered education system. Even those in the system acknowledge this. The Vice-chancellor of Oshun State University, Professor Sola Akinrinade, agrees that new universities would expand access to higher education but reasoned that "the dearth of qualified lecturers and other challenges facing university education ought to have been resolved before the creation of new universities."
The Minister of Education, Ruqqayatu Rufai has a ready explanation. She said that the decision of the Federal Government to establish the universities was informed by the desire to provide access to university education to a larger number of qualified candidates who are annually stranded due to lack of carrying capacity by the existing universities.
As if to buttress this point, the Registrar of the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board, JAMB, Prof. ‘Dibu Ojerinde, said that only 16 per cent of 1.4 million candidates seeking admission in 2011 can be offered placements because of low carrying capacity of the universities. “We are worried. There are children who want to go to university, but cannot go because the carrying capacity is defined by National Universities Commission (NUC), considering personnel, infrastructure, etc”. He gave a graphic example with the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, where 7,000 candidates qualified to study medicine but it had only 150 slots.
The need for more universities notwithstanding, the President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Professor Ukachukwu Awuzie frowns at the rush to set up new ones. He warned that establishing new universities without commensurate funding would be counter-productive and argued that existing universities could have been expanded to achieve the same objective.
Without exception, all the existing public universities run by the Federal and state governments are in dire financial straits. Mr. Ayo Olowe, the chairman of ASUU, University of Lagos chapter, said that the fund allocated to education is too small for the country to make meaningful progress in the sector. "In a situation whereby they (FG) are spending less than two per cent of the national budget on education, as opposed to UNESCO's standard of 26 per cent; portrays the government as unserious," he said. ( Continues below..... )
Photo Above: Members of Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) protesting in Enugu, Enugu State, Nigeria in September last year (2010). Click For Enlarged Photo
The appalling situation in our universities is all too obvious and it shows in the acute shortage of lecture halls, laboratories, libraries, and hostel accommodation. The quality of teaching in the universities is equally below standard. This is even made worse by the influx of unserious lecturers into the academia. Consequently, not one university in Nigeria is among the top 50 universities in Africa, and none is ranked among the top 3,000 universities in the world.
This is totally unacceptable. The federal and state governments that are owners of most of the universities should demonstrate their commitment to quality education by meeting the UNESCO’s standard of 26 per cent allocation to the sector. The government should also set irreducible minimum international standards for private universities, some of which are really no more than glorified secondary schools were anything goes as long as they collect their unmerited high fees.
Time was, when our universities were ranked among the best in the word. For instance, the University of Ibadan was once the fourth best university in the commonwealth. To regain this past glory, engagement of quality lecturers is key. The universities must therefore reinvent themselves by persuading their best graduating students to come back as was the case in the past, to become graduate assistants. The universities should sponsor them for masters and doctorate programmes in some of the best universities in the world.
Producing quality lecturers should not be left for universities alone. Government and their agencies as well as the private sector should also key into it by offering scholarships for post graduate studies. Some of the oil companies and state governments have done well in this regard. Only recently, the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, for the first time since it was established over 10 years ago, instituted overseas post graduate scholarship programme. ( Continues below….. )
Photo Above: President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria
The Managing Director of the commission, Mr. Chibuzor Ugwoha, explained that the scheme was essentially for the people of the region, who wished to pursue Masters and Doctorate degree programmes in science-related courses in foreign universities. Ultimately, the post-graduate training would upgrade the knowledge of the students and make them more marketable.
The commission has also started a Petroleum Engineering/ Drilling Graduate Training Programme for indigenes of the Niger Delta as part of efforts to make the local content policy of the federal government a reality. Mr. Ugwoha said that the trainees would, among others, be equipped with fundamentals of oil and gas exploitation, well site safety, both onshore and offshore, basics of hydrocarbon, well-logging with special emphasis in abnormal pressure evaluation.“The good news about this programme is that all participants are engineering graduates of tertiary institutions and the trainers are experts brought in from the oil fields in the United States and beyond” Ugwoha said.
Another agency of government that is also contributing significantly to producing post graduate students is the Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF). It has so far trained 1,800 scholars at the Masters level and 250 at the Doctoral level in top ranked universities specialising in oil and gas courses in the United Kingdom.
The Executive Secretary of the Fund, Engr. Muttaqha Rabe Darma said the Fund has started domesticating its Masters Degree Programmes following significant progress made in upgrading the physical infrastructure and teaching facilities of some Nigerian Universities. This is good news.
The upgrading should also be extended to our primary and secondary schools which have degenerated to disgraceful levels in recent years. Since something cannot be built on nothing, quality university education can only be achieved with quality primary and secondary education.
Mr. Ifeatu Agbu ( firstname.lastname@example.org ) writes from Port Harcourt, Nigeria.
*Tags: Nigerians, Deserve, Quality, Education, Abuja, Lagos, Africa, Masterweb
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