By Agbaje Ayomide
SIR: The higher educational sector in Nigeria has faced manifold issues since time immemorial. These range from poor funding, gross management inefficiencies, inadequate learning infrastructures, underpaid workforce, education policy inconsistencies, government neglect and incessant strike actions. Thus, the need for a total revitalization has been long-debated and even long overdue, particularly in the wake of the recent strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).
I recommend the following radical steps to the government to facilitate comprehensive reforms in the sector.
First, we need to scrap the national diploma awards. While our polytechnics seem to offer a more specialized and technical education — with the turn-out of events in recent times — one cannot but safely conclude that they have outlived their usefulness in the system. Hence, the need for it to be completely scrapped.
We need to adopt a unilateral degree conferment across the board — which should be the Bachelor’s degree. Such that everyone who studies at any tertiary institution holds equal qualifications and degree awards at any level. To achieve this, the government should hasten the efforts at converting polytechnics into universities offering B.Tech academic programmes. This will give every graduate of a tertiary education a level playing ground to secure employment and get promoted at the workplace. Although uncertain to bring the much-needed change, it would surely go a long way.
One thing clear is that the private sector seems to run a tertiary educational system far better. The rapid development witnessed in private universities across Nigeria and Africa at large is a far cry from what we can get in the ones run by the government. Hence, running the tertiary system on public-private partnership and ownership is a good way to go.
To achieve this, I would suggest that the government open up stocks across various tertiary institutions for investments, both foreign and local. The government can, however, own up to about 30% stake. This would subtly discourage the seemingly expensive privatized tertiary educational system while providing an enabling environment for NGOs, foundations and individuals to invest in building learning infrastructures, training facilities, research and development and technological advancement in public schools. This has the potential of making these schools reduce the costs of running and operations and has a less dependency on TEFund. With a concrete and strategic roadmap, government-owned higher institutions will become attractive to both indigenous and international students. It would make schooling in our universities even affordable and deliver a sped up academic training.
It is no news that since March 2020, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) in Nigeria has embarked on an industrial action in demonstration of their agitation for the payment of earned academic allowances, salary shortfalls and the disbursement of funds for the public universities. Sadly, this has been a web of continued spiral over the years — fighting to get the government implement the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) signed with the union.
While the cause ASUU is fighting is just, this issue, however, needs decisive, concrete and progressive steps to resolve. I propose that we should not solely attach academics to a particular university. Such that there will be avenues for them to lecture in any but limited tertiary institutions across the country. And their remuneration will depend on the perceived value of the service they can offer — determined by their academic ranks, years of teaching and research experience, track record, innovations, publications and patents. Hence, they will get paid based on the quality of service rendered.
We cannot but admit that the curriculum of our tertiary institutions is out-dated. And the system is full of programmes that are not in-demand in our contemporary labour market and the future of work. More than ever and even anything, we need a curriculum redesign, overhaul and update. The National Universities Commission (NUC) needs to review the curriculum, patch the inadequacies, and adopt interdisciplinary approaches to learning in tune with world-class educational trends. As a lead-off step, we can merge the standalone academic programmes whose course modules are similar together and even completely scrap some.
Also, we can incorporate those in the professional industry into the faculties, to deliver practical experience and help students develop transferable skills geared towards preparing them for workplace realities.
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