Many Nigerians have been skeptical about the status of the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN), mainly due to the fact that the institution is not operated like the typical Nigerian tertiary institution.
The criticism cannot be far-fetched, as critics have postulated that the NOUN has bitten more than it can chew in terms of studying courses approved but unaccredited by the National Universities Commission (NUC). In this brief chat with the executive secretary of the National Universities Commission, Professor Julius Okojie, the misconceptions which have earned the institution a lot of criticism from the public are simply explained.
As regards the establishment of the university, the estimated number of students expected, the approved courses and other issues surrounding the institution, Prof. Okojie said: “The purpose of establishing it is very obvious and it is to solve the problem of access and quality. I keep telling people that the issue of access and quality are two sides of a coin. When you improve access, quality drops a little bit but you cannot deny access from expanding because of quality.”
But what makes NOUN different from universities? “Well, the mode of subject delivery in terms of lecturing and teaching is quite different. You will recall that there is no country in the world that has improved on access without relying on the Open University.”
He further explained that the institution came into being, so as to provide an avenue for education for people who do not have a place in the traditional university setting , so that they can work and school, to ensure that the quality of graduates produced by both are the same.
“You will find out that most of those who register for distant learning courses and open university education are people who are matured in the system, and the level at which they are operating shows that they have long years of experience in their work places ,different from that of a 16-year-old child who just left secondary school.
You will find out that the older ones are able to manage time and resources which is very important. At that age (middle age) they will want to get things done, because there are no idiosyncrasies at all. There is the opportunity of mid-carrier change which is a very big setting.”
The NUC helmsman revealed that “We quarreled about the state of the National Open University, with many requiring to know its true status, several years after it has been registered by the government. It is one of the 122 universities in this country. The programmes in the National Open University are approved, but there is a difference between an approved programme and an accredited programme.
An approved programme is one that has been approved by the National Universities Commission and meets the minimum academic standard for the programme in the setting, while an accredited programme is one that is visited after the programme has been approved, in order to guarantee its quality, and to ensure that students can graduate from it and be accepted in the job market. This is what we have not been able to do in the past, and for more than five to six years in the National Open University.”
He disclosed that some of the challenges had to do with the issue of study centres and cost materials. “You will find out that people have registered for the programmes and no one has graduated from that setting. Yet, they will tell you that that the Open University has no time limit. If, ordinarily, a student chooses to reach some number of years on his own, then there is no problem.
But if a student is ready and willing to finish in good time and the system delays, that is where we have the problem.”
To further douse the rumour and to win back the confidence of Nigerians who might be interested in furthering their education in the Open University, Prof. Okojie revealed that “Now, we have a brand new management setting in the National Open University.
The ministry of education is giving its support and enabling the NUC to provide the entire wherewithal. What we have done is to carry out an audit on the programme. We want to know the number of programmes in the system and the number that has been approved.
We want to see facilities available and how matured they are, how much the required materials cost, and what is available to students in that learning environment. There are about 32 programmes in five schools which are ready for accreditation.”
He went ahead to mention the programmes which include: School of Science, B. Sc. Nursing and Mathematics, B.Sc. Computer Science, School of Business and Human Resource Management, Co-operative Management ,as well as Catering Management. For law, which has proved to be the most controversial, he said, “We are still looking at it from the point of view that not too long ago, the Council for Legal Education decided that law cannot be done through the part-time programme any more.
But we are looking at those who have registered for it longer than that period of time. We have the School of Education and then School of Arts and Social Sciences. Those are the settings.”
What happens to programmes yet to be accredited? “The implication is that they cannot take new students into those programmes but those already there will graduate, and if they re-apply and are denied admission for any reason, we will close down the school completely.”
As to why it took the NUC so long to address burning issues related to the institution, he stated that they are matters the commission was set to resolve. “However, we will go ahead and do our own accreditation and keep the report because these are matters that are outstanding and we will be discussing with the Council of Legal Education on this issue.”
Furthermore, they are internal matters which will be discussed in the boardroom. The management had a problem and that was where their problem was. They must not forget that the NUC has a level of responsibility towards them. So, the leadership has its own problems.”
In the light of this, he opined that certain modalities cannot be sacrificed on the altar of compromise just as is witnessed in some institutions that have no business offering some courses. He cited the Nigerian Defence Academy as an example, and was optimistic that that change is needed and the time is now.