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Relevance Of Tertiary Education In Contemporary Nigeria (I)



1. Preamble

I feel highly honoured and privileged for the invitation to address this distinguished gathering of the Alumni Association of one of the pioneer legacy Universities of Nigeria, a University which I was involved with for several years from its very foundation.

The most important commodity by any standard to any community is knowledge which in general terms is called education, which is the cornerstone for development. In Nigeria today, the provision of education is within institutions in the primary, secondary and tertiary levels. There are of course vocational knowledge acquired through formal and informal training and/or development. For the purpose of this paper, the focus is on tertiary education and specifically on University education. The other two major components of tertiary education, are offered in Polytechnics and Colleges of Education. Since Universities are the engine of all social and economic growth, their quantity and, more importantly quality, reveal so much about a nation’s determination to remain ahead of other nations

In the quest for development, many countries of the world invest substantially on education, research and information. In the European Union countries, 2.3% of their GDP goes into research, and 12% goes into education. It is therefore commendable for the Ahmadu Bello University Alumni Association to organize this Lecture in its drive towards enlightening the general public of its existence, and to further place education in the front burner of national discourse.

2. Values of University Education to a Nation:

Let us begin by expressing some basic conceptual clarification. Education is defined as the aggregate of all processes by which a child or youth or adult develops the ability, attitude and other forms of behavior of positive value to the society in which he/she lives. Some sixty six years ago, the Cambridge Conference on African Education defined education as the united concern of a people for the right upbringing of its children and the improvement of its national life. Taiwo sees education as the transmission of life by the living to the living. Education serves as the cornerstone of development of a nation, and development involves bringing about meaningful transformation in the lives of the people in such a way that there is no wide gap between one section of the society and another. Development is therefore synonymous with growth and progressive change and these changes can be physical, mental or emotional

In respect of University education, the emphasis is in learning, teaching, research and development and in community service. The Mission of ABU, clearly stated the relationship of University education with development as follows:

“To advance the frontiers of learning and break new grounds, through teaching, research and the dissemination of knowledge of the highest quality; to establish and foster national and international integration, development and the promotion of African tradition and culture; to serve as a model and conscience of the society; to produce high level human power and enhance capacity-building through retraining, in order to meet the needs and challenges of the 21st century”.

The University has done commendably well in achieving its mission especially in the way and manner its strategic plans are coordinated. The University has subjected itself to self critical scrutiny, using the likes of strengths, challenges, opportunities and threats analysis for self appraisals.

3. Role of the Federal Ministry of Education and the Regulatory Agencies of the Tertiary Institutions.

The Federal Ministry of Education (FME) supervises the regulatory agencies of the tertiary institutions. These vital agencies of the FME ensure effective regulation of the Tertiary education, through planning, organization, coordination, and control. They also manage, supervise and monitor their respective academic development. Each agency helps to ensure minimum academic standards and quality assurance among the institutions under its supervision. They also play the intermediary and advisory roles between the Federal Government and the institutional authorities.

4. Challenges of Tertiary Education Regulators in Nigeria

There are three Tertiary education regulatory agencies under the Federal Ministry of Education, namely:

i. The National Universities Commission (NUC), which regulates the  Universities and other degree-awarding Institutions and inter-University Centers;

ii. The National Board of Technical Education (NBTE), which regulates the Polytechnics and Monotechnics; and

iii. The National Commission for Colleges of Education (NCCE), which regulates the Colleges of Education.

The National Universities Commission was first established by the Act No. 1 of 1974. It has undergone minor amendments in 1993 under Decree No.10 of 1993.

The National Board of Technical Education was established by the Decree No.9 of 1977. This went through minor amendments in 1993 under Decree No. 8 of 1993.

The National Commission for Colleges of Education was established vide Decree No.3 of 1989 and was slightly amended in 1993 under the Act No.12 of 1993.

Besides their respective establishment Statutes, the three regulatory agencies are statutorily and operationally combined to concurrently operate as Education (National Minimum Standards and Establishment of Institutions), and was first enacted under Decree No. 16 of 1985. This Decree specifies the three regulatory agencies as the “appropriate authorities” for the prescription of minimum academic standards of their respective spheres of operation, and ascribes various powers to them to enforce and regulate standards. It was slightly amended in 1993 under Decree No. 9 of 1993 and these were fully encapsulated in the present format of Cap E3 LFN 2004.

4.1. National Universities Commission Act, Cap N81 LFN 2004

The National Universities Commission is essentially a service and regulatory Institution which provides unique services and regulatory activities to the Nigerian University System and the nation at large. The provision of these services has ensured an efficient and balanced coordinated development of the Nigerian Universities which has facilitated the flourishing of the tripartite mandates of Nigerian Universities, which are teaching, research and community service.

As a result of the emergence of several contemporary challenges facing the Nigerian University System, there exist a wide gap in the present state of the legal framework and NUC’s efforts to deal with those challenges. The extant law only directs NUC to close down unapproved Universities without prescribing sanctions for operators and promoters of such acts. Consequently, there has been sporadic and endemic increase in the number of illegal degree mills. There is therefore urgent necessity to amend the law to criminalize the operations of illegal Universities and prescribe sanctions for violators of its prohibitions. An amendment is also proposed to sanction employers of holders of certificates of illegal degree mills. Furthermore, with the rapid increase of the private Universities, there is urgent need to legally and properly empower NUC to ensure effective regulatory control over the licensed Universities so as to make the licenses amenable to suspension and withdrawal whenever the circumstances warrant it. This is because more and more licensed Universities are currently exploiting the existing legal gap to violate the terms and conditions of their licenses without NUC properly positioned, in terms of legal capacity, to deal with such situations. This is one of the imperatives of seeking reformative amendments to the provisions of the National Universities Commission Act.

4.2 Amendments Needed in the Existing NUC Act

i. In order to properly align the tenure of office of the Executive Secretary of the Commission with that of the Vice-Chancellors of Federal Universities, the NUC Act should be amended to reduce the term of the Executive Secretary from multiple tenures to a single term of five (5) years only;

ii. Enhancement of the administrative structure is required, by providing for two Deputy Executive Secretaries to accommodate the expanded responsibilities of the Commission to the enlarged Nigerian University System, currently composed of 143 Universities and 3 inter-University Centers;

iii. The Commission requires enhanced powers over staff conditions of service, within the ambit of the Public Service Rules;

iv. The functions of the Commission need to be properly reviewed, realigned and expanded to reflect the mandate and functions of new departments and structures that evolved after the 1974 enactment, to reflect the contemporary challenges in the Nigerian University System and articulate an institutional legal framework to combat them;

v. New provisions are required to govern the Commission’s licensing processes, licensing conditions, prohibition of illegal and unauthorized degree-awarding institutions, as well as suspension and revocation of licenses, all of which were absent in the 1974 enactment;

vi. Formalization of the regulatory directives of the Commission and institutionalization of the public and private oversight inquiries, in order to enhance the investigative and information gathering capacities of the Commission;

vii. In line with the challenges posed by illegal Universities, the Commission requires powers to enforce the ban on their operation. Thus, powers to inspect, search, seize, and arrest, which are to assist the Commission enforce its regulations, are required. The Commission also needs to be empowered to make and issue regulations that are responsive. Also, penalties should be prescribed for obstructing Commission officials in the performance of their duties, and specific procedures prescribed for instituting suit against the Commission; and

viii. Various regulatory offences are prescribed and various sanctions to curb them need to be codified.

The NUC Board was proactive enough by preparing a draft bill addressing some of these gaps. This is presently being worked on by the Federal Ministry of Justice.

4.3 Education Act (National Minimum Standards and Establishment of Institutions)

The Education Act is a 1985 legislation which combined regulatory functions of the NUC, NBTE and NCCE which are referred to as appropriate authorities for the purpose of enforcement of regulations.

Basically, it is an operational law targeted at quality assurance indices including, the setting of academic standards, accreditation, inspection of academic facilities, closure of illegal institutions, among others.

However, despite some marginal amendments which took place in 1993, the contemporary legislative challenges facing NUC in particular and its two sister regulatory agencies in the education sector in general, have made the content and context of the Act to be deficient, thereby creating yawning legal gaps waiting to be filled by amendments of the Education Act.

Pursuant to that, the Federal Executive Council in 2011 approved a body of amendments to the Education Act which was subsequently forwarded to the National Assembly, and which before the expiration of its term submitted it to its Senate Committee on Education.

4.4 Amendments Needed in the Existing Education Act

i. Conflicting and competing accreditation exercises of professional bodies, which run parallel to (and often in conflict with NUC’s exclusive accreditation powers as contained in Section 10 of the Education Act) need to be addressed, by making NUC’s accreditation supervene over those of professional bodies;

ii. Absence of legislative prohibitions and sanctions against establishment and operation of unapproved degree programmes, illegal satellite campuses, unapproved affiliations (both local and foreign) has become the bane of the Nigerian University System, which needs to be addressed statutorily;

iii. The extant provisions of the Education Act only empowers NUC and its sister regulatory agencies to close down illegal institutions without provision of sanctions for their operators and promoters;

iv. There is a Bill before the 8th Senate containing proposed amendments seeking the following:

a) Criminalize, prohibit and sanction the operators and promoters of illegal Tertiary Institutions;

b) Sanction employers of graduates of illegal Institutions;

c) Sanction the owners of properties used for illegal Institutions;

d) Enable the Regulatory bodies to temporarily oversee the affairs of Institutions whose governance structure has broken down;

e) Empower the Regulatory bodies to make regulations that will make the supervision of Institutions more flexible;

f)  Grant the regulatory bodies the legal capacity to withdraw or suspend operation   licenses granted to private institutions whenever it is necessary;

g)  Grant the regulatory bodies the legal capacity to close down deficient academic programmes in approved institutions that failed to meet prescribed statutory Minimum Academic Standard (MAS) for the private institutions;

h) Address the issue of obsolete and inadequate minimum guaranteed capital prescribed for private institutions in the extant laws; and

i)   Address the issue of inadequate legal framework to enhance the corporate status   of the licensed private institutions.

Presently, the 8th Senate is in the process of legislating on a Bill to create The Teacher Education Commission that will have the statutory power over all aspects of Teacher education in Nigeria. There is also another Bill, the Technical and Vocational Education Commission, to address technical and vocational education in the same manner, this will most likely reduce the tasks of the NUC.

5.0 Moral Values in University Education

Next let us briefly look at some broad general values that Universities should imbibe in the students who pass through their four walls.

University education is principally about morality, and the inculcation and sustenance of core moral values to the youth of the nation. It is common knowledge that during any convocation ceremony for the award of degrees and certificates of a University, the Chancellor would say to the graduands as follows:

“By the authority of the Senate, I confer on you, those present and those who for good cause are unavoidably absent and for whom the Dean stands proxy who have been found worthy both in character and learning for the award of Degree (s) of so and so as the case may be”.

The word, character stands out clearly before learning

5.1. The Menance of Sorting in Universities

However, most Universities find it difficult to achieve the character worthiness. This may most likely be due to the challenges facing the Universities dealing with the sorting phenomenon that has become pandemic in the Ivory Towers. The National Universities Commission has on many occasions urged the Universities to address the menance of sorting where students pay in cash or in kind services provided by lecturers, administrators and or examination officers in the form of altering the grades/scores of the student for cash or other service provided by the student in return. This ugly situation has swept all nooks and corners of the University system, from admission to grades/scores earned in courses and class of degrees. All these are up for the highest bidder, especially in the public Universities.

This is a very important challenge to all Alumni members to come together with the aim of eliminating it. I am giving you this challenge to really organize yourselves into a formidable force to fight this despicable phenomenon beginning with your Alma Mata with all the means at your disposal as primary stakeholders. You have the means, capacity and strategy to succeed in this fight. You need to start with sensitization to advocacy, and the carrot and stick strategy. You must rise to the challenge in protecting your Alma Mata from ridicule and embarrassment as a premiere institution that has established its tradition of honour and respect and has always been considered, and in fact seen, as first among equals. From your Alma Mata the fight will spread to other universities. Fighting sorting is a task that must be achieved by this group, and I also urge you as from this AGM to resolve to put in your agenda until you succeed, and I wish you the best of luck.

5.2. Social Values in University Education

Nigeria may be ethnically, culturally and religiously diverse, but there exist social norms within our different societies that bind us together.

In spite of the existence of social stratification as can be found in any human organization, as various social class groupings, certain norms are germane to the Nigerian society. There are extant University rules and regulations that ensure the compliance to these norms and also define the penalties for those students of the University who may deviate with negative tendencies.

The first Chancellor of ABU, the Late Sir Ahmadu Bello, Sardauna of Sokoto in October, 1963, clearly stated the mission and purpose of the University, as follows:

“The cardinal principle upon which our University is founded, is to impart knowledge and learning to men and women of all races without distinction, on grounds of race, religion, or political beliefs. This principle is enshrined in the University Law. Only through freedom of membership and freedom of enquiry and research can a University be drawn into the full ferment of thought from which new knowledge comes. Only if it adheres to those freedoms can it become truly great. If our staff and students are drawn from all parts of the world, then the mixture of international minds, working together in an atmosphere of academic freedom, can produce a University, true to its ideals and meanings”.

A University should reflect the socially accepted norms of the society within which it is situated in their teachings and character molding of the students, who are expected to be the leaders of tomorrow.

5.3. Ethical Values in University Education

The various disciplines of education: namely, natural sciences, behavioural sciences, applied sciences, literature, Arts and the likes all have their individual ethics fully entrenched. It is with the professional courses like Medicine, Pharmacy, Law and others that the issue of ethics become more intense due to the presence of their various regulatory agencies such as the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria, the Pharmacists Council of Nigeria, and the Council for Legal Education, that enforces control of education and practice components of the disciplines and have Investigation Panels and Disciplinary Tribunals for those licensed practitioners who fail to practice in accordance with the ethics and/or Code of Conduct of the respective professions.

5.4. Graduates Unemployment and Entrepreneurship

With the present large army of unemployed University graduates roaming our streets one cannot talk about University education without saying a word on the subject. It will be trite to dwell too long on it. It is suffice to say that University courses and programmes should be such that the graduate must not only be employable in the public or private sector of the society but must be himself or herself be a job creator. This should be the primary essence of our University education. Our graduates should be generally entrepreneurs and be self-employable.

6.0 Autonomy of Tertiary Institutions and Governance in Nigeria

Let us now turn to a contentious issue between Universities and their proprietors, the Government, namely autonomy. Autonomy has been sought by Tertiary Institutions in many developed and developing countries around the world. The proprietors normally put in place mechanisms to regulate the activities of the system and ensure that the tertiary education programmes are relevant and responsive to the needs of learners, employers, and other stakeholders in the context of the social, intellectual, and economic requirements of societal development. They also want to ensure that the resources that they invest in the University are properly and prudently utilized. The Institutions usually find some of these mechanisms too restrictive and objectionable.

The Institutions argue that some autonomy is essential for the advancement, transmission, and application of knowledge. It seeks protection from interference by government officials in the day-to-day running of the institutions, especially on issues relating to the admission of students, the appointment and removal of academic staff, including the head of the institution (Vice-Chancellor, Provost or Rector), determination of the content of education and the control of certificates and standards, determination of the institution’s size and rate of growth, establishment of the balance between teaching, research and community service, the selection of research projects, freedom of publication; and the allocation of recurrent income among the various categories of expenditure.

6.1. Academic freedom and Tertiary Institutions in Nigeria

Tertiary institutions have always regarded institutional autonomy and academic freedom as indispensable ideals. Academic freedom is fundamental for the institution to fulfill its responsibility of educating students and advancing knowledge; and it has long been an issue of public concern and debate in Nigeria. The term connotes the principle of self-direction in inquiry and in the acquisition of knowledge in research, teaching, and learning, as long as this is undertaken within the framework of established scholarly methodology and professional practice. Moreover, academic responsibility requires lecturers to submit their knowledge, arguments and claims to new discoveries to rigorous public review by peers, who are experts in the subject; and to work together to foster the education of students.

The fact remains that, without autonomy, there will be no academic freedom, while academic responsibility and accountability will be difficult to attain in the absence of academic freedom. The Academic Staff Union of Tertiary Institutions have always insisted on the sanctity of autonomy and academic freedom, which implies that State responsibility in the area of funding, should not translate into Government meddling in institutional affairs.

However, Weber has observed that autonomy does not connote independence from the State. It is best understood in the spirit of partnership with the State. Academic freedom finds its basic justification in its functional significance with regards to the advancement of knowledge, which demands that ideologies and interests should not corrupt the processes of seeking objective truth or hamper creative minds in their attempt to follow the path of discovery that they consider the most promising.

6.2 Autonomy and financial freedom

The question of reconciling the autonomy of the Tertiary Institution with financial freedom is always a contentious issue, both within and outside the system. The State is indeed accountable for public funds and has the specific duty and responsibility of ensuring that such funds are used in a manner that ensures the efficiency of the educational system and the economical use of available resources.

The Federal Government has maintained the policy of free tuition in Federal Tertiary Institutions. In 2002, it issued an order forbidding Federal Tertiary Institutions from charging for tuition, at a time when they were contemplating charging economic rates, as a cost-recovery strategy. That decision by Government has impeded institutions in identifying options for the financial sustainability of academic programmes. Moreover, it makes it more difficult for the institutions to compete with State and privately owned institutions, which are allowed to charge fees.

The financial policy of Tertiary Institutions should be based on the argument that Government alone cannot provide all the resources needed for the education of its citizens. Thus, it is expected that the Government will make the Tertiary Institutions more financially autonomous.

6.3. Autonomy and the academic and administrative decision-making process

Autonomy can bring about freedom for changes in the academic programmes, especially freedom to develop more innovative curricula that are more responsive to societal needs; and promote a nexus between teaching and research, on the one hand, and the needs of society, on the other. In addition, increased autonomy should provide for more development of new market-driven and employment-oriented courses.

Furthermore, autonomy should bring about major changes in both decision-making and academic programmes that should attract high caliber academic, technical, and administrative staff. This effort should include special encouragement to promising young Nigerian professionals and academics.

6.4 Autonomy and changes in the sources of financing

Autonomy and fund generation suggests that the more funds an institution can generate internally, the greater the degree of autonomy it enjoys, and vice versa. Increased autonomy allows, to an extent, the introduction of cost-recovery measures, such as the levying of fees for the services offered by the institution. In other words, cost sharing should be introduced in Federal Tertiary Institutions, with the implementation of tuition fees or selective users’ charges. This option may be necessary in order to allow the system to address its funding challenges and improve the quality of education offered to the public. However, the incentives for generating institutional revenue are, in some cases, weak or non-existent as institutions make little effort because they fear cuts in Federal grants if they raise large amounts of money.

To address resource constraints in public tertiary institutions, it is suggested that Government give serious consideration to financial autonomy or support the creation of Public-Private Partnerships. In Bostwana, for example, a University of Technology was established on a Public-Private Partnership basis. In that model, the State provided the financial resources for capital expenditure, while the Private Sector was responsible for operational expenditure. A similar venture was undertaken in Zambia at Mulungushi University. Encouraging the role, function, and involvement of the Private Sector in this manner could mobilize additional resources and, encourage improvement in the quality and relevance of tertiary education. Other mechanisms that could also be used to mitigate resource constraints in the system and promote equity in public financing, are scholarship and student loan schemes. Nigeria has already had some experience with loan schemes. In designing an appropriate scheme for the country, education policy-makers in Nigeria can learn from the schemes being implemented successfully in Kenya and South Africa. For instance, it may opt to provide loans only for the poor (as in South Africa) or to implement a scheme that provides loan funding for both the poor and the middle classes (as in the UK, Australia and the U.S.A.

6.5 Autonomy in other tiers of Tertiary Institutions.

Finally, autonomy should be extended to all tiers of the tertiary education in Nigeria namely, Colleges of Education and Polytechnics. All the tiers should have the freedom to reform themselves financially, express themselves freely and manage their affairs without external interference.

7.0 Challenges facing the Education System and Possible Solutions.

The following constitute some challenges facing the education system and possible solutions.

i. Random nature of funding by intervention agencies in the disbursement of funds lack synergy. TETFUND, UBEC, SDG, NITDA, PTDF, NCC,  and CBN all disburse funds to Institutions but there is no coordination;

ii. There is no clear set mechanism for evaluation in education, except by examinations. This suggests that Nigeria is operating Examination system instead of Education system;

iii. Handling of examination misconduct is weak and constitutes a big threat to quality education. The legislation is not strong enough to serve as deterrent;

iv. Teaching remains unattractive leading to loss of social status and respect for the Teacher;

v. There is need to resolve the political and financial issues impeding the implementation of the Teacher Salary Scale (TSS);

vi. There is need to accelerate the process of making the National Teacher Education Policy (NTEP) a reality through legislation;

vii There is need to accelerate the process of transforming the Quality  Assurance Service into a Commission through legislation;

viii There is need to initiate and process the creation of the much needed and awaited National Teacher Education Council. Teaching is the only profession without a regulator. This will help to facilitate the professionalization of Schools management and educational leadership. It will also help all categories of teachers to have the capacity to cost the value of their services just like the other professions do;

ix. There is need to address the constitutional provision on Concurrent and Legislative List (Federal/States) responsibilities on education;

x. The haphazard and sometimes uncoordinated changes in policies should be avoided;

xi Current data in education is not very reliable. Restructure the National Education Management Information Service (NEMIS) and make it work in a sustained and robust condition;

xii Planning should pre-date policy launch. For example, National Primary Education Commission (NPEC), Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC);

xiii Political will to implement policies remains critical and most crucial;

xiv Address the problems of sorting in tertiary institutions, especially cultism, drug abuse, extortion, sexual harassment, examination malpractice, missing results, grade sorting, fake statement of results;

xv Provide and emphasize a robust and sustained Guidance and Counseling  services in all tertiary institutions and make them primary requirement for accreditation;

xvi Establish the data bank of expelled students at each of the Tertiary  education regulators for records and reference in order to curtail re- admission of such students without proper clearance;

xvii Establish the Tertiary Education Commission as envisaged since 2007. The draft legislation is ready for presentation as Executive Bill but the Obasanjo administration ran out of time and it has since then been swept under the carpet;

xviii Establish Federal Ministry for Higher Education to reduce the bureaucracy in the present Federal Ministry of Education;

xiv Give autonomy to tertiary institutions to enable them source their funds and for  Government to give them grants only;

xx Re-instate the Students Loans Board to enable the less privileged students  pay for their education;

xxi Re-instate the Education Bank for students to enjoy soft loans to finish     their  higher education; and

xxii Provide a robust and sustained scholarship and Bursary programmes for   the children of the less privileged to enable them access the funding for their higher education in and out of the country.

8.0 Conclusion

In concluding this presentation, I will suggest to the ABU Alumni Association to:-

i. Embark on massive membership drive so as  to attract as many as possible of its Alumni members at the States, Faculty-based Chapters and the international branches;

ii. Encourage closer and stronger relationship between the University’s Authorities, the Staff, the Students, the Alumni Association and the general public. This is to ensure that the character and the moral values of the students of ABU are in conformity with the set moral values of the community;

iii. Pursue with more vigor the laudable programmes and projects currently being executed by the Association, as their timely completion would assist greatly in further advancing learning, teaching, research and community service in ABU. I commend the leadership of the Association for their foresight and commitment; and

iv. Strive more to increase the visibility of the Association which would continually put the name of the University to be ahead of others. This Lecture, the Dinner and Recognition Awards Event tonight are such visibilities. There is no University Alumni Association in Nigeria that I am aware of, that has done what you have done in this respect. We were here in 2016; and we are here today. Keep on with the good works, please.

To this great audience, I thank you all for your patience and listening, and God bless.

Being text of speech delivered at the 2018 Annual Lecture of the Ahmadu Bello University Alumni Association

On Saturday 14th April, 2018, at the International Conference Centre, Abuja



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