Writing this piece, it is no longer news that the Nigerian University education system, owing to a certain number of factors, has surrendered its lead in Africa to smaller countries like South Africa, Ghana, Benin, Togo and Senegal, with our universities holding distant rankings among the top universities in the world. For example, no Nigerian university featured in the first 25 universities in Africa, our best shot was Obafemi Awolowo University, which was placed in the 28 position behind universities in countries like Mozambique, Burkina Faso and Tanzania. It was thus not surprising that none of our universities featured in the first 1,000 universities in the world. What then happened to our Nigerian University education? Why has the system declined? Who is majorly to blame? And what can be done to arrest such a drift and bring the university system back to its place of glory. To answer these questions requires some frank thinking, talking and action and this I intend to do here. The Nigerian Government should take the blame for the failed university education system. A tour of many of our universities would reveal a lack of the basic and vital infrastructure needed to make a university functional for learning and research as most of the structures in place are old and dilapidated. In most universities in Nigeria, one could find that lecture halls and laboratories were stretched, with students standing to take notes.
The story is the same for the residential hostels, where the student population outstrips the available bedspaces. Then there is the issue of poor remuneration for our lecturers; this in turn affects the quality of work and research capacity of such lecturers. The lecturers in turn have demanded for better working conditions and have resorted to the option of strikes to press home such demands. These strikes disrupt the academic sessions and ensure that a student, who is naturally supposed to spend a maximum of four years, may enjoy a ‘tenure elongation of two or three years. ‘ Government’s poor funding of education largely means that most of our government universities (Federal and State owned) engage more and more students without receiving the funds to properly do so, small wonder our computer science students go through their four-year study programme possibly without seeing a computer and while the world now feats on new software packages to create and deliver super applications, the Nigerian student who has the misfortune of studying computer science is fixated on outdated languages like Cobol, Fortran and Q basic. In such a situation, the inevitable isn’t farfetched as the quality of the Nigerian graduate is largely eroded. To halt the drift, government itself must resolve to sort out the funding problems of our university system by pumping more funds into the system and seeing to it that these funds are judiciously utilised to enhance the quality of our university education. Government has always protested that it cannot fund education in Nigeria and truly it cannot, not while its officials continue to siphon our commonwealth buying mansions in Abuja and abroad. It has thus suggested an increase in tuition fees.
This protest is even more ludicrous as countries poorer than us have continued to fund university education. An increase in tuition fees would be counterproductive as it will see a fall in student enrollment ratios and may even push such students to other climes with the argument that it would be better to pay more for a qualitative form of education in Ghana, Benin or Senegal than pay same for a distant type in Nigeria. Those calling for an increase in tuition fees might cite the example of Britain which, in the few years past, raised fees but fail to note that while the British quality of university education is quite high, its Nigerian counterpart isn’t. Even at that, it is on record that tuition fees have been raised in several institutions, have we felt the impact of such an increase? The answer is a resounding no! Government should see university education as a right and not a privilege, education under the 1999 constitution is one of the justiciable rights guaranteed under it. It cannot shirk its responsibility and yet expect socioeconomic and development miracles to occur. Instead of tuition increases, our policy makers as well as university administrators should explore other sources of funding from philanthropists, businesses and multinationals. This could go a long way in complementing the government’s haphazard efforts at funding the university system. Such measures shall be explored in the subsequent part of this piece, next week.