THE National Universities Commission got what it never bargained for at the convocation lecture of the University of Abuja recently, when the integrity of its accreditation of courses in the country’s universities was openly questioned by an authority who should know. It is alleged to be embedded in corruption, as “brown envelopes” (a euphemism for collecting bribes), are often doled out to the accreditation panelists by universities.
Apparently, this charge is not new. But what makes this salvo weightier is the source. Oyewale Tomori, the President of the Nigeria Academy of Science, is a former Vice-Chancellor of the Redeemer’s University, a distinguished professor of virology, who is still very much aware of the convolutions in the ivory tower.
Dejectedly, Tomori said, “When there are allegations that some of the people who conduct accreditation exercise in the name of (the) NUC receive brown envelopes, the NUC will ask: Are those who give or take the envelopes not your colleagues? But the NUC forgets one thing, that the accreditation bears ‘NUC’s accreditation’.” All true, of course.
There are 140 universities currently listed on the NUC website, comprising 40 federal, 40 states and 60 private, most of which sprang up between 1999 and 2014, ostensibly to address the nagging problem of expanding access to university education, amid the geometric spike in the number of students seeking such opportunities. The NUC, as a quality assurance agency, is empowered by law to ensure that national minimum standard is maintained by approving every course in the universities.
In doing this, the agency hires experienced academics in the discipline or subject area to be accredited, with a professor of note as chairman of the panel. It is guided by the criteria of objective of the programme, curriculum, quality and number of teaching staff, physical facilities that comprise classroom, laboratories, studies, workshops, machines; student admission and graduation requirements, standards of degree examination; financial support level to the university; administrative capacity, among others.
In most cases, approval is given. However, there are a few examples where accreditation is denied, just as some courses receive interim approval because of deficiencies that need to be remedied within a given time frame, for full accreditation to be attained. Otherwise, that status is withdrawn.
There are other concerns as well. Desperate to get the NUC nod, many universities reportedly rent teaching personnel, especially senior professors, from other institutions, as well as equipment; or hurriedly recruit staff to cover up their inadequacies. Those rented academics return to their original universities as soon as the accreditation is over, and the lecturers, hastily engaged, sacked.
The Enugu State University of Science and Technology is currently being accused of such indulgence by its former employees following its curious disengagement of 153 lecturers in November 2015, some of whom are professors, without paying them any salary. It had employed them in February the same year. One of the affected lecturers, Ogom Inyam, said the acute shortage of staff had prevailed in the university, which consistently denied ESUT the NUC accreditation before they were recruited.
As a matter of fact, the facilities and quality of staff in our universities should be a food for thought for the NUC headed by Julius Okojie that approved their programmes. Is it within the threshold of minimum standard for Kano State University, set up in 2001, to have only one professor and 25 Ph.D holders, as a 2012 Needs Assessment report unfurled? Another, Plateau State University, had 74 per cent of its faculty as visiting lecturers. This abysmal situation is widespread and could be worse in privately-owned institutions.
There is next to no doubt that our university education system is dysfunctional. The logical corollary from all this is the quality of degrees being milled from the universities. Cases abound where undergraduates in science and engineering courses graduate without being exposed to the practical aspects of their training because the laboratories and workshops are not equipped. Job recruitment agencies often lament that even some Second Class upper degree holders cannot write passable applications. This is shocking; and gives credence to the fact that graduate unemployment is worse in Nigeria today, not so much for lack of job opportunities, but for the incompetence of many graduates.
It is a challenge embodied in Tomori’s convocation lecture entitled: “Building a new generation university: problems and prospects,” for which he strongly advised the NUC to retool, and discard the out-dated benchmarks for its accreditation so that our graduates will become employable and effective agents of economic development.
In choosing academics to do its accreditation work, the NUC should not only be conscious of their expertise, but also their personal integrity. Hiring of a professor for the purpose of covering up shortcomings of a faculty during accreditation could be checked if NUC could maintain a register of experts in a given discipline. This should be cross-checked to detect any duality of engagements. This is critical. President Muhammadu Buhari, who has vowed to extend the anti-graft campaign to the ivory tower should deal with this grave misconduct. Those who orchestrate this perverse game should be nabbed and prosecuted.
A university connotes universalism – a global centre of excellence, which advances the frontiers of knowledge through teaching, learning and research. However, in Nigeria, this phenomenon has collapsed. This is why none of our universities is in the top league in Africa, let alone at the global level. Our best, the University of Ibadan, is ranked 1,296th globally; and 16th in Africa, according to the 2016 Webometrics ranking.
Crowded university lecture rooms, with many students sitting on the bare floor, and others standing outside to receive lessons; make a mockery of NUC’s quality assessments. The ratio of teaching staff to students at the National Open University of Nigeria is 1:363 and 1:144 at the Lagos State University, says the 2012 Needs Assessment report. When this is viewed against the picture at Cambridge University with its 1:3, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology 1:9 ratio, it becomes obvious that our future is in the past.
A radical shake-up of the university monitoring process is long overdue to safeguard standards and improve the quality of our higher education. The NUC should immediately review the way university education courses are accredited. It must ensure that appropriate and effective teaching, support, assessment and learning resources are provided for our students.
Culled via Punch News. www.punch.ng.com