Nigerian Students: Between Pride and the Sad Realities of our University System

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I recently followed a heated discussion, in a certain social platform, in which our students of learning were hailing and being boastful of their respective universities of affiliation with everyone trying to buttress their point on why and how theirs ranks ahead of others’.

While some maintained the fact that theirs was established earlier than the rest and should automatically take a leading role, others capitalized on a recent ranking by our local regulatory body, the National Universities Commission (NUC), to claim superiority.

I had earlier decided to keep mute until I got tagged by a fellow who requested my input on a seemingly trivial submission. In my response, though paraphrased here, I took an entirely divergent point of discourse to depict a little but true picture of the sad situation of Nigeria’s universities.

When it comes to university ranking and positioning, different criteria are used by different ranking bodies/organizations. Of utmost priority among the ranking, criteria include; academic presence, impact, openness, and excellence respectively.

In June 2020, uniRank published a list of top 200 recognized institutions in Africa based on the aforementioned ranking criteria and in addition to satisfying certain establishment conditions such as; being chartered, licensed, and/or accredited by the appropriate higher education-related organization in the country, offering at least four-year undergraduate courses or postgraduate courses, and delivering courses predominantly in a traditional, face-to-face, non-distance learning format.

It might interest the readers to note that, while South African universities occupied the first seven positions in a row, none of our universities made the first twenty. In a broader view and according to one of the most recent (July 2020) world universities’ ranking, NO single Nigerian university is found among the first 1000 universities in the world.

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The closest a Nigerian university ranked was 1258th position by the University of Ibadan followed by Covenant University, Ota and University of Nigeria, Nsukka in the 1374th, and 1685th positions respectively. Besides academic activities, it takes a lot of effort via huge investment of resources, both human and infrastructural, to lift the status of a university in the global academic arena.

The presence of a university should be felt globally in terms of quality of its academic programs, the impact of its research outputs in addressing global technological and economic challenges, the openness of its faculties to external collaborations, and excellence of its alumni, among others, in competing within the global academic community.

At the present, and as important as it is to the nature of our research as experimentalists, no Nigerian university has a functional and efficient XPS machine in its collection of equipment. The same applies to most, if not all, other complementary characterization equipment.

As a matter of reference, of the eight (8) characterization equipment I utilized for my PhD research elsewhere in Africa (not Europe or the Americas), none but one is existing or ever existed in my host institution. According to a quick survey in 2015, only one university (a state-owned) had a functional dual-purpose Scanning Electron Microscope in the whole North-Western region of the country.

Our various research centers have been virtually reduced to mere political compensation grounds where government appointees influence the imposition of their family and friends at the expense of merit. The very few that still have “functional” equipment lack the capacity to perform in-depth qualitative or quantitative studies as the key equipment rooms are no more than scientific monuments.

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Several billions of naira are continually released annually by the government, through the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund), for staff training in our various universities. This, of course, is a commendable gesture.

However, university lecturers have to, in most cases, issue strong warnings/threats or even embark on full-time industrial actions (strikes) to make the governments see the importance of funding our laboratories for the trained scholars to utilize the acquired talents.

It does not make sense, at all, for the government to invest almost twenty million naira or more to train one staff who could not have access to the cheapest of research facilities upon returning. The resultant effect of this is that a larger cross-section of our laboratories has been reduced to ceremonial lecture rooms.

Our libraries lack the necessary reading facilities. While our contemporaries are celebrating hundreds of thousands of up-to-date collections of books, most of our universities are still displaying those heavily mutilated colonial collections. I have, personally, been giving reference to a particular electronics textbook since 2008 but only lay my hands on it recently elsewhere in Africa.

We have little or no journal subscriptions to address research relevance. In most instances, lecturers in need of relevant high-impact journals have to consult foreign friends and or collaborators. Over 90% of university lecturers use their salaries to fund their barely impactful research to stay clear of the popular “publish or perish” demon.

A larger percentage of such low-quality research yield publications that are hardly visible locally less internationally. The list of this myriad of academic challenges goes on and on.

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In this sad situation of unfortunate academic quagmire, how then do we boast of being the best or ‘naturally” ahead? What then are we parading ourselves for and in what academic sense are we ahead? While students are busy boasting of this and that about their respective institutions, the lecturers are in deep sober reflection on the lingering academic backwardness bedeviling the university system.

Out of public concern and to address this academic decline, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), in its wisdom, came up with the revitalization agenda against the diabolic World Bank project of downgrading our university education.

ASUU never relented in its struggle to emancipate our university system from the shackles of these external predators even as our various governments, consciously or subconsciously, keep championing the evil course at the detriment of the unsuspecting citizens.

The trifling percentage allocations on education by our governments, past and present, have never translated into any positive lift in the academic face of our nation.

Until we begin to channel adequate resources into meaningful academic research, we will continue to remain where we are no matter how “big” the sizes of our annual national budgets. The fact remains that, strong academic stand determines a nation’s strength in every facet of existence; economy inclusive.

Abdulsalam I. Galadima is from the Department of Physics, Ahmadu Bello University Zaria.

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Chila Andrew Aondofa

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