How Universities are Poaching ABU lecturers to scale through NUC accreditation

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By Alex Abutu

Against the backdrop of declining academic staff numbers, universities in Nigeria have been accused of under-reporting student numbers and hiring lecturers already employed at other universities in a bid to convince the National Universities Commission (NUC) that they have enough staff to meet lecturer-student ratio requirements and retain their programme accreditation.

The NUC commenced its annual nationwide accreditation and assessment of university faculties and courses in more than 170 Nigerian universities in November, with a view to measuring student-to-lecturer ratios and ensuring accreditation compliance.

NUC Accreditation team at OAU Ife
NUC Accreditation team at OAU Ife

The allegation that universities are deceiving the NUC by inflating staff numbers through the hiring of “mercenaries” from other universities was shared by two staff members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities based in two different public universities who are currently involved in the NUC accreditation process. Both requested anonymity.

Universities Poaching lecturers for NUC Accreditation

It was confirmed by Dr. Bala Aminu from the department of international studies at the faculty of social sciences, Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, one of Nigeria’s first-generation universities, who said staff at her university were among the “most poached in Nigeria”, as most private and public owned universities sought manpower from ABU to enable them to get accreditation from the NUC.

“Most of us here get numerous requests during this time of the year from universities to come and stand in for them to get accreditation and continue to teach some courses,” Aminu said.

Another academic, who has been involved in at least two NUC reviews over the years and was preparing for another before the Christmas break, said all universities lied about their student-lecturer ratios by doctoring the records presented to the NUC during their assessment.

“In the course of these accreditations, I have seen universities producing two results sheets: one is meant for presentation to the NUC team while the other is meant for the school’s internal use.

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“The one presented to the NUC team has the ‘approved’ student-lecturer ratio but the internal one has the accurate numbers of students admitted to study the course at a particular time,” the source, who also requested anonymity, said.

Lip service

The source accused the NUC itself of paying lip service to the accreditation process, which he said was full of flaws as lecturers, especially professors, appeared on the nominal staff rolls of as many as 10 different universities.

“The NUC has a … rule that two visiting or adjunct professors are equivalent to one full-time professor and because of this, professors are all over the country as lecturers but actually, most of them never show up to these universities.”

The source said the NUC should have a database of all lecturers in Nigerian universities, detailing their employers and years of employment so as to detect those on multiple payrolls.

Which begs the question: If knowledge of the deceptive practices is so widespread (including by the academics the NUC calls upon to conduct the accreditation reviews), why does the NUC allow the situation to continue? And at what cost to the quality of education? Several attempts to reach the NUC spokesperson Ibrahim Yakasai for comment on the issue, by phone and text messages, were unsuccessful.

Ratio goals

The official aim of the annual NUC accreditation assessment is to ensure that universities comply with the commission’s standard as contained in its 1995-99 report, which recommended a student-to-lecturer ratio of 9:1 for agriculture and engineering-technology faculties, 6:1 in human and veterinary medicine faculties and 10:1 in science and pharmacy faculties, while law, social sciences and arts should be 20:1.

Among the many challenges facing the higher education sector – poor funding, inadequate and deteriorating infrastructural facilities and inept regulation of the sector – is how to find sufficient numbers of academic staff to cope with a massive increase in student enrolment.

According to the paper Quality of University Education in Nigeria, in July 2017 student enrolments stood at 1.9 million compared with just over 2,000 in 1962.

Declining staff numbers

According to the Nigerian University System Statistical Digest 2017, there were over 2,300 programmes across all universities with an academic staff strength of about 61,000.

That number is in decline as many lecturers who retired, died or left the universities for greener pastures abroad have not been replaced.

Professor Celestine Aguoru, a professor of biotechnology at the University of Agriculture, Makurdi, said the student-lecturer ratios are too high in almost all universities in the country.

“The student-lecturer ratio in our universities is on the high side. It is the duty of the NUC to determine and ensure compliance but whether they are doing it is something we need to question,” Aguoru said.

Dr Hamid Abubakar of the Federal University, Lokoja, said high student-staff ratios adversely affected African universities in global rankings.

“It will be unfair to begin to compare our educational system with that of the United States and Europe especially as it relates to student-lecturer ratios. You should ask the population and growth rate of these countries.

“Don’t forget that in Nigeria we place so much emphasis on university certificates or degrees and everyone wants to acquire them and we can’t deny anyone who meets the university’s requirements,” Abubakar said.

Compromises

Another alleged flaw in the NUC review process is the practice of sending lecturers to monitor activities in their own areas of study. This ensures that a professor of sociology from University of Abuja, for example, will be sent to monitor sociology departments in other universities.

According to Dr Kasim Mohammed of the Education Resource Centre, an Abuja-based NGO, this has led to a situation whereby lecturers are tempted to compromise on standards to favour their colleagues who may also then be sent to accredit programmes in their schools.

In the meantime, the quality of education continues to be at stake.

Professor Bamidele Solomon from the faculty of chemical engineering, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, said his longstanding faculty is suffering due to understaffing.

“The school is trying its best to replace aged and dead staff, but the government needs to improve the funding mechanism to give vice-chancellors the opportunity to replace lecturers and match the acceptable student-lecturer ratio, as what we have presently is not encouraging,” he said.

Written by Alex Abutu. Credit: University World News


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