Tertiary education in Nigeria: Between quality and quantity

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By Muiz Banire

I read in the newspaper that the National Universities Commission (NUC) is striving to review the curricula and introduce some contemporary courses in universities. To my mind, this is not hitting the mark. The issue basically is setting the right threshold, monitoring compliance, and adherence to those standards.

It is certainly doubtful, from the pervasive glaring evidence around us that this obtains. The consequence is that our universities continue to unleash dangers on society and the nation.

For the purpose of our discourse here, my concern is the continuous generation of non-functional graduates in the country. This borders on the continuous multiplication of undesirable and unemployable graduates, assuming without conceding that they even qualify as graduates in those fields.

It is the mismatch between the production and the needs of our society that largely accounts for the soaring state of unemployment in the country, which, as at my last check, hovers around 44 percent. This is the value addition of the Commission to the rise in unemployment in the country.

The factors responsible for this are not far-fetched. However, as natural of our people, they play deaf and dumb over such crucial issues. Hence, the crucial need to engage in constant drumming of it, with the hope that a connection will be established at a point.

That there is a disconnect between the graduates and the economy is indubitable. My expectation, therefore, is that the Commission would have conducted proper research in this regard towards guiding the issuance of licenses to new promoters of universities. Licenses ought to be issued for the establishment of universities only in those areas of need.

The continuous proliferation of tertiary institutions mirrors a lack of foresight. Practically every day, the Commission continues to dish out licenses for the establishment of universities to the governments, federal and state, as well as private entities.

This licensing is without regard to the needs of the nation. Little wonder that the number of unemployed ‘graduates’ continues to soar, as there is no linkage between the areas of need and the ‘graduates’ that are produced.
One would have expected that such licensing would have been tailored along with the needs of the nation but alas! this is not so.

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Virtually all existing universities have funding challenges that impair the capacity to deliver. Take the federal universities, for example, we are all living witnesses to the incessant strike actions punctuating the academic activities as a result of inadequate funding for both infrastructure and conditions of service.

The same thing applies to the various state governments who could not even afford the payment of basic workers’ salaries but ended up establishing universities, just like their counterpart, the federal government, for political reasons.

Most of the universities end up being glorified secondary schools, dishing out substandard degrees and endangering society. Till date, the extant universities continue to degenerate and fade away. The private universities are not much better off except for some negligible few.

Rather than tactically forcing investments into these extant ones, the Commission continues to license more and more. I am not oblivious of the soaring demand for admission to universities but whatever is worth doing at all, is worth doing well. It is disheartening to continue to issue licenses on a political patronage basis.

A situation where the legislators consider the establishment of universities in their constituencies as a democratic dividend regardless of the desirability is awful. We are in a huge deficit of qualified and competent teaching personnel in the country.

This is reflected in the products that we continue to be astounded with. The university continues to unleash dangers on society through substandard products. The legislators and other promoters of these new tertiary institutions often forget the dearth of quality academic personnel in the country.

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Most of the lecturers in the institutions are not only incompetent but mostly taking up the vocation due to unemployment. It is not sufficient to possess degrees in such specializations but has the passion and skill for delivery. As we continue to license more universities daily, we discount this aspect of competent personnel, particularly lecturers.

There are insufficient qualified personnel in the nation today to match the number of universities we are establishing. The resultant effect, therefore, is garbage in, garbage out.

What then is the way out? We must commence by stalling further licensing of universities thereby forcing new promoters to buy into extant universities. We must be promoting specialized universities in tune with the desires of the country.

Despite the fact that some of the universities from the onset are licensed as specialized institutions, they end up with distractions by veering into other areas of irrelevancies. A University of Agriculture or that of technology suddenly becomes a university with a Faculty of Law and Humanities.

Ideally, such universities should have been restricted to such licensed specialization but no, lack of focus continues to haunt the system. More than ever before, what the country requires are specialized universities in our areas of need and not just university for the sake of one. A graphic illustration is the manner in which we are churning out law graduates.

An average of about six thousand lawyers are produced annually, out of which without fear of contradiction, a maximum of five hundred only secures one form of employment or the other. The rest goes into the labour market that is already oversaturated. Yet we continue in the same way.

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No one continues to do the same thing, in the same way, all the time and expects a different result. Taming unemployment or accelerating our developmental goals, therefore, cannot be realized in the circumstances except we change our ways.

Therefore, it is not too late to revert the licensed specialized universities to what they were conceived to be. This will address the areas of our need and enhance growth in all ramifications. This is the way to develop a country and assure the future of a nation through the university system.

I share the submission of the Speaker that ‘Tertiary institutions in Nigeria need to develop a new understanding of the changing nature of work and the future of employment and allow this new understanding to inform the nature of the instruction and the substance of the education they provide.

Collaboration between our higher institutions and the organized private sector is vital in this regard so that we can jointly rise to the demands of the moment.” Let the Commission wake up now and arrest the drift by blocking the distance between beneficial education to society and the proliferation of universities.

Banire is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN).


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