June 17, 2009

How to rescue higher education from decay — Sultan

By Emmanuel Edukugho
The quality and worth of our human capital have gone down quite drastically with serious long-term implications for the effective management of the nation’s affairs, its prosperity and its competitiveness in the global environment, so declared Alhaji Muhammed Sa’ad Abubakar, Sultan of Sokoto, while delivering the 5th Annual Lecture of the school of Post-Graduate Studies, University of Lagos, recently.

Titled — “Leadership, Higher Education and the Challenges of Development in Nigeria,” he said that many see the universities as purveyors of stale and sterile knowledge that churn out half-baked products that can neither be employed nor can they engage themselves gainfully.

“One may well venture to ask: What has happened to the famed legacy of our graduates from Ibadan, Lagos, Nsukka, Ife, Zaria, Benin and other universities? What has happened to the innovative spirit of our university system and the search for excellence for which it attained international acclaim? How should the nation, at this critical juncture of its development, take a lacklustre attitude towards sustaining the quality of its premier resource?,” he asked.

While not apportioning blame as to who or what is responsible for this unfortunate situation, since the problems are multi-layered and multifarious, but that there is also sufficient blame to go round.

“The nation’s leadership, its economic woes and its ethical challenges have all left their imprints on many of our national institutions, including our educational system.”

The Sultan gave four imperatives which he believed should guide the nation as we undertake the task of rebuilding our higher education sector and our society to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

These were listed as vision and consensus; whereby no nation can truly succeed in this day and age without a clear vision of what it wants to achieve and how it intends to achieve it.

The second is the revitalisation of science and technology education in our higher education sector.

He queried why we have allowed our research infrastructure, including our laboratories to decay to the point of becoming museum pieces. “We must be able to renew our commitment to become a knowledge-based society and a technological nation.”

There is need for entrepreneurship development and the establishment of effective partnership with industry.

“Nigeria has come of age to develop a truly patriotic and forward-looking business class which takes pride in associating itself with our institutions of higher learning and contributing its quota to the human capital development for the nation.”

Lastly, that the researches in our tertiary institutions must endeavour to address real and tangible problems of our society.

The third imperative is adequate funding. Although reliable and up to date figures are hard to come by, “it has been adjudged that Nigeria’s expenditure on Education, as a percentage of its GDP, is lower than that of many African countries.

The fourth and last imperative raised by the Sultan is that of character-building and leadership development into our institutions of higher learning top integrate into their curricula the issue of character-building and leadership development. Teachers must bear special responsibility.

Sultan Abubakar express the belief that, “with a total of 68 federal and state universities and 35 registered private universities, Nigeria commands the institutional capacity to develop optimally its human resource base and to compete favourably in the global environment.”

Concluding, he called upon both the government and the Organized Private Sector (OPS) in the spirit of public-private partnership, to establish a robust National Research Foundation which shall fund Science and Technology research as well as support multi-disciplinary research in the Arts and Social Sciences in our institutions of higher learning.

Also, he advocated for a full fledged Federal Ministry of Higher Education, as many state governments have done, which would devote its energies and resources to human resource development and human capital formation for the rapid growth and development of the nation.

Earlier in his welcome address, Professor Tolu Odugbemi, Vice Chancellor, University of Lagos, said that in line with the philosophy of its establishment, the School of Postgraduate Studies of the University, of Lagos has been “impressively coordinating and developing academic and professional programems what are geared towards the high level manpower needs of Nigeria.

He disclosed that the school now runs many programmes leading to Postgraduate Diploma, Masters, M.Phil and Ph.D degrees in 64 departments of the university.

As a means of ensuring collaborative research effort and staff/students exchanged programmes, the school has established numerous linkages with a number of foreign universities in Africa, Europe, Asia and USA.”

According to Odugbemi, in the past two years, the university has invested massively in the postgraduate programmes, equipping these programmes, allocating substantial grants to the school of postgraduate studies to support doctoral staff candidates in their obligation to carry ut their field work outside Nigeria. This involves as much as one million naira per candidate.

Other Royal Fathers present at the lecture were Oba Rilwan Babatunde Akiolu I, Oba of Lagos; Oba Adedotun Gbadebo, Alake of Egbaland; King Davidson Jaja, Amanyanable of Opobo Ancient Kingdom; HRM Eze (Dr) C.D. Ilomuanya, Chairman Imo State South East Traditional Rulers Council.