BY DAYO ADESULU
At the 16th convocation ceremony of the University of Ado-Ekiti in 2007, Dr. Larry Jones-Esan, the Director of Studies at the London Academy for Higher Education, Stratford and London gave a keynote address that startled his audience. World Universities had just been ranked and no Nigerian university featured in the top 5000!
More shocking to his audience was the fact that even in Africa, no Nigerian University featured in the top 40. The highest ranked University as at that time was the Obafemi Awolowo University, which was 44th in Africa and 5, 834th in the world. The University Of Ibadan, second highest ranked university in Nigeria was ranked 66th in Africa and 6, 809th in the world, while the University of Benin placed 79th in Africa and 7, 601st in the World.
What was further worrisome was the fact that Universities in some African Countries, which are far less endowed than Nigeria in terms of resources, were rated ahead of Nigerian Universities. Universities in Zimbabwe, Botswana, Senegal, Sudan, Burkina Faso, Namibia, and even Rwanda and Somalia were ranked ahead of Nigerian universities. Interestingly, the Polytechnic of Namibia was ranked number 32nd in Africa.
The statistics according to Dr. Jones-Esan was a shameful contrast to the 70s when Nigerian schools attracted the best brains from Europe and the USA. This, he said was the time the University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan was ranked among the best five in the Commonwealth.
How did Nigerian institutions become so bad in a few decades? Dr. Jones-Esan said that the decadence of the Nigerian Universities is as a result of over reliance on government funding. The height of decadence being the era of the military rule of between 1984 and 1999 wherein up to 40% of the country’s budget was devoted to security. The budget for education dwindled and a lot of things went wrong including the calibre of graduates produced from these schools.
And indeed, when you look at the barrage of problems confronting tertiary education in Nigeria, they are mainly traceable to poor funding. Of all the problems, infrastructure inadequacy ranks very highly. Basic components of an Ivory tower worth its salt, such as a well-stocked library and well equipped laboratories have continuously slidden down on the priority list of most Nigerian universities in the face of inadequate funds to keep services running.
The role libraries play in an academic environment cannot be over-emphasised. Libraries lie in the heart of outstanding academic pursuits for both students and lecturers. When libraries are not updated with recent information derivable from recent books, the quality of learning and teaching is compromised. The truth is that students and lecturers in most Nigerian universities survive on obsolete information source from books procured decades ago. In such situations, the class notes of students remain largely the same across several years following lack of information updates.
Very many university libraries are indeed in appalling state. The way out of the problems facing Nigerian Universities according to Dr. Jones-Esan is a public-private partnership. The MTN Foundation, the Corporate Social Investment Vehicle of MTN Nigeria seems to be thinking along the same line, with the initiation of a project it tagged UniversitiesConnect, whereby the Foundation is providing digital libraries for public tertiary institutions across Nigeria.
MTN Foundation is already making great strides in this regard through its education portfolio. The Education portfolio is saddled with the responsibility of improving the learning and teaching conditions of schools from primary to tertiary institutions.
The Foundation apparently opted for digital libraries because that is where the world is now headed. Libraries have evolved over time with technology. In the beginning, manuscripts of people’s writings and teachings were preserved for future use. With the advent of printing press, it became a lot easier to preserve the knowledge in the form of printed documents.
But now, traditional libraries containing a large number of printed documents are being transformed to paperless libraries, with capacity for limitless volume of information contained in digitized format. These libraries are not only digitized but have also been networked.
This is what is called virtual libraries. Virtual Libraries are libraries without walls through which the user has access to information anytime, anywhere in the world by using Internet-enabled computers.
The MTN Foundation’s digital library project in each university consists of 128 networked computers, three servers, two high capacity printers, one sound-proof 100KVA generator, VSAT equipment and internet connectivity with a 2- year subscription. The Foundation also pays the subscription fee for electronic resources such as e-books, journals, magazines etc, covering all subjects from Law, Architecture and Medicine to Arts, and Engineering.