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David-West’s lamentations for Nigerian varsities (2)

By Douglas Anele

Prof. David-West argued that one should not judge Ph.Ds awarded these days at face value. According to him, many of them did not meet the minimum academic standard and are awarded on the basis of dubious, watered-down, criteria. He recalled a case when he was an assessor of a candidate for the award of a doctorate in Virology. His conclusion at the end of the exercise was that “this thesis or dissertation has contributed nothing new to virology.” Yet, the person in question still received the degree.

David-West promised to keep fighting “until the Ph.D is withdrawn and all those who are involved, directly or indirectly, are dismissed because they are evil”. I fully agree with him that any work that contributes nothing original or new in a given field does not deserve a doctorate. But how many of our senior academics think this way? Only very few, I am afraid, and the number is diminishing rapidly.

Any PhD thesis that fails to expand the frontiers of knowledge, no matter how little, should not be countenanced by a serious university. But with NUC’s myopic stance on the possession of PhDs, a new disease called Phdmania is afflicting our universities right now, with disastrous consequences for the future of education in the country.

The disease has started producing the ugly excrescence of PhD holders who lack the intellectual capacity to speak authoritatively on subjects in which they claim to be “experts”. Another serious problem is the mushrooming of universities – federal, state, and private.

There are over one hundred and thirty-six universities in Nigeria. Only a handful have the capacity, both faculty and infrastructure, for teaching and research at the tertiary level.

Universities that are barely surviving, groaning under the heavy weight of inadequate academic staff and basic facilities for teaching and learning are running numerous part-time programmes and satellite campuses – some even have the audacity to mount post-graduate programmes.

Given this scenario, our so-called institutions of higher learning are steadily evolving into factories for the production of half-baked graduates by half-baked lecturers. David-West was forthright when he stated that “majority of the lecturers are corrupt and crooked”. He said that they are wily manipulators. Some lecturers in his university (UI) were giving lectures at night, until they were stopped by the Vice-Chancellor.

These very lecturers, he said, spent the day running around for business and contracts; they had no option but to teach at night. I was sorely disappointed when the immediate past Minister of Education, Raqqayatu  Rufai, argued that the main justification for the rapid haphazard increase in the number of universities in Nigeria is to absorb more candidates from the increasing number of those seeking university placement.

Therefore, concerns about quality, sustainability and future growth, as far as she was concerned, are of secondary importance to the Professor! I know of some institutions, especially, private universities, which hire senior academics from other places to put down their names and pose as Heads of Department and lecturers in order to secure accreditation for various courses, only for the “academic mercenaries” to return to their bases when accreditation exercise is over. And talking about accreditation, we must honestly admit that NUC still has a very long way to go in ensuring reliable quality control of academic programmes in the universities.

It is well known that some university authorities set aside good money for “entertaining” and “settling” members of accreditation teams in order to get their courses approved. Obviously, such arrangee accreditation cannot ensure good quality academic programmes. Prof. David-West highlighted the fact that female students are increasingly turning into prostitutes – and their male colleagues, I must add, are joining cults various cult groups on campus. For David-West, however, the worst problem facing our universities presently is the catastrophic drop in the quality of academics.

As a result, he lamented that “the system still gives us that aura of university don. They say, ivory tower. Which ivory tower? It is mud tower! The days of classical ivory tower, centre of excellence, centre of rectitude, centre of examples, are gone!” I totally agree with most of what Tam David-West said about the decay in our universities. But he did not acknowledge that academics of his generation collectively have failed woefully to pass on to the next generations those lofty ideals that made some of them outstanding scholars.

It is ridiculous, for example, that senior Professors are busy hustling for contracts and lobbying for political appointments at the detriment of their academic duties.

‘Sorting’, sex-for-marks and other academic misdemeanours are gradually spreading within our campuses. Some private universities produce first class honours degrees like pure water in order to attract more “customers”. But despite all the abominations going on in our campuses, I am consoled by the fact that there is still a sizable number of world-class academics in the universities who are doing their best to ensure that the system does not collapse completely.

I know many of them at the University of Lagos and other institutions across the country. These valiant women and men, quietly and unobtrusively in spite of temptations to join the bandwagon of incompetence or of those leaving the system for greener pastures elsewhere, are the ones sustaining what is good and noble in our universities. I salute all of them; they should continue their pursuit of excellence and other lofty ideals behind the concept of “university”.

The university is the beacon of hope for any society, more so now that we are living in an increasingly knowledge_driven world. Therefore, all stakeholders, lecturers, students, parents, university authorities, and government must work together to restore the lost glory of our Ivory Towers. The time to start is – right now!


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