By Emmanuel Edukugho
Universities everywhere, and Nigeria not different, are established to carry out tripartite roles of teaching, research and community services, thereby contributing meaningfully to the social, economic, cultural, political, scientific and technological development of the nation.
Universities are supposed to impart high level skills to a reasonable proportion of the workforce, developing intellectual capability of individuals, engaging in training of competent, honest, patriotic and responsible professionals needed virtually in all spheres of human endeavours.
University education in Nigeria has experienced relative decline in quality over he last 25 years as graduates produced from the system lacked the necessary skills required not only in the local (national) industries but also in the 21st century global knowledge market.
Saturday Vanguard checks showed that a confluence of factors acting in unison are deemed to be responsible for the deteriorating state of the country’s university system, eventually culminating in production of poor quality, sub-standard graduates.
For avoidance of doubt, the Nigerian University System (NUS) is a term which defines the entire universities in the country which grew from five universities in 1960 to over 120 in Nigeria today as one whole system irrespective of ownership – federal, state or private.
According to Professor Timothy Oyebode Olagbemiro, the NUS is expected to function to contribute to national development through “high level relevant manpower training, developing and inculcating proper values for the survival of individuals and society as well as ensuring that the intellectual capability of individuals are developed to understand and appreciate their internal and external environments.”
Recently, the Minister of Finance and Co-ordinating Minister for the Economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, while delivering an address at the second Prof. Barth Nnaji Biennial Lecture series at the Enugu State University of Science and Technology, said that graduates from the country’s higher institutions of learning were not employable.
She was reported to have lamented that Nigeria’s higher institutions were plagued with inadequate science and technological facilities and materials for practical skills development.
She noted thus: “Nigeria is churning out thousands of science and technology graduates each year but several of them are under-employed, going into the banking and non-scientific sectors.”
The measures and mechanisms suggested by the Minister of Finance are not new as these had been proffered in the past by other renowned scholars, academics, teachers and administrators who are managing the university system.
One of the critical functions of universities has to do with Research and Development (R&D), an area in which Nigeria has fallen short.
A Professorial Fellow, Dr. Banji Oyelaran-Oyeyinkaa, United Nation University, Director, Global Monitoring and Research Division, UN-Habitat, said declining investment in teaching and research facilities resulted in poor human products, evident employment opportunities and diminishing value of earned income.
He named new science areas such as biotechnology as an example of an industry whose locus of knowledge creation lies entirely within universities and thus underscores the importance of university – industry collaboration, and also that the 21st century university could influence the direction of the economy in significant ways.
Except all the problems confronting the university system are examined, it would be difficult to sustain its relevance, considering the high expectations inherent in the globalised 21st century, argued Olagbemiro.
“In its bid for relevance, the Nigerian University System must be re-engineered or re-invented to realise that the quest for change is an adventure which requires active involvement of all stakeholders.”
In teaching and in practice, universities have been urged to show relevance in research, innovation and evaluation.
Although the Federal Government has promised to invest in technical and vocational education to create about one million jobs, nothing concrete can be seen in this direction so far.
Any university seeking relevance today in our country must produce graduates who would employ people rather than searching for employment. To that effect, many universities are now introducing entrepreneurship curriculum in their degree programmes, and be compulsory, from 100 level to final year, while the institutions can award certificate for entrepreneurship.
With entrepreneurial skills in furniture making, fashion design, clothes, bakery, confectioneries, block making, soaps and detergents, juice drinks using oranges, mangoes, pineapples, food packaging, drinking water, leather works, laundry, dry cleaning, software for computers, internet trade and many other small scale enterprises, our graduates no longer be job seekers, but job producers.
It should not be the question of graduates that are not employable, but the issue of government and investors local and foreign exploring the vast employment opportunities available abundantly in agriculture, construction, mining, fabrication, sanitation and infrastructure development.
Through their curriculum, higher institutions should re-engineer their products so as to be able to react to changing situations, identify new skills for the world of work. As the national and global economies get more competitive, complex and demanding, the need for interactions and partnerships become inevitable.
Adequate funding of tertiary institutions in critical bearing in mind the UNESCO benchmark of 26% of state/national budge for education, especially in technology and research.
Experts and findings have shown that the “education system is weak in Nigeria, and dissatisfaction with the quality of education is the highest in the world.
According to most accounts, the Nigerian government is inefficient, corrupt and undemocratic, inspiring low confidence in its institutions.
Most graduates of higher institutions still look for jobs, whether competent or not, employable or not, lacking requisite skills or not. It is speculated that only about one-tenth of graduates of tertiary institutions secure employment.
The ideal is to create a critical mass of graduates better prepared for employment as well as creators of enterprises capable of employing people to earn a living and contribute to nation building.
Our university curriculum seemed to be more content-based than outcome-driven which should be reviewed.
Professor Johnson Aladekomo, Vice-Chancellor of Lead City University, Ibadan, told graduands in a convocation ceremony they’ve been encouraged and supported to acquire professional skills and certification in areas outside their degree syllabuses – providing knowledge for self-reliance. “This is to make you enterprise graduates who can either be self-employed or employed by others,” he said.
Nigeria, like others, is moving towards a knowledge-based economy in which the place of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has become significant so that graduates will perform better. But the worry in this, for which Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala expressed concern is that: how can a computer science graduate not understand the basics of writing software codes?
The answer lies with government which must ensure ICT units in tertiary institutions are well staffed highly organized and equipped adequately to provide sound teaching and practicals for the students.