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Dearth of academic staff: Stakeholders proffer solutions

By EBELE ORAKPO

There is the raging controversy that the standard of education in Nigeria is falling. Proponents of falling education blame the decline on underfunding of the sector, poor infrastructure and high student-lecturer ratio .

There is also the issue of brain drain where Nigeria’s academics prefer to seek greener pastures abroad leading to dearth of lecturers in the sector. In this report, Vanguard Learning sought the views of stakeholders and the way forward for education, unarguably, the bedrock of development in any nation.

Reasons:
teachersProfessor MacDonald Idu of the Dept. of Plant Science and Biotechnology, University of Benin (UNIBEN), agreed that indeed, there is dearth of academic faculty in Nigerian universities due to insincerity, lack of collaboration and vagueness of the curriculum.

Speaking in the same vein, Dean, School of Agriculture, Modibbo Adama University of Technology, Yola, Prof. Abdu Sajo  said poor salary, lack of accommodation and bias in appointment of lecturers were some of the reasons for dearth of lecturers in the universities.

“In Nigeria, we are not really sincere. We cover up so many things. For instance, at the University of Abuja where I am currently on sabbatical and my department at UNIBEN, we are grossly under-staffed. Although, we have employed several persons but, if you look at the employment status, getting senior lecturers and professors has been difficult. They are not just there. So what we do is to employ graduate assistants and assistant lecturers  (Bachelor’s and Master’s degree holders) and train them.

“But when you train them, many of them don’t come back no matter how you threaten them, they just melt away,” said Idu.
“One of the reasons is that  lecturers are poorly paid. A professor in Nigeria collects less than $3,000 a month, less than $36,000 in a year so he does not earn up to a trainee in the oil/gas sector, therefore, people no longer want to go into lecturing.

“Again, the Federal Government no longer provides housing for lecturers. You cannot, for instance, bring someone from Lagos to Yola  to teach because when he comes, he may not find accommodation. Funding is another issue. It is so poor that some universities use part of their internally-generated revenue to pay salaries, so they cannot attract as many academic staff as they need.

“Another problem is that appointments are biased. You find that some unqualified people are employed simply because of who they know. This affects the caliber of people in the universities and the kind of graduates we churn out. Normally, you cannot be appointed an academic staff if you don’t have a first class or second class upper degree but nowadays, getting that caliber of graduates is  difficult. Even when you have such graduates, lecturing job is the last thing they want to take up because it is no longer attractive,” said Sajo.

More schools, less lecturers:
“The Federal Government has opened so many new universities without making prior arrangement for more lecturers. So, they are competing with the existing ones and with private universities. Some private universities even pay better than public universities. The condition of service is poor.     There are many reasons why we are experiencing dearth of academic staff in our universities,” Sajo stated.

Way forward:
Proffering solutions to the problem, the stakeholders called for inter-varsity collaboration, overhauling of the curriculum, use of ICT,  and better funding of the sector.

Inter-Varsity collaboration:
Said Idu: “There is no inter-university collaboration in Nigeria where A is collaborating with B in training of students in certain areas and in staff exchange. Having this collaboration, especially in areas of strength, would help to marshall out sufficient staff. I was discussing with the Vice-Chancellor of University of The Gambia when I was in Benson Idahosa University on how we could do staff exchange. Unfortunately, professors are so few so they cannot train post-graduate students. He said they were already working with some UK universities.

Curriculum:
“Our curriculum is too vague and nobody wants to admit that the reason we are having high unemployment is because of our curriculum. Canadian curriculum is tailored towards the industry.
We are not tailoring ours towards the industry. We don’t prepare students towards specific industries. In Botany for instance, you look at areas that are relevant to industry and tailor your curriculum towards these areas.

What we have now is someone coming from overseas, saying he specializes in a course that is irrelevant to our economy. He goes on to raise a unit and starts grooming students up to post-graduate level. Now, where would they work?” queried Idu. “There are so many things that are not relevant to the industry in our curriculum,” he noted.

He said that  applied aspects of subjects are underrated while upholding the traditional aspects. “When you uphold the traditional aspect of a subject and leave out the applied, how do you expect the students to cope at the end of the day? So it might not even be that we are under-staffed in number, but because of the way our curriculum is open-ended, we have become under-staffed because the kind of courses we are taking are vague, the number of students are vague so most of the teachers are over-worked.  This under-staffing could have been nipped in the bud if and only if we sit down and decide on the kind of curriculum we want to run.

“The curriculum should be designed to meet national needs. Everybody now tailors himself or herself towards that particular goal.”

Functional education:
“Our educational system must be functional so that a graduate can do something for himself. We now have graduates that cannot write job applications,” said Sajo, adding: “For funding, we just have to abide by UNESCO’s provision that 26 per cent of a country’s budget must be given to education.”

“What we have now are people picking courses just to get a PhD that may not be relevant to the nation’s development. This year, I picked a PhD student and trained her in a very specific area of plant anatomy that does not yet have a specialist. When I injected Phyto medicine into our post-graduate programme in Botany, I was trying to build a niche for myself but with a vision.

“The vision is that any student that goes through this training and comes out with a PhD, will not have to look for a job. He should be able to have his own health practice and do his own formulations.
“One of my students was able to formulate a mouthwash that is better than all the mouthwash in the market. He can start his business on mouthwash and he will be making his money,” Idu enthused.

Use of ICT:
For Mr. Amed Demirhan, Director of Library Services at the American University of Nigeria (AUN), Yola, the solution lies in the use of information and communications technology.

Citing a recent study comparing faculty pay in 28 countries by Center for International Higher Education, at Boston College, and Laboratory for Institutional Analysis at the National Research University Higher School of Economics, in Moscow, he said Nigeria ranked above 15 of the 28 countries including Russia, China, Mexico, Japan and Brazil.

“This is good, so if we start implementing serious ICT with video/audio media teaching in real-time, Nigeria can recruit faculty from around the world especially those countries where the faculty salary is lower than Nigeria’s. It will be much easier to find more qualified people and a larger pool for selection.”

Speaking on the gains of  video conferencing in teaching, Dr. Agatha Ukata, Assistant Professor of African Literature at the AUN  said: “Video conferencing creates an enabling environment for students to rub minds with other students in other parts of the world academically. It breaks the barriers of inaccessibility of persons talking on a one-on-one basis, using  audio-visual tools. This  collapses distance and other logistic bottlenecks and takes learning outside the immediate academic environment.

“Video conferencing portends something good for Nigeria’s educational sector in many regards – research and cross fertilisation of ideas is enhanced through e- network; it exposes learners and their instructors to compare notes on global standards and research abilities as a way of propelling themselves more meaningfully into the future. ”

Video conferencing is that connecting link that helps learners develop research abilities through the forum which considers global and regional issues showing how people are grappling with existential realities, especially in the upsurge of modernist challenges like terrorism, kidnappings, political instability among other vices that has bedeviled the world in the wake of globalisation.

“The mind-rubbing academic engagements which video conferencing brings about is a step in the right direction for Nigerian students to think outside the box, but along competing arguments on topical concerns.

“Narrowing it down to the AUN experience and the impact on the students, some students see it as a mind-blowing experience where they can actually rub minds with their contemporaries in other parts of the world. A good number of them see it as a breakaway from the normal classroom experience to outside collaboration of ideas that help to sharpen their vision more.

Majority of the students learn a lot from the reading and research experience it offers, the responses and debates that come with the video conferences are ever indelible in their memory. To some others, the video conferencing with AU Cairo is their first link of ever sharing and comparing notes with students of other institutions on academic interest, to which they not only learn new insights to things, but provides them the opportunity of academic conference from the confines of their school.”

Prof. Sajo opined that getting our priorities right is the first step if we must achieve the Vision 20-2020. “Government should return to the system of  accommodating lecturers even if it means paying the commercial rate. In MAUTECH, less than 10 per cent of the academic staff are accommodated on campus and getting a house in Yola is not easy as people are not providing houses.”


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Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.