BY Dele Sobowale
UNIVERSITIES, most regrettably, have come to be viewed as amenities to be allocated according to the logic of federal character and the distributive ethos of Nigerian politics. This spreads thin resources which were, in the first place, pitifully inadequate with expected catastrophic results.” Professor Ayo Olukotun, PUNCH, July 18, 2014. Back page column.
Professor Olukotun titled that article “AGENDA FOR REPOSITIONING OUR UNIVERSITIES” and he was commenting on a conference of Pro-Chancellors of Nigerian Universities who were deliberating on how to reposition Nigerian universities for greater competitiveness in the 21st Century, or 100 years – out of which Nigeria had spent 14 getting progressively left behind. Forget 2014, this year is gone and nothing will be done.
A good part of 2015 is also lost because once the campaigns for 2015 elections start, the President and state governors (the most active agents for change) will be fully engaged in the hustle for power. None would sit for five minutes with anybody to discuss competitiveness in education in the 21st Century or anything long- term in nature. Election will be the only thing that counts.
The end of the election will also not immediately provide opportunity for discussing this issue. The first three months, or more, will be consumed by appointments and familiarization of new ministers and commissioners of Education with their portfolios.
The Pro-Chancellors could not have chosen a more unfortunate time to organise their conference. The report, copies of which would have been deposited with the Federal and state ministries of Education, as well as the NUC, Presidency and Governors, would have since been dumped on mountains of other reports gathering dust. Of course, they would be received with appreciation and promises to “study the recommendations” by the officials designated to issue such statements, followed by a cold handshake. And, that would be the end – until somebody finds a political benefit to be derived from reviving it and executing only those areas which will serve their own purpose.
Olukotun, in the statement credited to him, above, had laid his hands on one of the reasons Nigerian universities can never create new research-based knowledge – especially in the sciences. Even the best of our universities, particularly state universities, are destitute of resources for global standard research. The most glaring resource deficit is in the academic staff component.
For over one year, I have diligently collected all the advertisements for teaching staff by various universities for several departments and, today, it can be stated authoritatively that there is no Nigerian university which has a full compliment of the academic staff required to teach the courses they offer their students. Invariably, it means that lecturers are forced to teach subjects in which their mastery is suspect.
The Faculties of Agriculture can serve to illustrate the point. Out of all the Nigerian universities offering Agricultural Science as a course, less than four, have a biotechnology expert — which is the latest trend in agricultural research. The Green Revolution, pioneered by Nobel Prize Winner, Dr Borlogh, saved mankind from mass starvation in the 1970s for about 20 years until rising population threatened to drive us back to global malnutrition. Biotechnology had once more given mankind a fighting chance.
But, go to any Nigerian university teaching agriculture and ask for the biotechnologist and you might as well ask for their astronaut. For the most part, they don’t exist. Most Nigerian universities offering Agricultural Science as a subject are still busy teaching ancient methods of agriculture. That explains why, with a population growing at close to three per cent per annum, our food import bill continues to rise proportionately.
We have no home grown solutions to our food problems. And, we cannot have because we have very few people to teach our students modern agriculture. Even when a university finally recruits one expert, he is frustrated by lack of advanced laboratories or research materials with which to work.
Most agricultural research, in the 21st Century, is multi-disciplinary in nature. A researcher must work with a team of other experts who would make contributions from their own specialties to his own. When there is only one PhD holder on the faculty, all the others can contribute very little. Courses in Business Administration, especially Marketing, provide another example.