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Varsities Talk: Has NUC outlived Its usefulness?

“What does corrupting time not diminish? Our grandparents brought forth feebler heirs, we are further degenerate, and soon will beget progeny more wicked.” Horace 65-8 BC.(VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS p 247).

NIGERIA’S first generation universities, University College, Ibadan, University of Ife, Ahmadu Bello University, University of Nigeria, University of Lagos and University of Benin, produced graduates with Bachelors degrees which were accepted everywhere in the world for those wanting to pursue advanced degree courses. This was the common experience in the United States, where some, coming for their Master’s Degree programmes were given extra credits for work already done as undergraduates in Nigeria.

It is difficult to pinpoint when the change occurred, but, there is no dispute anymore that the products of our universities are increasingly being rejected for post-graduate education overseas – without first undertaking some remedial courses. Even here at home, employers of labour are finding it frustrating to engage Nigerian youth directly out of school. Two institutions, Joint Admission and Matriculation Board, JAMB, and National University Commission, NUC, which were introduced to help maintain high standards for admission and scholarship (after induction) had over the years let us down. For some of the same reasons, politicization of admission, under-funding, corruption in the citadels of learning and moral degeneracy in society at large, they have stopped being part of the solution to our educational problems, they are now part of the problem. This week, we look at the NUC and its role in the decline of Nigerian university education.

Among its cardinal functions, the NUC is supposed to ensure that out universities meet minimum standards in terms of resources and manpower, for each course offered, in order to be able to produce graduates considered fit to compete in a global village. Even its own staff from Professor Julius Okojie to the gatemen will readily admit that it has failed woefully to maintain standards everywhere. In fact, the Nigerian universities which are in full compliance with the guidelines established by NUC can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Let us take staffing as an example.

NUC, several years ago stipulated that all university lecturers must have doctorate degrees. At the time the announcement was made, less than fifty per cent of the teaching staff of universities possessed doctorate degrees. Since then, the number of universities in Nigeria, Federal, State and private, had more than doubled. That would ordinarily mean having twice as many lecturers today as ten years ago. Since less than half of Nigerian lecturers were qualified, at the time, it actually meant increasing the number of doctorate degree holders in our universities by four hundred per cent.

It is not clear if the NUC undertook any studies to determine the feasibility of its instructions to the universities, in this regard. But, the result today speaks volumes about the futility of giving an order which cannot be obeyed without virtually closing down all Nigerian universities – including the best private institutions. Furthermore, not only is the situation now hopeless, it threatens to get worse in the future. The question is: what went wrong?

The first mistake was inadvertent. The NUC could not have foreseen all the private universities springing up; neither could it have known that President Jonathan would open eleven universities within five years. Such unforeseen occurrences mess up the most meticulous plans. Today, there is none of the universities established by President Jonathan which can graduate people considered well-educated at the university level. Unfortunately, Federal universities, despite their inadequacies, are miles ahead of the typical state university – most of which cannot even be described as glorified secondary schools.

If predictable staffing inadequacy is a serious problem, the visitor to most of our universities, especially their science departments, should be ready for the shock of a life-time. By and large, Nigerian universities are simply not graduating scientists able to compete with their counterparts in the world. Increasingly, our supposed leaders of tomorrow are getting set to be losers of tomorrow. Our universities, in the main, are not equipping them to compete with anybody else in the world. Fifty years from now, Nigeria will still be importing toothpicks from India or China because there are no Nigerian technologists to search for wood which can be drilled into toothpicks and no engineers to develop the manufacturing plants to produce them.

Plateau State University, Bokkos, serves as a good example of how bad the situation has become. Nine years after it was started, and five years after admitting students, there is not a single graduate to show for the effort. Meanwhile, students and parents have seen their dreams turned to nightmares.   If one of its missions is to develop global standard universities in Nigeria, the NUC has failed woefully and should either be scrapped or totally overhauled. At the moment all one sees is a lot of people well-paid and failing in their mission.

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