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Nothing bad in seeking foreign education, let’s attract others to ours too — Okebukola

By Elizabeth Uwandu

Looking at the influx of Nigerians  abroad for varsity education, how can we make Nigerians, especially the influential ones, begin to patronise Nigerian institutions and invest in the sector?

There are two major push factors for students going abroad to study- capacity deficit of the Nigerian university system and instability of academic calendar.

On capacity deficit, let me use the water analogy. If water is constrained with space, it seeks other locations where it can flow. If the carrying capacities of all the 173 universities are unable to provide spaces for all qualified persons, such persons will find spaces elsewhere.

This is why illegal universities are able to enrol unsuspecting students and why many Nigerian students seek admission in low-class universities in some West African countries and elsewhere, paying through their nose for university education. Curiously, these same students and their parents will resist paying a tenth of what they pay overseas for university education in Nigeria.

Instability

The other push factor is instability of academic calendar. Strike today, strike tomorrow interrupts the academic calendar and unduly lengthens the stay of the student for a course. A student on a four-year degree programme can end up spending six years. In order not to be trapped in the unpredictability of academic calendar, many parents encourage their children and wards to attend universities outside Nigeria where the calendar is predictable and stable. Since we know the causes, changing the narrative is easy – increase the carrying capacity of the Nigerian university system and take steps to curb strikes especially by staff unions.

Increase carrying capacity

On the matter of increasing carrying capacity of the system, it should be said that it is utopian to expect that all candidates seeking university placement will be enrolled in Nigerian universities. All over the world, the pervasive model is to have some candidates go to other national systems for university education.

This is within the concept of “universitas” where universities offer service to students all over the world. Indeed, the high-ranked universities are those with high foreign content of students and staff. So, it is not out of place to have Nigerian students go abroad for university education. What we must do is to attract other nationals to attend our universities.

What can be done to revamp tertiary education in the country?

I find my answer to this question in the Abubakar Rasheed 2019-2023 revitalisation plan for the Nigerian university system which has application for the polytechnics and the colleges of education. Among others, we want to revamp the curriculum, human resources,  facilities, delivery process,  governance system, discipline and values of members of the higher education community.

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The development of the NUC Blueprint inspired by Professor Abubakar Adamu Rasheed, the Executive Secretary of NUC,  was through an extensive multi-stakeholder process. Inputs were sought from students, parents, teaching and non-teaching staff, vice-chancellors, chairpersons of council and a miscellany of other stakeholders. A three-pronged approach was used for data gathering and drafting of the document. First, was to determine and rank the challenges facing the system; second was to seek practical and sustainable solutions to the challenges. Third was to put costs to the solutions and propose how such monies will be sourced and prudentially utilised.

Key challenges

The key challenges facing the system that stakeholders uncovered and ranked are: Inadequacies in facilities for teaching, learning and research; inadequate funding;  deficits in teacher quality and quantity (including quality of professors); governance deficits (including stemming the tide of strikes); depressed quality of graduates; inadequacies in access; deficiencies in research and postgraduate training; academic corruption and other social vices.  Regulation by NUC and professional bodies; promoting ICT-driven universities; fostering skills development and entrepreneurship and gender issues.

Five-year plan

On the basis of the foregoing, it was  agreed with stakeholders on a five-year revitalisation plan including the following strategic goals for 2019-2023: By 2023, access to university education should have increased by 20% over 2018 figures. By 2019, the curriculum of Nigerian universities should be rated among the best three in Africa in terms of producing nationally and regionally-relevant graduates who are high-level human resources for delivering on Africa’s Vision 2063 and addressing global SDGs.

By 2023, at least 30% of facilities for teaching, learning and research should have been upgraded to meet international standards and maintained thereafter.  By 2023, the gap in the number of teachers needed in the university system should have been reduced from 30% to 20%. By 2023, the quality of graduates from Nigerian universities should be improved by at least 20% as captured in feedbacks from employers and users of the products of the system. By 2023, scholars in Nigerian universities should be among the top three in productivity as measured by national and global productivity standards and reflected in relevance to solving Nigeria’s socio-economic challenges.

By end of 2019, NUC should introduce enforceable minimum standards in governance that will ensure at least 10% increase in efficiency in the university system.

NUC should have been re-structured and empowered to deliver better on its regulatory functions. The incidence of academic corruption in Nigerian universities should have reduced by at least 10% and remain on the decline up to 2025 and beyond.

By 2020, a sustainable funding model should have been approved at all levels and implemented via appropriate instruments of federal and state governments.

The implementation of the five-year plan is expected to cost eight hundred and twenty-three billion Naira.

The cost-sharing scheme proposed for carrying the funding burden is 75% by the proprietor (government for public universities and owners for private universities), 20% from internally-generated revenue of the university and 5% from other sources including alumni, endowment and donor support.

Recently, some 14-15-year-olds who did exceptionally well  in JAMB examination were denied admission and they may end up in foreign universities. How do we address this issue?

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There is nothing to address, rules are rules. If a university specifies that it will only admit 16-year olds, no 15-year-old should be admitted. If a university does not specify age limit, then it can admit 10-year olds! We should not be sentimental about this. Most American and European universities have minimum entry age for their freshmen. This is typically 16 years. A few do not have such age limits. If “underage” Nigerian students are admitted to such universities that have no minimum age, we should not use this as sledge-hammer argument against Nigerian universities that are keeping to their rules.

Let parents who have brilliant underage children and who want to attend universities in Nigeria which have specified 16 years as entry age, send their children to institutions which can serve as holding bay for such geniuses.

The children can learn special skills and take time to mature physically and emotionally while awaiting their 16th birthday and admission to a Nigerian university. If in a rush, such parents should send such children to universities anywhere in the world that can admit super young children.  As they often do, they can then boast to the world that “my child graduated at 18”

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