On making Nigerian tertiary educational system work
No matter how hard we try to evade the fact, tertiary education remains a lofty dream for many young people. While it is not exactly a critical benchmark for success in any endeavour, it is still a desirable learning exposure and experience that has helped many gain upward mobility, explored opportunities and have a considerable fair chance at life through education.
However, the higher educational sector in Nigeria has been confronted head-on with manifold issues since time immemorial. Ranging from poor funding, management inefficiencies, inadequate learning infrastructures, underpaid workforce, inconsistent policies, government neglect and incessant strike actions. Thus, the need for a total overhaul has been long-debated and even long overdue. As someone who is involved in the system at close quarters, I attempt to recommend radical steps the Nigerian government can initiate comprehensive reforms in our tertiary educational sector in this column.
Scrapping of national diploma awards
While our polytechnics seem to offer a more specialized and technical education — with the turn-out of events in recent times — one cannot but safely conclude that they have outlived their usefulness in the system. Hence, the need for it to be completely scrapped. We need to adopt a unilateral degree conferment across the board — which should be the Bachelor's degree. Such everyone who studies at any tertiary institution holds equal qualifications and degree awards at any level. To achieve this, the government should hasten their frantic efforts in converting into universities offering B.Tech academic programmes. This development will be implemented and monitored under the Nigerian Universities Commission (NUC). And it will give every graduate of a tertiary education a level playing ground to secure employment and get promoted at the workplace. Although not certain to bring the much-needed change, it would surely go a long way.
Running the system on public-private partnership and ownership
One thing evident is that the private sector seems to run a tertiary educational system far better. The rapid development witnessed in private universities across Nigeria and Africa at large is far cry from what can be obtained in the ones run by the government. I would suggest that the government open up stocks across various tertiary investments, both foreign and local. The government can, however, own up to about 30% principal stakes. Here is what I am saying in essence: subtly discouraging the seemingly expensive privatized tertiary educational system and providing an enabling environment for NGOs, foundations and individuals to invest in building learning infrastructures, training facilities, research and development and technological advancement in public schools. This has the potential of making these schools reduce the costs of running and operations and have less dependency on TEFund. If this is effectively achieved with a concrete and strategic roadmap, government-owned higher institutions will become attractive to both indigenous and international students. And make schooling in a varsity in Nigeria even affordable and deliver an accelerated academic training. In the end, this makes our tertiary institutions collectively run by both the public and private sector.
Remuneration and welfare of academics
Apart from the administrators, the body of academics is the lifewire of any tertiary institution — the fulcrum upon which its effectiveness and smooth running largely rests. They are critical stakeholders. An indication of this fact is already glaring. It is no news that since March 2020, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) in Nigeria has embarked on an industrial action in demonstration of their agitation for the payment of earned academic allowances, salary shortfalls and the disbursement of funds for the public universities. Sadly, this has been a web of continued spiral over the years — fighting to get the government implement the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) signed with the union. From the chain of events, one can deduce that academic staff in our higher institutions are not well catered for. And worst is, the struggle is always at the detriment of students. And worse still, the federal government keeps giving excuses of insufficient funds in the nation's coffers to meet the demands of the union.
While the cause ASUU is fighting is just, this issue, however, needs decisive, concrete and progressive steps to resolve. Regarding this, I would propose that academics not be solely attached to a particular university. They will be able to lecture in any but limited tertiary institutions across the country. And their remuneration will depend on the perceived value of the service they can offer — determined by their academic ranks, years of teaching experience, track record, innovations and patents. Hence, they will get paid on the basis of the quantity and quality of service rendered. The payments will be offered not only by the government, but also through the financial wherewithal accrued from investors and private bodies who have stakes in these universities. Also, a trust fund can set up for individuals and organizations, both local and international, to donate funds to improve the welfare of academics and enhance efficient operations of the tertiary educational system..
Curriculum Redesign and Update
One thing we cannot but resort to is that the curriculum our tertiary institutions use is outdated. And the system is still full of academic programmes that are not in-demand in the contemporary labour market and the future of work. The National Universities Commission (NUC) needs to review the curriculum, patch the inadequacies and adopt interdisciplinary approaches to learning in tune with world-class educational trends. As a lead-off step, we can merge the standalone academic programmes whose course modules are similar together and even totally scrap some.
Also, we need to include employability, leadership development and workplace skills into the content of the curriculum — to complement the entrepreneurship and general studies. This will help the system to churn out graduates who can offer in-demand value and deploy concrete skills to meet demands and provide innovative solutions to pressing, real-world challenges. Also, we can incorporate employers and those in the professional industry into the faculties, so as to deliver practical experience and help the students develop transferable skills geared towards preparing them for workplace realities.
In conclusion, I believe these radical steps can transform our tertiary educational system and make it work well to deliver on its promise to students and academic staff. And it all boils down to the implementation of the reforms on a policy-oriented, collaborative and administrative pedestal.
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