As our leaders put on their thinking caps on what to do with the resurgence of insurgents in the Niger Delta region, we have to continue with our light discussion on the need to focus on better universities instead of establishing more that will not produce employable graduates in the public and private sectors. Seriously speaking, I believe that better universities can produce excellent models and modules that can address the Niger Delta conundrum beyond the Umaru Yar’Adua’s meretricious amnesty cookies that have just crumbled.
As I was saying, this is not a seminal paper on the critical role of quality of education in development. But we have been following a simple trend that is showing that there is some nexus between the quality of universities and development of very well known countries. I mean that we have seen that the countries that have had the best universities and research orientation and funding are simply the best (and fastest growing) economies in the world.
We are talking about the United States, China, Japan, Germany, South Korea, France, India, United Kingdom, Russia, Canada, Brazil, Italy, etc. Within the context of global rating, in Africa, we have South Africa, Botswana, Mauritius, Egypt, etc that can boast of better universities now than Nigeria. This is a tragedy for the giant of Africa that used to have one of the best four universities in the Commonwealth countries, including United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Singapore, New Zealand, etc.
It is instructive to note from some peer-reviewed academic research that many universities especially in southern and eastern African countries are making progress when academic excellence comes into focus. A research report entitled, Universities & Economic Development in Africa by Nico Cloete, Tracy Bailey, Pundy Pillay, Ian Bunting and Peter Maassen in 2011 illustrates this point: The report shows that universities in South Africa, Botswana, Mauritius, Mozambique, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, are more advanced in research orientation.
So, that is why we need to turn to our local leaders in Nigeria to deepen their understanding of the essence of what we mean when we say they should understand that education and indeed quality education should be too important to play politics with.
There is, therefore, no question about the fact that the time has come for our leaders to lay aside all weight and worries about insurgency and deal with the problems of the Nigerian University system. All I have been saying in the last two weeks has been that what Professor Wole Soyinka has been harping on, what he saw about three decades years ago is now very loud and clear: The entire university system in Nigeria needs a radical overhaul. Products of the current structure cannot be relied upon anymore to sustain development of this complex country that requires urgent attention. I am fully persuaded that all the academic and non-academic union members in the university should be angry about the decadence, poor funding, corruption, politicking and all the vices that are in the universities.
Nigerian university system with poor research funding and orientation has for some time now been producing the illiterate of the 21st century.
It appears to some of us outside the system that Nigeria’s academic community does not like audit queries, reforms and accountability. The Oronsaye Panel report on the universities, which recommends that unwieldy bureaucracies that consume a larger chunk of their funds through complex and too much recurrent expenditure and unwholesome capital votes for academic work clearly shows resistance to change. The governance system in the current arrangement is not conducive for academic excellence. There are too many challenges of infrastructure in a new world driven by technologies. Yes, we now research and learn in a brand new world, according to a management expert, Betty Stanley Beene, President and CEO of United Way of America, where we confront a future in which the change is ever more rapid and unpredictable.
We need a policy environment that recognizes that at the moment, learning is the only sustainable competitive advantage, individually and collectively. There is therefore no doubt that we need better universities that will enable organizations to become deliberate and effective in learning, unlearning and relearning essential to progress. Nigerian university system with poor research funding and orientation has for some time now been producing the illiterate of the 21st century.
According to Alvin Tofler, the illiterate of the 21st century will not ne those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn”. It is the same Alvin Tofler who notes that “a library is a hospital for the mind”. How many of the Nigerian universities have good libraries? How many are linked to virtual libraries of working universities in developed economies? Are the Nigerian universities producing graduates that can continue to learn, unlearn and relearn for the industrial need and the public service?
Let’s ponder over this: Any university system that will allow students to pursue a Master’s degree for five years and a PhD for ten years needs an urgent reform. The university is to prepare global citizens and oracles that can look into the seed of times and tell the people what tomorrow should be. It is education quality, quality research that can deliver that.
Therefore, Abuja and all the state capitals’ big men should not hold any summit on the need for a declaration of emergency on education. Failure to deal with the university challenge will amount to covering up corruption at the highest level.
We will continue this conversation for weeks on this page until something happens to the university system. The Soyinka’s radical approach is not a bad idea, after all. Nigeria should have good universities that most Africans can come to as it was in the beginning. We need to look at how our distorted, convoluted federalism has impacted on quality of tertiary education in Nigeria.
We need to look at how the few good public and private universities can be assisted to be globally competitive so that they can assist urgent efforts by organizations and even government agencies to reengineer or reinvent themselves to achieve more efficient and effective global orientations. It is understood that Afe Babalola University In Ado-Ekiti, Babcock University, Ilishan, Ogun State, The Redeemers University, Ede, Osun State, Covenant University, Ota, Ogun State, among a few others, have promises to be great universities.