Higher Education; Challenges for Improvement
Dr. Aminu Magashi
I got angry with myself while perusing the Guardian Editorial of Friday , May , 25th , 2007 .It got to the extent that I sub consciousness asked myself loudly “What is wrong with Nigeria” , all eyes at the school student’s common room turned to gaze at me out of bewilderment . To save the situation , I tendered unreserved apology , friends who got the message of the situation later told me that , it was high time I reviewed my priorities and forget about going back home in September , this year at the end of my studentship . As far as they were concern from what they read and viewed from Media of Nigeria ; the country is in terminal illness and would not change for the better. In their own assessment “ Nigeria is bless with stupendous wealth , natural and human resources , but bedevilled with Mis- Management , Corruption , Bad Governance , Irresponsible Leadership , Docile Followership , High Crime Rate and Lack of Security which are evidenced by high level of poverty , illiteracy , low life expectancy , rapid spread of Infectious diseases , high morbidity and mortality rates and collapsed of systems and conflicts.” I got a long lecture about my country and at the end of it all; some of them pledged to assist me to secure a good job, if I reverse my stubborn stupidity to go back home. Those were the words of my colleagues at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
The Editorial under discussion was instructive, titled “Nigerian Universities and World Ranking”. The paper reported that “The latest worldwide universities' ranking shows that Nigerian universities have dropped out of reckoning because of the poor quality and scope of research conducted by indigenous academics. No Nigerian university featured on the world best 500 universities list. Indeed from the African continent, only the University of Cape Town, South Africa made the list. More embarrassing was the fact that even among the contending universities in Africa, the best Nigerian university was ranked number 44, trailing behind some universities in Kenya, South Africa, and Ghana………This should be bad news to the Nigerian government and educationists. It should also be bad news to Nigerian academics who, under the aegis of ASUU, are currently on strike over working conditions.”
For any ranking be it locally or internationally, some of the criteria being used are : The number and quality of researches emanating from institutions and publication of such in renowned and refutable academic journals , quality of graduates in relation to ability to secure good jobs , contribute to academic excellence and public/private policies , institutions’ facilities in relation to overall number of students , funding , networking with other organisations and institutions . Do we need any ranking, to know that our academic institutions are far behind from ideal and in doldrums?. Without sound and good education, no nation can prosper . Our Educational System is having a direct bearing on our Health Systems, Security, Civil Service , Economic and Population Growth and achieving Sustainable Development.
How do we always react to the educational crises in Nigeria? For the unions such as ASSU, they always react through strikes and disruption of academic calendars, for the rich among us , they take their children either to local private universities or over seas for a better quality education , so also corrupt government officials that stole our money . The commentators react by castigating emotionally the past and current administrations for all the woes without proffering workable and practicable solutions. The poor and the middle class keep on praying that things might change for the better . I am at a lost how local NGOs are reacting to the situation.
Will some one tells me how much a University is receiving as a subvention from the Federal Government, how is that money been spend ? Is the system efficient, effective and transparent ? Is such record available for the public to scrutinise and evaluate ? Has ASUU or any other Union is regularly conducting internal and self evaluation of our Universities. Are they looking for alternative and additional source of funding other than government source? Have they ever care to fathom why those over seas institutions are excelling and doing well. How many of them can boast of Two or Three published Essay per year, which of course is within their reach? Is “Strike” the only way to react to the situation . These are questions that we need to pause and ponder.
The 2005/6 Annual Report of London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine , the leading Public Health School in Europe revealed for that academic year a total income of 63.4 Million Pounds , among that income “Research Grants & Contracts” was 39.8 Million Pounds , Higher Education/FCE Grants was 11.8 Million Pounds , Tuition Fees was 7.7 Million and Others were 4.1 Million . Looking at the Research Grant of 39.8 Million , the United Kingdom Government is contributing a sum of 4.2 Million ( about 10.5 % ) . The largest shares came from UK Charity Organisations, Research Councils, UK Industries , Gates Foundation . Others that contributed were EU Government Bodies, W.H.O, UK Health and Hospital Authorities, Bilateral International Organisations and Foundations .
The point I am making is the fact that if the school has only rely on UK Government as a public school to pursue its academic excellence and research work , surely it is not going to go any head way . Staffs of the school conduct researches that inform policy change and directions both at Local and International Level ( Public and Private Sector) They tirelessly and passionately develop and work on quality/detail long term Project and Research Proposals and reach out for funding from many Local and International Institutions. Because of the quality of their published research work, many institutions are reaching out to the school to do business.
Can we improve our educational system? My answer is a big Yes, but only if we are committed and sincere and ready to work very hard . The following are my recommendations.
1. Universities need to reform their council in terms of who sit on the board and what they do. Selection of board members should be base on what one can and will contribute to the university not the other way round. What expertise and skills and professional advice is one bringing to the system . In a situation where by board members see their participation as a means to get money, influence and benefits . It will be a wasted venture both in terms of what the institution is spending on them and the opportunity cost been lost .
2. Reactivate Alumni Organisations and be constantly upgrading its data base to know where they are and what they are doing and how will the system benefit from their achievements in terms of contacts and funding sources . Many of them will be willing to serve as good ambassadors .
3. Many International Universities will be willing to establish Exchange programmes with our universities for mutual benefit , but we have to reach out to such opportunities . Also to explore funding/award from local corporations such as Banks and Tele/GSM Operators , Oil Companies , Wealthy Individuals among us to establish Professorial Chairs that will consolidate taught and research courses as well as serve as links with other academic institutions .
4. There are many Foundations , Charity organisations and United Nations Bodies , Bilateral and Multilateral Organisations that will be more than willing to support our University’s Faculties with facilities , funding and technical support towards quality researches that will inform policies and improve taught courses . If we reach out to them with good proposals , it is a signed deal . What MacArthur Foundation is supporting at Bayero University Kano , Ahmadu Bello University Zaria , University of Ibadan and University of PortHacourt is a pointer to this issue .
5. Income Generation Activities such as upgrading University Guest Houses to hotel standards and open to public , establishing Information Technology Businesses and Publication/Press for both the institution and the public as well as purchasing shares and stocks .
6. Tasking the system to be more efficient and transparent by publishing annual reports and having a strategic plan of action and be conducting regular internal evaluation.
Finally, we shall continue to pursue , demand and advocate to Federal and State governments to increase funding and support to Educational Sector , however , there are additional and alternative opportunities within and without for us to exploit . All what is needed is for us to open our eyes wide.
Dr Magashi is a Masters Student ( Public Health ) at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine . He can reached at firstname.lastname@example.org