RE-ENGINEERING NIGERIA’S EDUCATION SECTOR (Part 1)
LEONARD KARSHIMA SHILGBA
Public response to and interest in my recent article titled “On President Buhari and Corruption in Nigeria’s Education Sector,” (and other similar titles) compelled me to engage in this essay on the education sector in Nigeria, which I have decided to serialize. I hope that Nigerians would pick up an intellectual and political debate on education, for the first always requires the second arm for fruitfulness. It is not a secret that Nigeria’s education is presently dysfunctional, by which I mean it does not equip well the population for engagement with our environment, the world, and ourselves in the required manner that qualifies a people as “civilized”, “developed”, or “intelligent.” The way society understands and solves its problems says so much about its intelligence, which is measured by the solution proffered and applied to its problems.
Nigeria’s education sector is hobbled by corruption, and no amount of funding can significantly reverse the rot until this huge drain is satisfactorily blocked. This means the main problem with our education is not insufficient funding. Only the mentally disturbed would sow among thorns, and those that sow without first preparing the land could be termed lazy. The most dedicated worker cannot fill a basket with water.
Another problem with our education is poor or inefficient quality assurance (both in theory and practice). From elementary to college levels, quality assurance processes are unreliable, unprofessional and even corrupted. To put it most mildly, we have no nationally or internationally credible quality assurance agency in Nigeria’s education sector.
Management of our public institutions of learning in Nigeria is colored with poor non-competitive selection procedures, which are most often influenced by indigenous, religious and even political factors. This does two things to our education—the required innovativeness is lost and misdirected loyalty breeds corruption.
Undue focus on “maintaining a uniform standard of education throughout the country” rather than setting minimum standards and allowing state, local, and municipal authorities to determine curricula according to their development priority needs, has robbed Nigeria of creativity and initiative which are two qualities of functional education. Even nature thrives on diversity, and the civilized world has since moved on in the direction of multiplicity and diversity rather than being inured to the monotonous. Let us allow latitude regarding matters of curriculum development while clearly defining minimum standards. The functions of the Federal Ministry of Education (FME) need to be re-defined.
Duplication of departmental or agency functions in the education sector compounds the problem of burgeoning overheads. There is need to prune or merge some agencies or departments within the sector. For example, it is prudent to merge the department of Academic Standards with the department of Quality Assurance within the National Universities Commission (NUC). The structure and functions of the NUC should be reviewed. In fact, the recommendations of the Presidential Committee on rationalization of Federal Government parastatals, commissions and agencies (Oronsaye Committee, 2012) concerning the education sector should be implemented without delay. The in-coming government may wish to look at areas of the recommendations that require new legislation and approach the National Assembly accordingly, while variations could be made where new vision demands. But time is of the essence. Labor should be engaged with openness as some workers must be relieved of their appointment. In this regard, the promise of President-elect Buhari to only relieve public workers of their jobs when all their entitlements are made ready for them, should excite Labor and fetch some comfort. Furthermore, the skills acquisition program of the in-coming government should provide opportunity for Nigerian workers that must quit the public sector upon the implementation of the Oronsaye Committee recommendations. I think national productivity will be enhanced when the government hires only people it truly needs, while giving the rest opportunities to acquire the needed skills and competences that would make them truly competitive in today’s world, and productive in society.
I shall address the issues of accreditation, management of federal tertiary institutions, funding of tertiary education and education subsidy, stimulation of competition for excellence among federal universities and colleges, management of unity schools, skills acquisition and enhancement policy, and collaboration among governments for promoting primary and secondary education in Nigeria.
In 1991, the International Network for Quality Assurance Agencies in Higher Education (INQAAHE) was established. There are today more than 255 members of this accreditation network (both full and associate members). These include top regional accreditation agencies in US such as Middle States Associations of Colleges and Schools, Southern Association of Schools and Colleges; accreditors in all highly developed countries such as UK, Japan, France, Germany; and accreditation agencies in some African countries such as Ghana, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Libya, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mauritius. Nigeria is not represented either in the full membership category or the associate membership category, which includes some universities! The chief higher education accreditation agency in Nigeria, the National Universities Commission (NUC) is not a member in any of the two categories.
The purposes of the IQAAHE are:
- to create, collate and disseminate information on current and developing theory and practice in the assessment, improvement and maintenance of quality in higher education;
- to undertake or commission research in areas relevant to quality in higher education;
- to express the collective views of its members on matters relevant to quality in higher education through contacts with international bodies and by other means;
- to promote the theory and practice of the improvement of quality in higher education;
- to provide advice and expertise to assist existing and emerging quality assurance agencies;
- to facilitate links between quality assurance agencies and support networks of quality assurance agencies;
- to assist members to determine the standards of institutions operating across national borders and facilitate better-informed international recognition of qualifications;
- to assist in the development and use of credit transfer and credit accumulation schemes to enhance the mobility of students between institutions (within and across national borders);
- to enable members to be alert to improper quality assurance practices and organizations;
- to organize, on request, reviews of the operation of members.
[Source: INQAAHE Constitution]
The National Universities Commission (NUC), like any agency, body or individuals within the higher education community, needs peer review in order to gain validation and legitimacy, which would naturally rob off positively on the institutions it accredits. By isolating itself from such peer-review mechanisms like the INGAAHE the NUC is missing out on several advantages that are implied by the purposes of the INQAAHE, and this has projected on the Nigerian universities it oversees an unfortunate cloud of poor reputation.
The NUC should not be both an accreditation agency and a higher education management organization. The incoming government of Mohammadu Buhari must determine a new role for the NUC, whether that of a regulator of private not-for-profit professional accreditation bodies or an operator involved in accreditation of higher education in Nigeria, requiring validation by both the Federal Ministry of Education (FME) and an independent agency (not under the FME) in the class of Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) in the United States. In US, higher education accreditation is primarily done by private membership organizations that are not-for-profit. But those organizations must gain the recognition and validation of both the US Department of Education (USDE) and CHEA. And any institution that seeks federal Student Aid funds, for instance, must have their programs accredited by an agency that has obtained the validation of both the USDE and CHEA. Furthermore, only accredited institutions in US (accredited by USDE- and CHEA-approved and validated accreditation bodies) qualify for federal grants. Besides, CHEA keeps an international directory on education ministries and bodies involved in quality assurance in higher education, which directory contains more than 450 such recognized bodies in more than 170 countries.
In its 2012 Issue 240 edition, the University World News stated the following: “The US-based Council for Higher Education and Accreditation, CHEA, has launched an international division, arguing that as internationalization spreads there is a pressing need for institutions around the world to work together to establish a shared global system of quality assurance.”
I think CHEA should be an example of NUC’s peer. Higher education has evolved, and there is a growing agreement that universities should move from competition to cooperation. If Nigerian universities will improve on the perception the world has of them and thereby their ranking among global universities and the academic community, their chief accreditor, the NUC must gain the legitimacy, validation and recognition among its global peers. I propose the following:
- The National Universities Commission (NUC) must be accredited or undergo peer review by a team of international accreditation experts drawn from accreditation bodies and networks such as CHEA and INQAAHE to ensure its improvement in the theory and practice of quality assurance. Accordingly, steps must be taken to get NUC into INQAAHE.
- The NUC should be completely re-organized and restructured in order to reduce cost and enhance efficiency:
- Reduce the number of NUC departments from twelve to not more than five: Quality Assurance and Academic Standards (which is the heart of the NUC and also handles all national and international collaborations and research and planning matters); Inspectorate and Visitations; Information Technology; Finance and Administration; and Office of the Executive Secretary.
- Take away students’ services functions from the NUC. Why should we have the department of students’ services in NUC when all operations of the NUC constitute service to students?
- International assistance to public universities in Nigeria does not have to come through the NUC. In fact, NUC should not be directly involved in any financial grant to federal universities or degree-awarding institutions so that it will concentrate on the primary function of quality assurance. The current situation where NUC holds onto needed funds meant for federal universities and then turns around to query why certain facilities have not been provided for degree programs by the same universities makes a classic case of comedy. More seriously, this is corruption!
In order to eliminate the academic mercenary syndrome in the Nigerian university system, scholars intending to teach in Nigerian universities should be required to register with the NUC as “Affiliate Members”, providing detailed personal information, including their institutions of affiliation. Thus, during accreditation visitations any faculty that is not affiliated to the university would not be considered by the NUC for the purpose. Besides, in considering faculty within an academic program, a minimum of two semesters within the program should be required for the purpose of program accreditation.
4. Superseding (1)-(3),Other Academic Standard and Quality Assurance Bodies (OASQAB) should be required to accredit degree programs while the NUC regulates them for legitimacy and validation. Thus, while the NUC does both institution and program accreditations, the OASQABs will be required to do germane program accreditation just like COREN presently does for engineering programs. Alternatively, NUC should be renamed NUHEC (National Universities and Higher Education Commission) and moved from under the wings of FME, to perform functions similar to the American CHEA. Not-for-profit accreditation organizations would be required to seek regular accreditation from NUHEC for both institutional and program accreditation of institutions of higher education in Nigeria. Therefore, agencies like National Council for Colleges of Education (NCCE), Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria (COREN), and private non-for-profit accreditation agencies would require the validation and recognition of both NUHEC and FME to perform institutional and program accreditations for higher education in Nigeria. NUHEC would be independent of the FME.
MANAGEMENT OF TERTIARY EDUCATION
President Buhari must begin to address higher education in Nigeria by looking into the accreditation of higher education programs and the process of recruiting vice-chancellors and leaders of other tertiary institutions. He knows that poor leadership of any enterprise would yield poor outcomes. The vice-chancellor should be the real CEO of his university in all practical ways, and search for vice-chancellors of federal universities should attain international prestige and outlook. Reputable international hiring agencies must be engaged to recruit vice-chancellors of repute, taking into consideration vision in higher education, experience and influence in the corporate world, ability to attract funds, and ability to manage human resources. Appointment of vice-chancellors (university presidents) must not be part of rewarding political associates. The status quo is corrupt, and must be stopped.
In order to reduce the number of non-teaching staff that shall be needed, students shall be hired in a Work-Study program every semester to do certain jobs on campus. Each campus shall have such autonomy that will allow it to design and run its programs with regular quality assurance and enforcement of standards by NUHEC-recognized rating agencies and relevant international professional accreditation bodies.
Nigerian professors in the Diaspora who are not willing to return home, but are ready to be visiting professors should be tapped to teach at least for a semester, or summer schools, supervise graduate work and engage in committee assignments at modest remuneration under a Diaspora Professorial Exchange (DPE) program; and free furnished housing should be provided to participants in the DPE.
Graduate programs in the universities should be sufficiently funded to produce scholars with higher degrees to support faculty needs in the country, with priority given to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM), which is in agreement with the vision of the Buhari administration. The university must sell itself to industries and organizations for supplementary funding. In fact, I should recommend that industries and organizations should be represented in the higher education accreditation community at least through membership of advisory board of the NUHEC.
TO BE CONTINUED