Towards quality university education in Nigeria

The debate on quality higher education, particularly University education in Nigeria appears to suggest that the delivery of quality education is solely the responsibility of the federal government; and the current state of the education sector is primarily a result of poor funding. There is no doubt that the federal government should play a major role in the delivery of quality education, design of curriculum, prescribing the national education philosophy and providing the education policy direction of the country. The federal government’s leadership is a necessity – especially because it is the single largest owner of higher education institutions in the country (around 37 University level institutions, 37 polytechnics and 21 colleges of education).

Secondly, there is no doubt that poor funding is one of the numerous challenges faced by the Nigerian university system. With better funding universities can afford better equipment, better quality teachers and research grants to both students and faculty. However, I contend that these two lines of arguments if taken at face value can be seriously misleading. Improving the quality of education in Nigeria requires more than federal involvement and certainly much more than the allocation of financial resources – although this is very desirable. While the allocation of adequate financial resources (be it 26 per cent of the budget or 6 per cent of GDP, whichever is considered as the appropriate measure) remains paramount, fixing Nigeria’s nearly broken university system requires much more than that.

University education is not the sole responsibility of the federal government. As clearly indicated in part 2 sections 27 to 30 of the 1999 constitution, the provision of education, and university education in particular is  the responsibility of both states and federal governments. Of the 125 University institutions in the country, only 37 belong to the federal government. States own 38 of these institutions while the remainder is private sector owned. This means that as much as the federal government, states (and the private sector) also have the responsibility to invest in the development of tertiary education. States need to allocate as much resources as required of the federal government in order to ensure quality education delivery in their respective Universities. The resources required should help in the purchase of necessary tools (including laboratory equipment), provide continuous professional development training of faculty members, provide research grants, build classrooms and offices, procure information and communication technology tools and update libraries. In addition, the state governments should invest in local scholarships for outstanding students from disadvantaged backgrounds (in addition to or in place of existing annual bursaries) and support learning exchanges nationally and abroad. Governments also need to set clear goals and standards which they would like their higher education institutions to achieve. In this regard, it is recommended to have an annual education policy forum between the governments and universities to discuss their vision, goals and objectives for education. Such fora will enable the governments receive feedback as well as buy-in from university authorities and staff.

My second point is that the problem with our university system is not limited to poor funding, there are many more problems. Here I raise at least four of these problems: corruption, poor customer service, lack of continuous professional development and poor ethical standards. Corruption encapsulates, like for the rest of Nigeria, all the problems facing University education delivery in Nigeria. So the first means to improve university education delivery is to deal with corruption and ensure that universities become more accountable with ‘internally generated revenue’ and judiciously expend subventions provided by government. Secondly, poor customer service affects the delivery of quality education in Nigeria. In my view, the relationship between student and lecturer is a business relationship (particularly in our fee paying university system) and therefore should be taken as such. If this is the case, then students deserve to be treated with deference. Interference with students’ private affairs under the guise of character development (what does this term mean in relation to higher education delivery in Nigeria? Is there a central definition?) should be discouraged. Clear guidelines which define students’ relationship with lecturers  and processes for conflict resolution should be established.

Thirdly, the lack of continuous professional development for faculty members means that many are ‘stuck’ with archaic pedagogical approaches, obsolete course content and irrelevant theoretical frameworks, some of which may have been disproved, updated or discarded. The responsibility for ongoing knowledge, skills and professional development should be shared by both the lecturers and the universities. Incentives should be provided by the institutions to encourage lecturers to produce good scholarship. In this regard, is it possible to establish schemes which reward lecturers for publishing in high impact and reputable journals? Further to this, universities should strive to put in place the processes, standards and support infrastructure that will enhance the updating of their staff. This could be achieved through the establishment of University staff development centers. Finally, I raise the issue of ethics. Many of our schools need to establish clear ethical standards and guidelines or effectively disseminate existing ones or improve the enforcement of existing ones. There are several ethical questions around this issue: what are the ethical standards that guide student-lecturer, student-student relationships? Are there clear ethical codes that guide research and practices at our universities?

In essence I am saying that although the federal government does have an important and central role in the delivery of quality university education, there are other actors whose roles are equally critical, including state governments, the private sector and individual university authorities. Also, while the allocation of adequate funds is important, there are aspects of university life which need to be addressed. Some of these include tackling corruption, improving customer service, supporting continuous professional development of faculty members and promotion and enforcement of ethical principles.

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