[NEWS]: At 54, Nigeria boasts low-ranking

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The fact that no Nigerian university ranks among the top 10 in Africa should be a source of concern to all, CHARLES ABAH writes

As Nigeria celebrates its 54th anniversary as a sovereign nation on Wednesday (tomorrow), it is not only time again to click the glasses in celebration, it is also an occasion to appraise development in every sphere of the nation’s life.

For the education sector, the evaluation will attract mixed commentaries. For instance, while government officials and their allies will give kudos to the authorities for a well-deserved journey so far, especially with significant increase in school enrolment, increased number of universities, polytechnics, colleges of education, and greater private sector participation, those on the other side of the divide will point to the lapses in the sector.

The latter will easily point to the policy flip-flops, underfunding, frequent industrial actions, and the recent attacks on schools, among others, as the hallmark of the sector. According to a professor of Political Science and International Affairs scholar, Kayode Soremekun, there is not much to celebrate in the area of education as the country commemorates another independence anniversary.

He says, “I do not think that we have done well, especially in the public realm. As far as I am concerned, the public dimension of nation’s education system has collapsed. For instance, the frequent mass failures recorded in the West African Senior School Certificate Examination tell a lot about the decay at the secondary level. The country’s primary and secondary schools are no longer what they used to be.

“If you look at the university level, there is still a similar decline in standard. More alarmingly, the recent warning by the National Universities Commission Executive Secretary, Prof Julius Okojie, urging vice-chancellors to avoid creating positions for roadside professors is another pointer to the decline in the sector. Therefore, you can see that between the primary schools and the universities in the country, there is a crisis.”

Beyond Soremekun’s statement, analysts also point to the 2014 University Web rankings for African universities, saying it is not cheering news for a country that has attained the golden age. Indeed, going by the rankings, no Nigerian tertiary institution is among the top 10 universities on the continent.

Where South Africa and Egypt shine, dominating the best rankings portfolio and occupying the choicest of positions, Nigeria, the most populated black nation in the world has its best in the University of Ilorin, which occupies the 20th position in Africa. In fact, going by this year’s rankings, only 10 Nigerian universities are among the first 100 tertiary institutions on the continent.

South Africa, where apartheid regime ended in 1990, not only occupies the first position with the University of Cape Town, it also has seven other universities in the first 10-bracket table. Egypt has two – the Cairo University, Giza and the American University, Cairo – in the first 10 best ivory towers on the continent.

Some of the criteria for receiving favourable rankings are student population, university’s ability to attract foreign students, number of Nobel laureates, lecturers’ publications and international journals, web presence of the institutions as well as their capability to attract grants. Compared to several other universities abroad, many believe that Nigerian institutions clearly lag behind as far as these factors are concerned.

But some stakeholders are also quick to note that many lecturers and non-academic workers in the tertiary institutions also conduct themselves in ways that deal professionalism a big blow. In many of the institutions, there are, for instance, lecturers who rely on obsolete notes while others are so lazy and exploitative that they place premium on handouts.

Besides, analysts allege that some engage in examination malpractice, while others are adept at sexual harassment of students. Of course, some play all kinds of politics while pursuing higher degrees like the PhD. And even professorship. Analysts are thus worried that even if all infrastructure were in place, it would still be difficult if such elements were not weeded out.

So, as the popping of champagne goes on in commemoration of Independence Day, analysts want to know why a country considered to have the biggest economy on the continent is not doing well in the education sector, 54 years after. They want to know why Nigeria’s no fewer than 129 universities, comprising 40 federal, 38 state and 51 private institutions, are not receiving the best of assessment in Africa. They also bother why many Nigerians prefer the United States, United Kingdom and many neigbouring West African countries as safe havens to pursue their education.

For the Ibadan zonal Coordinator of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, Dr. Nasir Adesola, the reasons for the poor rankings are obvious, considering the frequent strikes, inadequate funding and policy inconsistency, among others, rocking the sector.

He notes, “Sincerely, we are not faring well at all. We have not achieved the desired level of development in all the sectors. For the fact that things are still as bad, the immediate implication is that our education has not translated into the development of the country and this is a thing of concern. Within this same period, I mean 54 years of independence; many Asian nations have had beautiful turnaround in their countries. It means that we really need to sit down and look at our system again.

“What the Federal Government should do is to appraise the system and set a target for Nigerian universities to endeavour to attain a certain position in the rankings. It should focus on how to move the nation’s schools up the ladder, and not paying lip service to education.”

Indeed, last year alone, the strike called by the Academic Staff Union of the universities resulted in the shutting of the gates of the nation’s public universities for 169 days. The teachers were kicking against the non-implementation of an agreement the Federal Government signed with them in 2009, as well as the non-payment of their earned allowances.

The polytechnic system, where the President, Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics, Mr. Chibuzo Asomugha belongs, the sub sector has not fared better, either. Though ASUP suspended its over eight months strike on compassionate ground last July, almost three months after, the Federal Government has yet to resolve the lingering issues. The same scenario plays out at the nation’s colleges of education. Teachers in the colleges have a myriad of unresolved issues to sort out with the authorities in the last 10 months.

It is not surprising, therefore, why the ASUP President also agrees with Soremekun and Adesola that it is not Uhuru yet for the sector.

Asomugha declares, “If I were to assess the nation as an examination paper, I would not give it a pass mark. Given the potential of the country, where we are after 54 years, in truth, we cannot be adjudged as progressing.”

Besides education, he believes that more needs to be done in all spheres of the nation’s life. He adds, “A cataclysmic serial leadership failure has kept the nation crawling for 54 years. All segments of society have performed within the failure range: education, defence, health, security, unity, infrastructure, youth employment, among others. It is easy to share the sentiments of certain discernible figures in society that Nigeria is more or less a failed state. Yet the potential that can turn the nation’s fortunes around abound.”

Apart from strikes, the nation’s university system, nay the entire education sector, has the problem of inadequate funding hanging on its neck like an albatross. In fact, analysts argue that since independence, the best the sector has witnessed in terms of funding is 13 per cent, which, they add, is a far distance from the United Nations Children Education Fund’s 26 per cent recommendation.

According to them, the troubled funding is at the heart of the problems besetting the sector. For them, the inadequate funding is at the source of the frequent industrial actions, dearth of infrastructure, abandoned and dilapidated buildings, lack of well-trained personnel, ineffective teaching methods, inadequate curricula and, above all, the fallen standard of education in the country.

But, proffering solution on how to alter the situation, Soremekun, a former Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Osun State lecturer, says, “All we need to do is to go back to the basics. We need to ask ourselves what has really gone wrong. You see, the western world thrives mainly because of its knowledge structure. That knowledge structure is not yet in our country. So we need to map out our own structure.”

The ASUU helmsman Adesola agrees with Soremekun. He notes that beyond criticising the government, the union is leading other stakeholders in planning an education summit later in October as a way of addressing practically some of the salient but festering issues bogging down the nation’s education at the tertiary level.

Similarly, Asomugha believes that not all hope is lost yet. He says, “We need to muster the collective will driven by a focused and selfless leadership to maximise the depth of possibilities at our finger tips in order to develop not just the tertiary sector but also the nation at large.”

Source: THE PUNCH

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