In this piece, EUNICE NNACHI, our Correspondent in Yenagoa, examines the role university education plays in national development.
The role of university education in national development has always attracted critical attention. At the recent celebration of the 40th anniversary of the University of Port Harcourt, the issue came up. Development without education is neither attainable nor sustainable, it was observed. It was observed that while university system contributes meaningfully to the development of the country, there is a need for it to be properly funded in order to meet up such imperative role in the society.
Stakeholders in the nation’s university education have been arguing that the biggest problem facing the nation’s universities’ development is inadequate funding. While some contend that the take over of funding of the university education by government is worthwhile for necessary regulation and stability, others are of the view that the institutions, if properly repositioned, are capable of funding themselves.
This issue came to the fore during the events marking the 40th anniversary of the University of Port Harcourt. For instance, Chief Monovie Ogbara, a former chairman of the Nigeria Population Commission, NPC, and one time chairman of the state Local Government Service Commission, Bayelsa state, who bagged merit award from the Faculty of Social Sciences of the institution, is of the view that it is difficult to separate university education from national development in Nigeria.
“The truth is that it is almost impossible to exaggerate the importance of education to national development. If you took at the history of global civilization, you will notice that national education is the precursor or fore-runner of development. For example, the Japanese attained 98% literacy rate as at 1808 before the industrial revolution and economic prosperity in Japan. The reason is that men and women must acquire knowledge and skills before they can use them as tools to shape their environment and create civilization.
“It is quite unfortunate but the truth must be told. British colonial educational policy laid the foundation of unemployment in Nigeria. When the Europeans came, both colonial administrators and missionaries needed manpower like clerks, teachers and interpreters so the first education Nigerians received were tailored to make them fill low-cadre job vacancies in the colonial economy. The curriculum was not designed to interact with the African environment or to graduate creative and productive minds. That was the beginning of the white-collar-job syndrome. Every graduate want a ready-made job waiting for him or her at graduation”, he said.
What then is wrong with our university system? Dr. M.A. Ogunu in a paper titled
“The Development of University Education in Nigeria: A Statistical Analysis” identified poor funding as a key problem. According to him, “Before 1975, the funding of university education was shared almost equally between the Federal and State governments of the Federation. After 1975 and with the take-over of university education by the Federal Government, the Government became the sole financier of the Universities. Since then there has been a downward trend in the funding of universities in the country. The sharp deterioration started from about the 1976/77 session owing to the increased commitments of the federal government’s take over of all universities, abolition to tuition fees and pegging of boarding and lodging charges”, he posited.
Ogbara however lamented that “Now the world has changed. Education is an international meal ticket and a complete toolkit designed to help you survive and triumph in any environment you find yourself. That is why we talk about a marriage between the gown (the university) and the town (the society). Not only should the curriculum be tailored towards industrial and commercial needs, but the graduate should be enterprising enough to create jobs and wealth out of available resources. It is my recommendation that no matter what you are studying in the university, entrepreneurship should be part of your curriculum. It will help Nigerian graduates to be independent.
“Harvard University would tell you that they have not attained the standard they want. But it is very unfortunate that no Nigerian university has attained the standard of other universities across the world. We are not even in the bracket of the 1000 best universities in the world. However, I am optimistic that we would attain it one day. Universities were introduced by our colonial masters, and from 1960 till now, I thought our universities would have evolved but unfortunately we are still where we were in the past. Instead of tailoring our educational system towards producing graduates that would come out create jobs; we are still producing graduates that would come out of university to seek for already made job. But I think the federal government through the TETFUND is doing its best to fund universities in the country. It is my hope that someday we would attain the standard other universities have attained”, Ogbara said.
But what then is the role of the National University Commission, NUC? the mandate of the commission includes: to monitor the level of compliance of Nigerian Universities with the provisions of the Benchmark Minimum Academic Standards (BMAS) and other quality assurance guidelines that may be laid down by Government, through the Commission, from time to time; to undertake regular inspection visits to universities in order to assess the level of compliance with Government policies on matters such as admission of qualified candidates through Joint Admission Matriculation Board (JAMB), Science/Arts ratio in admission, adherence to carrying capacity in curriculum implementation.
It also include monitoring and evaluating the development of universities in Nigeria with a focus on such areas as academic brief and master plan implementation, staff and their mix, infrastructural input and other issues pertinent to ensuring qualitative university education delivery in Nigeria; to advise the Commission on the state of universities and inter-university centres on areas that require remedial measures among others.
Most, if not all, universities will cry out that they need huge funds to actualize necessary regulatory and academic demands. What then can be done in this regard since it is obvious that government alone cannot fund the university education? To tackle this challenge, Ogbara said “I will advise them to look inwards and not put themselves in the position of asking funds from the government all the time. If they fully utilize the little funds they have, I have faith that they can survive and be self sustaining. Secondly, there is nothing wrong in asking for assistance from other universities outside the country. Because depending on only funding from the federal government is not enough to run our universities. So it important that we seek help from others areas.
“Look, the building is not the university. In some countries, their universities are not bigger than this building we are in but they have high standard of education. Sometime in the future, getting land as big as UNIPORT to site a university may be hard and at that point what would you do? So it is the system that runs the university and not the buildings. So if we have a good system of education, our universities can excel. In fact the University today is not only a learning environment but a business environment. The university today has the capacity to generate revenue for itself and students too. Go to Harvard now, it is like a company, they are even generating money more than the government. So our universities should put all these into consideration and see how they can be financially independent”, he said.
The chief had earlier announced that his award and recognition by the School was as a result of his outstanding contributions to the growth and development of the university, especially the Faculty of Sciences. Aside giving scholarship to students, he has been a good ambassador of the university as an alumnus committed in alumni activities including developmental projects. He said he has never wavered when called upon for any form of assistance, no matter how little.
“I was one of the pioneer students that started the University of Port Harcourt in 1977. Not only did I bag a Bachelor of Arts degree in History in 1981 but I have also obtained a post graduate diploma, an M.Sc and I am about concluding a PhD in International Relations. Being my alma mater, I have always been responsive when called upon for advice or support so it is God’s grace and favour that singled me out for this award”, he enthused.
It was agreed that other stakeholders – such as well meaning individuals such as Ogbara and institutions – should join hands to assist in funding universities that have special financial needs.