First Distinguished Lecture Series
LEAD CITY UNIVERSITY, IBADAN, NIGERIA.
Chief Afe Babalola, OFR, SAN, LL.D
Pro-Chancellor & Chairman Of Council, University of Lagos, &
Chairman, Committee Of Pro-Chancellors Of Nigerian Universities.
The Dwindling Standard Of Education In Nigeria: The Way Forward
I thank the organizers of today's event for giving me the privilege to deliver this lecture which I understand is the first in the history of this institution.
The organizers of today have also given me the liberty to discuss any topic of my choice. I ask myself: What more contemporary topical issue is there to discuss among a university audience than the dwindling standard of our education?
I say with humility that I am very well conversant with the Nigerian educational system and the factors that ail its development.
I am also prepared to share with you some of my experience as a Primary School Teacher, Secondary School Teacher, Vice Principal of Ibadan City Academy, a former Chairman of the Governing Council of the Federal Polytechnic, Ado-Ekiti, and now the Pro Chancellor and Chairman of the Council of the University of Lagos. The problems of our universities have something to do with the origin, foundation, staffing, students and funding and so any critical and beneficial appraisal of the problems must take care of all these issues and deal with them decisively.
A - Origin Of The University
The first universities started as charitable organizations founded as corporations of students and masters who were chartered first by the Pope and later by Emperors and Kings and now by Parliaments or State Governments. This was how such universities as those in Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Athens started. They were largely independent so long as they avoided the teaching of atheism or heresy. These universities minded their own affairs and funded their own needs. They did not have any permanent structures and their corporate properties were few. Education was conducted essentially in cathedrals and monastery schools, or in the homes of wealthy members of the society. George Washington University was a quintessential institute of higher learning which opened in the then colony of America. The University was established by some ministers and laymen who had passion for missionary work and desired a learned clergy. These people sponsored a movement for the establishment of a College in the District of Columbia. They raised funds amongst themselves with which they purchased a site and petitioned Congress for a Charter which was eventually approved on 9th February 1821 by President Monroe.
Oxford University was founded by a group of masters and students then resident in Oxford in the 12th Century. The first classes were held in the churches of St. Mary's and this practice continued until the 16th Century. Similar history of establishment is shared by other centres of learning in other parts of Europe, notably in Bologna and Paris.
B -The Establishment Of The First University In Nigeria
The first University in Nigeria started in 1948 as a College of the University of London. This was decades after many Nigerians had been exposed to University education. The University College, Ibadan, evolved out of the desire of the British government to establish universities or university colleges in the Commonwealth, particularly in West Africa, during the Second World War. It was for this purpose that the Asquith and Elliot Commissions were both set up in 1943. They submitted their reports in 1945. The Elliot Commission in its majority and minority reports recommended the establishment of a university college in Nigeria. The Asquith Commission on the other hand focused in its report on the fundamental principles which were to guide the development of institutions of higher learning similar to the University College subsequently established at Ibadan. The report also emphasized the principles of residential university, high academic standards in admissions, staffing and employment. It is worthy of emphasis to state that as an affiliate of the University of London, the University College, Ibadan was structured after the parent university. After its metamorphosis as an autonomous university, the same structure was retained and was later adopted by other universities established subsequently in Nigeria.
C- At The Beginning The Standard Was High
The products of our first universities, especially the six at Ibadan, Ife, Lagos, Benin, Nsukka and Zaria compared very favourably with those of any university in the world. They were sought after by Universities at Harvard, Cambridge, Oxford and London for post-graduate degrees. When they were eventually admitted, they recorded record-breaking performances. They were offered the best jobs on graduation by the multi-national companies and other big corporate bodies. Those who chose to remain and teach in the universities either here or abroad ranked favourably with their foreign colleagues.
D - The Military And The Fall Of Standard
Then suddenly, things nose-dived. Standards began to fall, especially with the advent of the military in the civil governance of the country. The system was militarized. The schools were deprived of adequate funding. Old infrastructures were not replaced or repaired. Teachers who had previously been well remunerated suddenly became over-worked and under-paid. Morale became low. The worsening economic situation did not help matters as unemployment ravaged school graduates. They became despondent. Our university graduates suddenly turned into a shadow of what they used to be, and the outside world treated them as such. They were no longer the beautiful brides that they were among foreign universities and employers. Eventually, problem got to the peak of its badness when employers began to reject and discriminate against graduate of Polytechnics and of Universities established by the states. The situation has got to a frightening proportion that all stakeholders now agree that something has to be done, urgently and decisively.
E - The problems bequeathed to us by the military can be categorized as follows:-
(1) Poor/Inadequate Funding
The unenviable legacy inherited by Obasanjo's government when it came into power in 1999 include the following:-
(a) Unpaid Pensions and gratuities for retired university staff which ran into several billions of Naira.
(b) Salaries and other remunerations paid to professors and other lecturers which did not compare at all with what their colleagues earned elsewhere.
(c) Hostels which were in a pitiable condition. The government has recently released money to carry out some refurbishment.
(d) College buildings including lecture rooms and offices which need refurbishment.
(e) Libraries which are poorly equipped and are in need of modern books and equipment
(f) Laboratory equipment which are obsolete and are calling for modernization.
(g) Campus roads which are in a state of disrepair.
(h) Short supply of electricity. (Though this is a national problem, students show no tolerance. What is more, generators where they are available, need refurbishment or replacement).
(i) Water supply which in most cases is inadequate.
I personally went round the University of Lagos and I saw the unsatisfactory conditions of these infrastructures. Similar complaints came from other universities. The question we must ask ourselves is "why have things gone so bad"?
The answer is that the 26 Federal Universities and 26 State Universities which we ran until the introduction of private universities recently are creations of the government and are funded by the government. In fact many state universities are not much better than secondary schools and in some cases cannot compare favourably with schools like Olashore International Secondary School. The bitter truth which the populists do not want to hear is that ours remains the only country where education is funded absolutely by the government.
Nigeria presents a classical study in over dependence on government for the provision of virtually everything. Total dependence on government for the provision of everything has not, is not and will never solve our problems.
Nigerians have been made to believe that all they have to do is to sit at home, produce children and donate them to the government to nurture, maintain, train and educate. Nigerians want free medical treatment, subsidized food, good roads, cheap electricity, free water, free education etc.
(2) Human Resources
One major problem facing our universities is that of personnel.
University Lecturers and Professors were the most respected in the society between the 40s and 70s. Their salaries and allowances were equivalent to what their counterparts earned overseas or in other paid employments outside the University such as banks, multi-national companies, big corporate bodies etc.
The statutory permanence of their employment made their job absolutely secured. The fact that a Professor was entitled to an assured gratuity and pension and which was paid on time, gave him the required peace of mind which is a necessary condition for teaching and research.
Then came the military and the subsequent devaluation of the national currency. Things nose-dived for the worse. Today, when you compare the income of a Professor in Nigeria with what his colleagues outside our shores receive, then you would come to realize why some of our best brains are deserting universities for more lucrative employment or taking economic refuge in foreign universities. To make things worse, so many of them retire and for years are not paid their gratuity and pension. There are pitiable cases when pensioned lecturers have to borrow money to pay their fare to collect pension only to return unpaid.
It is certainly better to be a local government Councilor than to be a Professor. As we are all aware the total package of a Councilor is many times more than that of a Professor. The consequence of-course is that brilliant materials are shunning university for more lucrative and secure jobs in and outside Nigeria. The rush to fill the gap left behind by the best of brains has inevitably allowed for unacceptable lowering of standards. A situation where mediocres find their ways into the university as Professors does not augur well. Whichever way you look at it standards in the universities have fallen terribly as a result of inadequate human resources. With the coming into power of the present administration of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, GCFR in 1999, there has been considerable improvement. The number of university lecturers who bought cars has more than doubled. There was an increase of 45% in salaries and many have benefited from certain schemes which they have utilized to acquire one property or the other for themselves. A lot, however, still remains to be done to improve the terms of employment of university lecturers and bring them close to the benefits derivable by people of their ilk in universities outside Nigeria and other establishments.
(3) The Quality Of Students Produced From Secondary School
One major problem is the quality of products turned over to the universities by primary and secondary schools. Universities are for men and women of quality. It is an institute for learning and character. When I recalled that what I learnt in elementary school was what I built upon in my preparation for Cambridge school certificate privately, I cannot but sympathize with the products of our elementary schools.
The schools are ill-equipped and teachers are poorly trained. Standard is falling in all departments. Sometime ago, University of London conducted an enquiry into the falling standard of spoken and written English in West Africa. The report was that teachers trained by the colonial masters were no doubt excellent but with independence, the regional governments were in a hurry to increase the number of intakes to primary schools without corresponding increase in the number of properly trained teachers. They found that most of the teachers were taught by teachers who were either poorly trained or untrained at all. They reported that the standard of spoken and written English had fallen very badly. They concluded derisively that soon there would be a brand of English to be called West African English, spoken by West Africans only and understood by West Africans only.
To-day students who gain admission into our universities see nothing wrong in saying that they were never taught History, Geography or Literature.
(4) The Jamb
Let me say straight away that our poor ranking among world universities did not come to me as a surprise. I saw it coming. On that day, the 15th of December 2003, when our Governing Council, the university and the Pro Chancellor were given the award as the best in the country, I raised the critical issue of decline in our quality of education. My submission was that JAMB Test for university candidates was no longer a true test because the examination has been thoroughly abused.
Invigilators connived with candidates to cheat, surrogates impersonate real candidates to write examination, parents collude with JAMB officials. In the end, dullards come up with inflated marks ranging from 280 to 300 plus.
I am happy that my constructive criticism that JAMB has lost its credibility has provoked the desired debate. I am also happy to note that the screening and testing carried out have proved us right. Most candidates who scored between 280 and 300 never turned up for screening. A candidate who scored 303 in JAMB got only 28% in post JAMB test whereas one who scored only 220 in JAMB scored 48% in university test. Invariably, those who performed well were those who scored between 210 and 260.
I pay tribute to the President, the government and the Minister of Education who have thrown their weight on the side of quantitative education and have vowed to eradicate fraud in our universities. I salute the numerous Nigerians who rose up in defence of reform of our university system. They include but not limited to newspapers like the Gaurdian, The Punch, The Comet, This Day, Prof. Sam Aluko, Dr. Reuben Abati, Joe Igbokwe, Hope Eghagha and A.U. Akpanebe.
I ask you, if JAMB results had been credible would there be need for any test or call it screening? The JAMB having collected billions of Naira for discredited results should in my view underwrite what expenses the university may incur in carrying out the exercise thereby making payment of extra examination the unnecessary.
One other major factor which is the cause of falling standard in our universities and aforitori responsible for our poor graduates among world universities is the incessant strikes by ASSU, NASSU and other unions in the University.
There was a reported gathering of the Oxford University Community some few years ago. A Nigerian guest among the gathering had wanted to know when the University last had a strike action. As if the Vice Chancellor had not heard the word "strike" before, he whispered to the Registrar the question posed by the Nigerian for assistance. The Registrar was himself more confused. In that confusion he said: "Strikes, do you mean?" The last and only strike I can recall is the clash which our students had in 17- with the inhabitants of the Oxford town".
In Nigeria, the matter is different. Hardly does a semester pass by without our universities getting closed down either due to strikes by the lecturers or unrests by the students themselves. These are usually for the wrong reasons, or for no reasons at all.
It suffices to say that strikes dislocate the educational system, affect the morale and morals of students, lower the quality of education and degrees when teachers return to class months after they had vacated it, only to compress the syllabus and increase the cost of education. I am not aware of any country where university lecturers take so much joy in embarking on strikes, even on matters which do not affect their terms of employment or university, or matters which by negotiation can be resolved, regardless of the consequences on the lives of the children for whom they stand in loco parentis. Some striking lecturers even go to the extent of criminally instigating students to join them.
Fortunately, in my first term as Pro Chancellor of University of Lagos, the professors of old breed were able to restrain the younger ones and we had a relatively strike free university.
Aside from the factors earlier identified, there is no doubting the fact that indiscipline remains one of the major factors responsible for the precipitous decline in the quality of education in Nigeria. This manifests itself in different forms.
Cases of unethical and unprofessional practices, which are unbecoming of university teachers, such as immorality some of which we have had to deal with recently; indiscriminate admission of unqualified or unfit candidates; examination malpractices; absentee Lecturers some of whom were dimissed lately; fraudulent and criminal activities, some of which we have reported to the Police; disrespect for constituted authority and polarization of academia; cases of plagiarism one of which is still pending before us; and late release or non-release of examination results to me this is a very serious misconduct. Many lives and futures of students have been adversely hampered by deliberate late release or non-release of results for months or even for a year. In some cases, examination scripts are not marked at all or concealed. By this some hapless students could not report at NYSC camps; prospective lawyers are denied admission to the Law School while many promotions are delayed in the process.
Student cultism is perhaps one of the greatest problems confronting our tertiary institutions today in Nigeria. In recent years, this plague has assumed a frightening and deadly dimension. It is so worrisome that the possibility of its spread to secondary (and even primary) schools in the country is enough to give every caring parent a cause to lose sleep.
The term "cult" has been defined somewhere as "a group of people engaged in a form of ritual usually under oath, binding the members to a common cause". Such group of individuals operate covertly in furtherance of their objective which is usually detrimental to the interest of others. Thus a cult is a group of people which places a secondary need in the position of a primary need. In other words, any group of people that places emphasis on secret initiation or rituals for the purpose of group-help, group protection but whose activities are clandestine in nature is a cult.
For us to appreciate the enormity of this worrisome phenomenon on our campuses, it is vitally necessary to revisit the origin of cultism in Nigerian universities.
The first recorded evidence of cultism in tertiary institutions in Nigeria revealed that it all began in 1952 at the University of Ibadan when a group of seven people which included Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka and Emeritus Professor Olumuyiwa Awe founded the Seadogs Confraternity (popularly known as Pyrates) with three principal objectives:
(i) "to fight against moribund conventions - colonial mentality in the University System, the compulsory wearing of formal dresses to the cafeteria, idea of students behaving as overlords and per British behaviour;
(ii) to fight for humanization ideas to revive the soul in the campus, to establish discipline, orderliness and orientation to laudable national objectives;
(iii) to fight against corruption, tribalism and cultism."
The above, ex facie, are laudable objectives given the prevailing circumstance of 1952 at the then University College, Ibadan. But today, the story is different. Pyrates Confraternity had effectively become one of the major cults terrorizing our campuses, until the top hierarchy of the confraternity banned its existence on (University) Campuses. Their founders, patrons and members, however still exist off-campus.
Reasons Why Cultism Exists
Some of the known reasons why cultism exists in our institutions of learning (especially universities) are as follows:
(i) Long years of military rule and its attendant brutalization of the civil populace.
(ii) The employment of discretionary admission which favours less brilliant students but prejudices the interest and chances of brilliant and talented ones.
(iii) Presence of non-students in the halls of residence of higher institutions which makes it easier for extraneous forces to employ them for diabolical ends.
(iv) Access of students to dangerous and sometimes sophisticated lethal weapons.
(v) Readiness of some university administrators to employ cult members for their own selfish ends like suppression of vocal and dynamic student leaders.
(vi) Existence of fear as a result of lack of security on campuses.
(vii) Inadequate accommodation leading to over-crowding and all manners of sharp practices.
(viii) The course system which allows a student to stay in school for a longer period than necessary and which makes him to lose focus and thereby becoming "professional" student in the process.
With the above background, we may now ask: Why do students join cults? Many reasons can be proffered but I will attempt just a few. Some of the reasons are:
(1) Desire to obtain undue privileges
(2) Desire to have a sense of power, influence and prestige among fellow students
(3) Desire to command undeserved authority and respect within the campus
(4) Readiness to confront injustice and inequity especially from school authorities and lecturers.
(5) Rabid desire to terrorize people by exhibiting capability to inflict violence on real and imagined adversaries.
(6) Need to force and intimidate both lecturers and fellow students to grant unjustified, selfish and devilish requests.
(7) Desire to attract for members underserved rights and privileges.
(8) To carry undue favour and obtain financial assistances
(9) For the male cultists, to create an avenue of securing girl friends through the employment of intimidation and or guarantee of protection on campus.
(10) Need to work in conjunction with other students of similar persuasion for purposes of evading sanctions and or justified punishments.
(11) Urge to acquire false boldness consequent upon their own inherent weakness and or lack of parental care/good home training.
(12) Simply out of misplaced inquisitiveness and lust for social vices
F - The Way Forward
1. Payment Of Diffferential Fees
With the huge damage done to all sectors of the economy by the military and the need to revive each and every sector simultaneously, it will be unreasonable to expect that government would pump all its resources into our Universities education alone.
Time has come when Nigeria must face the reality of its economic and financial circumstances and do what others elsewhere do to propel their universities to institutions of national relevance, capable of fulfilling their national aspirations.
Recently, the 13 OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries reviewed Higher Education funding. It concluded as follows:-
Tuition fees are becoming the international rule and not the exception. Eight of the 13 OECD main competitor countries analysed in this paper charge tuition fees of some sort. All of these eight bar Netherlands vary their fees to some extent.
In Canada, tuition fees are paid and they are on the rise. In Australia, differential fees are paid on the basis of income. For Japan, with effect from 2000, state Universities would be allowed to have greater autonomy and, more importantly, they have freedom to set their own tuition fee levels. In national Universities, fees are set at #2,700. In China, fees are set according to market conditions taking into account both costs and demand.
In America, fees at public and private institutions are rising by an average of 14.1 percent from 2002 - 2003 to 2003-2004 at public institutions. Overall, the spilt is between public universities - which charge around $5,000 - $15,000 (#2,900 - #8,600) per year depending on location, type and length of course; and private universities - where fees can be as high as $30,000 (#17,300) per year. In England, fees in universities is now #3,000 per year i.e. N750,000. In Nigeria some people protested that the N90 hostel fee per student charged since 1985 should not be increased. This is in spite of the fact that a large number of the students attended private elementary and secondary schools where their parents or guardians pay as much as N800,000 per session.
It is in the best interest of society that:-
· Parents who can pay fees should be made to pay instead of declaring a tuition-free university policy which does not match with commensurate financial backing
· No student who qualifies for admission should be denied higher education merely because of his/her inability to pay fees
· All tiers of government from Local Council to Federal Government should be part of the fee-paying process
· The private sector should be allowed to be part of the scheme.
Unless the funding of federal and state universities is properly and frontally addressed, the education sector is doomed.
2. Endowment And PPP(Public, Private Participation)
It is a historical fact that most universities were founded through gifts and endowment by philanthropists. In other countries, members of the community donate heavily inter vivos or through WILLS which come in form of shares, buildings, or cash to universities. Harvard University and Cambridge University which are rated as numbers one and two in the latest ranking in the world were not founded by government and do not depend for their administration on government funding.
In Harvard university, Endowment fund was valued at $22.6 Billion at the end of January 2004 whereas Nigeria's external reserve is only $25billion. During the fiscal year 2001 the Harvard University income totaled $2,228,200,000. The breakdown of the income of the university that year is as follows:-
* Student income - 23%
* Endowment income distributed - 28%
* Income from other investments - 5%
* Current use-gifts - 7%
* Other operating income - 14%
* Sponsored research support - 23%
Alumni Associations in Nigeria have failed to follow the examples of their counterparts in foreign countries. I advise that they should play more constitutional role in the University.
On Strikes - One way forward is that Lecturers should appreciate that they stand in loco parentis to the students you teach. I believe that no reasonable parent would abandon his child in the cold. In Nigeria Teachers go on strike for months only to turn round and demand payment for abandoning their student claiming that during the long strike they were engaged in research.
You all know that in most of you do not carry out any research. In my University, a good part of the money we vote annually for research is returned unutilized. In any event what proportion of the teachers salary is payment for research or teaching? If a teacher collects the whole of his salary for the period when he was on strike, it follows that part of the money collected is for work not done. That to me is fraudulent and borders on stealing, which is a felonious crime. It seems to me that universities should thoroughly screen prospective lecturers before employing them because some of the teachers do not possess the requisite love or interest in the profession and afortiori the student.
This takes me to the issue of university autonomy - The earlier the law on this is passed the better. With university autonomy, each university would be able to determine the salaries of its teachers which will depend on the competence and ability and relevance of each teacher.
On Cultism - Nigeria is the only country where cultism operates in Universities. The destructive element makes it imperative to prohibit it in all its ramifications.
There should be university identity card issued to each student and regularly up-dated for the purpose of easy identification of students and easy elimination of intruders. Any cult members captured must be labeled accordingly. Their names should be published in national dailies as well as the university bulletin with their passport photographs conspicuously pasted. Any student convicted of cultism must be barred from seeking admission into any university or tertiary school in Nigeria.
No suspected cult member should be allowed to contest an election or hold any post in the Students Union Government.
For the primary and Secondary Schools, I propose a 1-year plan to revisit and improve upon the entire sector. It is also recommended that the Higher School Certificate be resuscitated for direct entry admission to the universities in order to improve upon the maturity and standard of university candidates. I further recommended that more private universities should be encouraged. It is gratifying to observe that those we already have are doing very well. Government should however lay down standards to ensure uniformity and excellent performance among all universities whether private or public.
One good thing which has happened to education in recent time is the emergence of private universities. Hitherto, all previous universities were publicly owned and financed. The advantages of private universities in our educational system are legion. Generally, they are well funded and adequately maintained. The proprietors know that the best way to attract quality candidates is to ensure that they provide good services. It is common knowledge that private enterprises thrive better than public establishments.
In Yoruba, the saying is that "A kii sise ijoba laagun" meaning "No one does a government job and sweats at it." This attitude has pervaded the entire public sector, including public universities. In private universities, such as Lead City, it is my hope that the issue of salaries payable to their lecturers would be personal, based on the quality, competence and experience. I suggest for efficiency purpose and other reasons earlier stated, private universities should not adopt the civil service system or university scale of salaries. This is the only way to get the best out of the lecturers and other staff. It is a known fact that in some of the private universities, especially those founded by religious bodies, moral is high and discipline is strictly enforced. We are proud of your achievement in this regard. This is why most foreign students who come to this country prefer private universities to public universities.
Ten Year Plan
I believe that the government should embark on a 10 year plan for reformation and restructuring of our education system. This is vitally necessary because the rot in the university has its root in the foundation which is the elementary school.
What has to be addressed are as follows:-
1. Restructuring of Primary and Secondary Schools System including its curriculum.
2. Effective and proper training of teachers.
3. Restructuring and re-introduction of Higher School Certificate (HSC) as direct entry.
4. Amendment of JAMB Law
5. Amendment of University Act
6. Education as an essential service thereby making strikes illegal.
7. Co-operative funding of universities
8. Establishment of more private universities
9. Stringent rules and regulations on standard and discipline.
10. Autonomy Law
I congratulate Lead City University and I wish it success in future as it is poised to take up the challenges which most of our public universities have shirked.
I thank you all for listening.
Chief Afe Babalola, Ofr,San,Ll.D
1st March, 2006