Saturday, August 20, 2011

Nigerian Bills on Higher Education

The bills on varsity standards

Friday, 19 August 2011 00:00
Nigerian Guardian
Editor Opinion

REPORTS that the Federal Executive Council (FEC) recently approved two proposed bills aimed at regulating uniform standards in the universities and other tertiary institutions in the country raise doubts as to whether the august body understands how standards are maintained in the university.

By choosing to ignore the vital issue of adequate funding for the universities, the FEC has embarked on a wild goose chase. Seeking to regulate standards of campuses via a simple bill to be passed by the National Assembly is wrong headed.

Firstly, what role will the National Universities Commission (NUC) play in the standard-raising bid having regard to its statutory responsibility to “ensuring quality assurance of all academic programmes offered in Nigerian universities”. This it does through the accreditation or de-accreditation of academic programmes in the country’s universities. This implies that the proposed bill may amount to unnecessary duplication and waste of time.

Not surprisingly, the NUC has not prevented standards from falling in most institutions, because, the task of ensuring academic quality is more effective from inside. Such desired quality cannot be guaranteed by a law from outside.

The federal government therefore should understand that quality in the university cannot be regulated from outside but from within the system. Established traditions, teaching quality and available facilities are the necessary factors that can guarantee standards.

Besides, there is hardly any country in the world where all the universities have the same standard. The reality is that while some institutions would be of very high standards, others may fall in between, while the rest may be of a lower standard, leading to differences in ranking. It is this process that gave vent to Ivy League institutions such as Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard and Yale.

Merely legislating standards while ignoring the provision of basic facilities will amount to a dissipation of effort. The FEC might as well consider a bill that would benchmark minimum funding based on international best practice. That would go a long way to guaranteeing better standards.

According to reports, the FEC approved the two bills, to among other things, “correct the defects in the previous ones which had no provisions for punishment of offenders”. The Minister of Information, Labaran Maku, thereafter, informed journalists that the draft bill “has provisions for the closure of all satellite campuses and ensure that the NUC was legally empowered to enforce uniform standards not only in the establishment but also in running universities in the country”.

To start with, the punishment the bill is seeking to enforce is already in place. The NUC wields its statutory powers, by de-accrediting substandard programmes and even closing down entire faculty or department as the case may be. What other punishment is the bill seeking?

With regard to satellite campuses, the NUC is already enforcing the closure of unapproved satellite campuses. We recall that a few years ago, the entire country was flooded with satellite campuses run by virtually all the universities in the country. The NUC ordered their closure and today, the issue of satellite campuses is practically curtailed.

On legal empowerment for the NUC, is the bill saying that the Act establishing the body does not confer on it legal powers to do its job? This is unlikely. Government should disclose new facts, if any, to support its bid

There are other critical problems that government should bother about. For instance is the problem of mass production of half baked graduates that are not useful to the economy. Also, there are no jobs. Out of about 6,000 graduates churned out from the universities annually, only about 2,000 find employment, leaving the other 4,000 to roam the streets, and the country risking implosion from the ugly situation.

A few weeks ago, the Minister of Education, Ruqayattu Rufai, lowered the minimum cut off marks for admission into the universities from 200 to 160. How can we maintain standards when failures are admitted into the universities? Standards are falling across the board because there is no laid foundation.

For emphasis, the universities already know how to regulate their standards. The process is in-built in the system. Universities engage external examiners to vet examination questions papers and answer scripts, and they do not need new law to make this happen. The country today, faces a dearth of qualified teachers and professors in the institutions.

Many universities exist without qualified teachers. How do we reverse the ugly trend? Government and the universities are continually embroiled in unending fight over some fundamental problems plaguing the institutions that are not addressed.

The bills amount to an indictment of the Committee of Vice Chancellors, which should look into the problems and interact with the NUC with a view to remedying the situation. There should be a minimum standard below which no university should be allowed to function. Unfortunately, there is yet no such minimum standard thus making the problem hydra-headed. It is indeed sad that people who do not know what standard is about are the ones regulating it.

Government needs to rethink all the issues bordering on quality assurance in the universities, as a way of guaranteeing the future of our youths. Today, the youths are marginalised. Those qualified to go to school have no opportunity of going, and those who have gone pass out into the unemployment market. The country should take critical corrective measures to guarantee the future.

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