New varsities and dearth of academics

The reported continued depletion in the ranks of senior academics as Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) holders and professors in institutions of higher learning across Nigeria in recent times calls a pressing redress, if the much-desired improvement in the nation’s education industry is to be realised.

Universities as the highest level of formal education remain the focal point of higher institutions of learning in Nigeria. The country’s education system has evolved through various stages over the years. Nonetheless at present, the Nigerian education industry is gravitating towards a positive development, with the establishment of more universities including the federal, state and private universities. This is encouraging, as it tends to boost investment in the sector.

In November 2010, for instance, the Federal Executive Council (FEC), the highest policy and decision-making organ of the Government, had approved nine new universities, including the Federal Universities in Ndufe-Alike, Ebonyi State; Lokoja, Kogi State; Lafia, Nassarawa State; Kashere, Gombe State; Wukari, Taraba State; Dutsin-Ma, Katsina State; Dutse, Jigawa State; Oye-Ekiti, Ekiti State; and Otuoke in Bayelsa State.

Obviously, many have commended the Federal Government for this bold initiative to enhance the dwindling fortune of the all-important sector of the nation’s economy. More so, most of the research efforts happen in the Universities in Nigeria, and there is a huge demand for especially senior and experienced faculty members and academic staff to accomplish quality teaching, learning and research in the Ivory Tower.

When underscoring the seriousness of the situation on the ground, regarding the fast diminishing number of senior academics in the University system, Prof. Ukachukwu Awuzie, President, Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), in a survey by the Union, disclosed that “universities lose between 10 and 15 professors monthly to retirement.” That is supposedly besides death and recurring brain drain plaguing the sector over time.

Moreover, Prof. Awuzie has lamented over the continued licensing and establishment of new Federal universities and private universities without the commensurate facilities and infrastructure to support such new academic institutions. As a frontline academic who is in the know, he specifically expressed his concern in connection with the new-fangled stipulated minimum qualification for academics, which is PhD.

“With the National Universities Commission (NUC) pegging the minimum qualification of a university lecturer at PhD, it means with the exit of older professors, there is an urgent need to fill the gap to avoid a total collapse,” the ASUU President declared while warning of the impending danger concerning the shortage of professors and other senior academics in the system.

It is also disturbing to realise that in 2009, part of the agreement between ASUU and the Federal Government was to increase the retirement age of professors from 65 to 70 years. No wonder then, that most of the Vice-Chancellors appointed, both from within and the Diaspora, to administer the nine new universities, in preparations for commencement of full academic activities by September 2011 are very old hands, apparently expected to be enjoying their retirement after years of service to Nigeria.

The Federal and state governments as well as proprietors of private universities immediately, should start encouraging outstanding students and high-flying graduates with good grades to enrol, with scholarships, into higher degree programmes as Master’s, MPhil/PhD and PhD respectively if the academia is not to be pushed into a tight corner soon, as Awuzie has warned.

In his comment on the scarcity of the required hands in the tertiary education sub-sector, Dr. Olubunmi Ajibade, a senior lecturer in the Department of Mass Communication, University of Lagos, as well drops a bombshell in a recent chat with a Nigerian daily: “Presently, we have less than a quarter of the human capacity that the nation needs to give sound tertiary education to Nigerian students.”

One believes ours should be a forward-looking society that cherishes planning. The existing common practice of recalling professors from their retirement by the both the Government and particularly private universities is an ideal one, but a shame in a country of over 140 million people.

It should be realised that there is no way the law of diminishing returns won’t begin to take a toll on such retired academics in terms of productivity. These once energetic ones should not be belaboured unnecessarily due to an outright lack of visionary leadership and planning by the supposed managers in the education sector.

Conscious efforts must be made to ensure that new blood is injected into the system through improved a systematic training of a pool of skilled manpower. Awards of scholarships to encourage more young and qualified University graduates wishing to acquire advanced degrees, to a large extent, will help to revamp the shrinking fortune of this indispensable industry.

Certain Odamah E. Christopher, a commentator in an online media forum, also poses a question on the latest development in the sector: “Why creating more universities when the existing ones in Nigeria cannot be compared in terms of academic ranking in the world? My advice to President Goodluck Jonathan is that he should upgrade the standard of the existing Universities instead of creating more troubles in educational sector.”

One believes the ostensible idea of creating more universities under the guise of creating more access to university education for the soaring numbers of admission seekers is not a bad idea. Yet, leaving the majority of the existing ones to are pine away under the repression of poor financing and attention, obsolete research, teaching and learning facilities is not the way to revive the declining sector of the nation’s economy.

Written by
Gbenga Kayode
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