Many Nigerian varsities are village institutions–UNIABUJA VC

The Vice-Chancellor, University of Abuja, Prof. Michael Adikwu, speaks with JOHN ALECHENU on the current rush for Ghanaian degrees.

Universities the world over earn their reputations via robust academic and research output. Why are Nigerian universities falling behind in this regard?

Too many factors are responsible. First, the system has been lacking a culture of research. Many Nigerian researchers are in research just for the sake of promotion. Only a few do research for the purpose of commercialisation. Apart from that, Nigerians feel that anything done locally is inferior to what is imported. Instead, they prefer to import raw materials and semi-finished products from overseas. Thus, our researchers do not have ready buyers. What I am simply talking about is that we need risk undertakers who can develop our research materials to see if they can compete favourably with what is produced elsewhere or those things that are already in the market. Most researchers do not have the financial muscle to pull a product through the stage of laboratory to the pilot level and to the industrial stage. Similarly, we lack mega industries that can set aside huge sums of money to support research as it occurs elsewhere.

In the early 1960s and 1970s, Nigerian universities competed favourably with their counterparts in Commonwealth countries, at least. Nowadays none is listed among the top 100 institutions in the world. What happened?

Then, our universities competed favourably with their counterparts for obvious reasons. You understand that most of our tertiary and other levels of education had quality teachers from other lands. At a point, the downturn in our economy made many of them to leave the country. The inter-ethnic and religious intolerance in the country also compounded the situation. They affected promotions and appointments in the universities.

Today, teachers outside their home areas are no longer comfortable. There are people of different nationalities in many American, Asian and European universities. Even among the students, there is a high level of heterogeneity. It is only in Nigeria institutions you find this type of homogeneity that has made me to refer to them as village institutions. This has affected research negatively to a large extent.

When most of the foreign lecturers and researchers left, multinational companies also underwent comparative advantage reversal. The companies that were manufacturing here in Nigeria took their manufacturing arms back home. What they do nowadays is that they merely market only their finished products here. With these, all the research needed is done by their parent companies located offshore.

Has the Nigerian situation reached the point of hopelessness?

The Nigerian situation has not reached the point of hopelessness. The only thing is that our developmental efforts will be slow and painful. All that we need now is to have more universities; not just in terms of number but in carrying capacity. Even in the advanced countries, there are schools that are not so good. The issue here is to educate as many Nigerians as possible and to increase the literacy level of this nation. In fact, I have been dreaming of a centre for creativity. It is not just about producing students, but students that are creative, innovative and disciplined to face the challenges of our nation.

What do you make of the rush by Nigerians seeking degrees from Ghanaian universities?

That Nigerians send their children to Ghana does not mean that all is bad at home. Three basic factors may be responsible for this. The first one is the very narrow education space here at home. Every year, over a million Nigerian children from secondary schools sit for tertiary examinations into various strata of our tertiary schools. Less than half of them secure admission. Naturally, the rest must have to look beyond the shores of the nation.

The second factor is the issue of stable academic session. Many feel that their children will stay longer than necessary if they gain admission at home. The last factor can be attributed to pride or ego.

Nigerians have a habit of thinking that anything outside is better than what we have here. Remember that there are Ghanaians and other nationals who have their children here in Nigeria. The best thing that should be done is to assist private individuals who want to operate private schools (universities, polytechnics and colleges of education). This can be in the form of public-private-partnership. The government can assist them with some funds to help them acquire the necessary infrastructure and the lecturers needed. This, I believe, can help institutions with the requisite standards to establish well.

Nigerian universities complain that they do not have enough funds to provide hostels, laboratories and even research. Yet, every year the TETFund declares that universities have failed to access billions of naira earmarked for these projects. What is responsible for this and how do we remedy it?

I have mentioned above that Nigerian educational institutions have not concretely developed the capacity for research. The system of promotion too varies from school to school. Sometimes, the government provides research facilities and they are either underutilised or not utilised in a sustainable manner. In addition, the ways in which government institutions develop their framework for attracting grants from them make it also very cumbersome.

Before the advent of TETFund grants, in the early 1990s when I joined the university system, there was what was called the University Research Grant. This was administered through a committee. Almost everyone that applied was given some amount for research. With that, no amount of money was enough. There were some hiccups because some universities used their money to augment salaries and wages of staff. Retiring such monies in bulk was also a problem. If today, any funding agency decides to give about a certain level of grant of up to N100, 000 or N200, 000 to individuals directly without much strings attached, many people will use it for one form of research or the other.

I am not saying that everyone will use theirs, but most people will use theirs. If there is no proper retirement, then such an individual will be barred from further support. If government institutions want to give grants to groups of individuals or clusters of institutions in form of collaborative grants, then it will be difficult to access such grants. I think such facilities should be structured in various layered forms.

As a junior academic, I got grants from various institutions abroad. If they can trust us with such grants, I do not see why we cannot trust ourselves here. Most of the time, we make things too complex. I coordinated a World Bank-assisted project that funded individuals, faculties and universities under what I want to call a fire brigade approach and we succeeded. That model is still there for anyone who wants to look at.

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