Rev. Emmanuel Ogu, OP (PH.D)Tuesday, September 30, 2008
[email protected]
Baltimore, MD, USA




igher educational institutions in Nigeria are confronted with several challenges. The challenges facing Nigerian higher institutions are complex. It is a combination of limited access, increasing cost, decreasing quality, and inflexibility in course selection. We all know that an educated citizenry is crucial to the social, political, economic and cultural vitality of our communities and the country as a whole. Struggling economies, outdated academic equipments and obsolete organizational structures are among the issues facing university education in Nigeria today. Perhaps the most formidable task confronting higher education in Nigeria is to articulate the triple relationship between the mission of the university and the specific needs of university's political, social, economic, and cultural environment, and the characteristics of a rapidly changing world.

Nigerian university education is based on a centuries old system of knowledge organization, largely influenced by 19th century academic traditions. How are the universities to survive in the formation and higher demand for higher education degree today? Today, a college degree has become a necessity for most careers, and graduate education desirable for an increasing number. A growing population will necessitate some growth in higher education to accommodate the increasing number of college age students seeking for college degrees. "Yet the potential of higher education systems in developing countries to fulfill this responsibility is frequently thwarted by long-standing problems of finance, efficiency, equity, quality and governance" (Salmi 2001).

This article focuses on the issues of market forces, education for world-class citizens, faculty exodus, money and management, social / political issues, management styles and the structure of Nigerian universities, and seeks for a reformation in the Nigeria higher institutions. Nigerian universities are founded to seek the truth through the development of knowledge, and manpower personnel. They were founded also for the scientific and technological advancement of society, as well as to its material and cultural development. Adams (1977) said, "Educational systems were said to produce the skilled manpower and the new knowledge requisite for technological advancement and economic growth" (p.299). Nigerian universities must reorganize its fundamental role in shaping the human resources necessary for societal development and its responsibility to help solve social and cultural problems. It should recognize the universal value of debate for the development of humankind, science, art and culture.

Market forces

Some of the market forces affecting Nigerian universities are Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB), matching education to job demands, and infrastructure inadequacies. The Joint Admission and Matriculation Board examinations have caused a concern for both parents and candidates in Nigeria. Some candidates sit for the exam for years without gaining admission to any university. These have lead to cheating or taking an unpopular career course in order to gain admission.

Moja (2000) said "Access to higher education and the lack of the capacity of the system to absorb the numbers of students seeking admission to higher education institutions continues to pose a serious problem. For example, it is estimated that out of 400,000JAMB candidates seeking admission to university education, more than 320,000, which is about 80% are not able to gain admission to any of the 37 Nigerian universities"(p.30).

Onyekakeyah (2005) commented, "The latest Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB) figures clearly show that the situation has not improved in the real sense of the world. According to JAMB figures, out of about 800,000 candidates that sat for the 2005 examination, only 147,000 would be offered places in the existing universities. This represents only 18.4 percent"(p.2).

Secondly since it takes candidates a while to gain admission into the Nigerian university education, a good number opt for any course. By so doing the course will not be job matched with the education of the students.

The infrastructure inadequacies in the Nigerian universities are another area that poses hindrance to learning and research work. A good number of Nigerian universities are offering technological education programs. The question is how many of these universities have the basic infrastructure to run the program. For example, in most universities offering computer course, students graduate without touching a computer. Onyekakeyah said, "The death of infrastructure in the public universities is sickening and runs short of an ideal academic environment" (p.2).

Odetunde (2004) said "Unfortunately, today students are learning in dilapidated buildings, environmentally depressing and learning disabling situations and yet some of these students are still excelling" (p.2). For students, it is simply a means to acquire certificates, and not the development of their cognitive and social powers. A revisit to our present day recruitment and retention exercise need a crucial attention.

The mission of Nigerian universities should not be limited to these goals alone. They have to take into consideration the larger society's needs and the construction of knowledge. Higher education must therefore shape its curricular offerings to fit the demands of the market in a particular context and period, without losing sight of encouraging full human development. They cannot be confined to provide the human resource demands by the market. To do so would be to limit the social relevance of higher education. The challenge to Nigerian universities is to conduct the university's affairs in a way that is relevant to a historical moment gripped by rapid change.

Education for world-class citizens

There is need to make research the center of institutional activity, taking into account the social, cultural, and political problems that Nigeria now faces. Financial and administrative limitations and lack of resources, intellectual stimulation and incentives demand that we find new strategies to advance this ambition. Okebukola (2002) said, "There is a diminishing scope of mentoring junior researchers by seasoned and senior researchers due to brain drain" (p.4). Despite the increasing value of research in the world economy based on the supremacy of knowledge, and constant technological change, budgetary constraints and the belief that research is costly have resulted in the virtual disappearance of research centers in Nigerian universities. There is need to seek alternative source of financing research through private and public sectors. In doing so, the universities need to talk about the benefits to students of linking teaching and learning with scientific research. Nigerian educational system should be tailored to match international standards, viz. curriculum, computer proficiency, and student / staff ratio.

Students need to become familiar with the freedom of choice and expression, the free flow of ideas, and access to systems of information and means of communication based on new technologies. "The National University Commission survey discovered that only about 30 percent of Nigerian student population has adequate access to classrooms, lecture theatres, laboratories, workshops and libraries" (Okebukola 2002, p19). Students need to have all the basic infrastructure and conducive environment for active learning to take place. Students need to be prepared not only as professionals but also as citizens who are able to act intelligently and live in a democratic society. The students need to be acquainted with the complexity of the information that they will manage. There is need to develop the capacity for compiling, producing, applying, and critically evaluating information extracted from international debates, laboratories, and libraries, and directly from the working world. Doing so will make Nigerian higher education a rich and stimulating environment for learning and producing knowledge.

Faculty Exodus

Over the past decades, as a result of a gradual exodus of many of our most talented faculty, Nigeria universities have seized to be a place for exciting search for innovation. Some faculty abandoned academia for other sectors of the economy, where professionals and scientists receive higher salaries and greater social recognition. Some emigrate for economic reasons, while some fled because of political reasons.

Odetunde (2004) commented, "There was mass exodus of many brilliant lecturers that could not compete on political campus arenas from the university campus. Some left to join the rat race in the business world and others left Nigeria for better services" (p.3).

He further said, "that experienced and seasoned professors like the late Awojobi were sidelined. The political professors often silenced the lone voices of active and academic professors" (p.4). Ali (1999) said "That many experienced and young lecturers are fleeing from the frustration of university life into more rewarding and more challenging sectors of the economy and even to overseas countries" (p.3). The result of the faculty exodus is seen in the quality of graduates that our university produces.

Money and Management

The growing and changing nature of higher education needs will trigger strong economic forces. Already, the traditional source of funding -federal support has simply not kept pace with the growing demand. This imbalance between demand and available resources is aggravated by the increasing cost of higher education, driven as they are by the number of students seeking admissions to the universities. The weakening influences of traditional source of funding are the emergence of increased number of college age students seeking admission into the Nigerian universities. The societal needs, economic realities and technology, are likely to drive a massive restructuring of higher education enterprise. This will need a global knowledge and learning industry, and the need for traditional institutions to converge with other knowledge-intensive organizations such as information services, companies and telecommunications.

Financial restrictions also create problems that obstruct academic work, causing friction between the universities and the government, thus threatening the stability of institutions. The problems are more visible in the areas of faculty salaries, libraries, equipments, research and quality of students entering our universities today. Ajuzie (2001) said, "The existing orthodox education in Nigeria seems to suffer from inadequate funding" (p.136).

Babalola said, "The schools today are ill-equipped and teachers are poorly trained. Standard is falling in all departments". "Over 70 percent of the laboratory equipment and library books in today's Nigerian universities, for example, were bought and placed between 1960s and 1980" (Nigeria university systems. Chronicler, December 2004, p.18).

These are largely due to insufficient funding of the higher education system in Nigeria.

According to Babalola other problems facing education are poor human resources; poor funding of universities; ceaseless strikes by teachers; insufficient endowment fund and assistance from alumni and community; indiscipline on the part of teachers and students; and dependence on government" (Guardian Newspaper December 2005).

Socio / Political issues

There are also fiscally induced tensions that generate negative impact e.g.; cultic cases, economic and political pressures.

Olujuwon (2004) commented, "The tertiary institutions that are established to promote intellectual excellence, good virtues etc; have deviated. We are faced daily with reports of students caught in armed robbery, rape, assassination. The majority of these institutions have misplaced their goals and allowed social, political factors of their environment to create crises in their academic community. It is a known fact that tertiary institutions do not get their entire approved annual budget" (p.6).

All these and more threaten the academic autonomy and stable academic calendar.

Management style and the structure of Nigeria universities

Another area of close examination is the management style and the structure of our universities. There are allegations of politically motivated decision-making, mutual back scratching, patronage and partisanship that have permeated our universities.

Babalola commenting on this issue noted, "that the world ranking of universities published by Institute of Higher Education of Shanghai Jiao Tong University had exposed the ills in the management of the universities in the country" (Guardian Newspapers December 2005).

He further said: "one of the problems is the quality of products turned over to the universities by primary and secondary schools". Also the politicization, lack of resources, and frequent crisis of authority have further exacerbated this situation. Added to this is the proliferation of academic programs.

In the 1960 till late 70s, each Nigerian university was known as an expert in certain programs. Today, it is a different scenario, as many Nigerian universities want to run all programs from University teaching hospital to having a nuclear department. To this, is the massive influx of unprepared students whom the universities admit without increase resources to address their special needs. President Obasanjo addressing the pioneer students of Gombe State university said, "Despite the existing 75 federal, state, and private universities in the country, the nation needed additional 70 universities to take care of the growing number of students from secondary schools (Daily Independent online March14, 2006, p.1).

There is need for Nigerian universities to change from being conventional sources of graduates to becoming engines of community development. Nigeria needs a new generation of universities that can serve as engines of both community development and social renewal. Fundamental reforms will be needed in the curriculum design, teaching and management of Nigerian universities. The universities need to help solve the economic, social and environmental challenges that the authorities in their location face. They should play a role in promoting infrastructure development. To promote reform in existing universities, in order to bring research, training and outreach activities to the service of the people, it will require deliberate collaborative efforts by governments, academia, business and civil society to reinvent Nigerian higher education system and put it to the service of the people. This will require a qualitative change in the goals, functions and structure of Nigerian universities.

Kerr (1993) commented, "For the first time, a really international world of learning, highly competitive, is emerging. If you want to get into that orbit, you have to do so on merit. You cannot rely on politics or anything else. You have to give a good deal of autonomy to institutions for them to be dynamic and to move fast in international competition. You have to develop entrepreneurial leadership to go along with institutional autonomy".

There is the need for Nigerian universities to move towards more business like forms of management and governance.

The Nigerian university education system needs a reformation for it to meet the societal needs. Academic reform cannot work unless relations among university authorities, faculty, students, and government are redefined on the basis of mutual respect and collaboration. Levin (1974) said "Polite model whose main inspiration is the social environment from which the educational change is to occur. The model argues that educational changes essentially reflect changes in the society or polity". For the most part, our universities still have not grappled with the extraordinary implications of an age of knowledge; a society of learning that will likely be our future. It is important to understand that the most critical challenge facing most universities will be to develop the capacity for change. Nigerian universities must seek to remove the constraints that prevent them from responding to the needs of a rapidly changing society. This can only be achieved by introducing democratic university structures and management styles. For the Nigerian universities to meet the standard of higher education in the changing world today will require a global reform. Finally perhaps this is the greatest challenge for our universities, and the most important role of our leadership, in the years ahead as we attempt to build more universities.


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