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Besides the unresolved issues of unions, DEBORAH TOLU-KOLAWOLE writes that tertiary education requires urgent attention for it to play its role in the development of the country

The tertiary education sector in Nigeria is a “time bomb” waiting to explode.

For a sector widely regarded as the bedrock of any society, Nigeria’s education sector has over the years suffered from a wide range of issues.

The “nearly dead” sector which has been at the mercy of governments at various levels in over 24 years of democratic rule needs more than just manifestos, assurances and promises to be able to stand on its own, experts have argued.

In the last eight years under the former president, Muhammadu Buhari, the sector experienced lots of industrial unrest leading to the suspension of academic calendars in universities, polytechnics, colleges of education and other tertiary institutions.

However, the sector was not only bedevilled with strikes. Available evidence indicates a dearth of infrastructural facilities in the institutions. An employment embargo introduced by the administration of Buhari also affected the sector.


For instance, the data by the National Universities Commission in a ranking of Nigerian universities released in 2021 suggested a poor lecturer-student ratio.

In January 2022, the NUC noted that only 100,000 lecturers were available for over 2.1 million students in Nigerian universities.


A former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ibadan, Prof Olufemi Bamiro, in a symposium organised by the Nigerian Society of Engineers, Ibadan branch, held recently, noted that the ratio of academics to students, number of facilities, number of accredited courses, students performance, employability and contribution to economy were some of the factors being used to rate universities in the world.

Though the data on Nigerian polytechnics and Colleges of Education cannot immediately be verified due to the failure of supervising agencies to conduct audits and rankings, some polytechnics in the country in January 2022 were said to have been denied accreditation due to a shortage of manpower.


The National Board for Technical Education in a letter with ref No. C/TEB. 201/VOL.VII/80, October 7, 2021, said, “Most of the federal polytechnics would lose accreditation due to the inability to replace retired and exited staff.”

However, despite applications for employment waivers, the dearth of polytechnic academics subsisted.

Some rectors of federal polytechnic in 2021 in a letter to the Office of the Head of Civil Service of the Federation, said, “The NBTE do require polytechnics who are applying for accreditation and re-accreditation of their programmes and courses to meet the required staff-student ratio.

“The consequence of not meeting laid down staff ratio always leads to de-accreditation of such programmes”, the rectors said.”


But the problems bedevilling the sector are not limited to the above. The sector has to deal with the springing up of illegal higher institutions.

A total of 313 illegal universities, polytechnics and colleges of education were uncovered between 2015 and 2018. Although the President, Bola Tinubu, who was sworn in on May 29, 2023, had during his campaign reeled out his plans for the sector. Tinubu during a presidential rally in Abuja, in February 2023 said full autonomy will be granted to universities. He also promised the introduction of student loans.


“University will be autonomous, you have to be able to do your course, take student loan if necessary, finish a four years course in four years, be a scientist and a discoverer. Be a great researcher and builder. Get education and not dereliction. We are grateful that you have voted us to power. We will serve you and continue to serve you,” he said. The demand for autonomy for instance has been one of the major focus of the university lecturers under the aegis of the Academic Staff Union of Universities. The autonomy as promised by Tinubu, if implemented would solve a high percentage of problems. For instance, this would imply that universities will now be able to generate revenues through various means such as increments of tuition fees, universities will be able to employ at will, and improvement in the quality of research among others.

He said his administration would review the education curriculum at all levels “to suit the emerging global best practices and current socio-economic realities.”

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The President also noted that the curricula would be reviewed to ensure that Nigerian graduates become conversant with global trends in different fields and sectors where they could contribute productively to the country’s economy.

“This will ensure, our graduates at tertiary level are not only trained for white-collar jobs, but they will be enterprising and innovative,” he said.


Though it seemed like the President focused more on issues peculiar to universities during his campaign, it is expected that he will also dedicate the same attention he hopes to pay universities to polytechnics, colleges of education and other degree-awarding institutions in the country.

However, that will not be all. The immediate past minister of education, Adamu Adamu during the valedictory service that was held in his honour in Abuja on May 26, 2023 admitted that he was ignorant about the education sector prior to his appointment as minister. But the director of programmes, Reform Education Nigeria, Ayodamola Oluwatoyin, told our correspondent that Tinubu could not afford to repeat such a mistake.


“The sector is no longer at the level when we can embrace a ‘trial and error’ minister. What we need to focus on now is to get first, a competent and seasoned administrator to man the ministry. When you have competent hands who understand the sector it makes implementation of policies easier. I feel one of the issues that plagued the sector during the last administration was just like the former minister said, Ignorance. Though people agree that people can learn on the job but in this case, that cannot be allowed. This is a national service. You will not only be focused on the tertiary education sector, you also have to focus on the basic education aspect and all of that.

“ Mostly for us at Reform Education Nigeria, we think one of the most important steps is to increase budgetary allocation to education at the federal level while also ensuring that state governments comply. Alternative means of funding should be designed. We have various examples such as the creation of education banks, endowment funds, and the implementation of student loans. The education sector needs thorough revitalisation so as not to end up on the brink of collapse. Enough of committees. We need to have a national policy on higher education. Stakeholders need to come together to find lasting solutions.

“The president needs competent hands for the agencies, those ones also need competent technical advisers drawn from the academic, media and civil societies. This is the time to give the sector full autonomy. Without this, there is no loving on.”

The Chairperson of ASUU at the Federal University of Technology, Minna, Professor Gbolahan Bolarin, insisted that the demands of ASUU as regards the education sector remained the same.


“The demands are the same. We need a total revitalization of the sector. Increased funding, good welfare for academics. When you have good welfare packages then the academics will be motivated to work hard. We need leaders who are committed and ready to work. It is not about blackmail. Increased funding (research inclusive), end to the proliferation of institutions, improved welfare packages for workers in the sector, development of infrastructure among others”.

Unlike the experience under the Buhari administration, the tertiary education sector can soar. The sector can experience sanity, succour and confidence. All these and more will be achieved only when the new government takes bold, sacrificial steps to resolve all difficult issues as identified by experts. No half-measures and lip service will be tolerated from President Tinubu against the backdrop of his promises.

It is also expected that the Tinubu administration will learn from the mistakes made by the Buhari administration and avoid repeating them.

Source: Punch

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