Reforming Academia in Nigeria
Nigerian universities have been suffering from massive brain-drain for the past two decades and many academics continue to flee overseas in search of pasture new and better pay. Can the current attempt to reform the country's higher education sector work?
By Chippla Vandu
The National Universities Commission of Nigeria - the body responsible for regulating and overseeing university programs in Nigeria - recently decided to impose a ban on the appointment of university faculty who do not have doctorate degrees.
In other words, individuals hoping to be employed as university faculty in Nigeria—tenured or untenured—must have at least a PhD degree from a university that is recognized by the National Universities Commission.
Both an editorial and a commentary in the Nigerian Guardian Newspaper of Tuesday, February 14, 2006 (not archived) focus on this issue. Though in agreement with the decision of the National Universities Commission, they noted how difficult it is for people to obtain PhD degrees in Nigeria.
Furthermore, the decision by the commission to allow faculty currently employed without PhDs to get their qualifications by 2009 seems unattainable in the opinion of the writers.
In today's Nigeria, there is what I would like to call three types of universities—private universities, federal universities and state universities.
Private universities are a new trend in Nigeria, with most having opened within the past half decade. They are quite expensive, and in the absence of scholarships, only upper class Nigerians are able to send their kids or wards to such schools.
The federal universities are owned by the federal government while state universities are owned by state (provincial) governments.
In terms of infrastructure and facilities, a world of difference exists between these three, sharply decreasing in the order: private, federal, state.
With moves by the current Nigerian government to open up the education market, more private universities are expected to come on stream. While this could be seen as a good thing, no one seems to be asking the very tough question "where on earth are they going to find qualified people to employ as faculty?"
The inability to get qualified and experienced university staff in Nigeria has led to people with Master's and Bachelor's degrees being employed into teaching positions.
Another problem area that the Universities Commission has to ponder about is the manner in which faculty and students are employed or admitted into government universities.
I am referring to the use of so-called federal character and catchment area criteria, which is a sort of affirmative action.
Federal character is a government policy in Nigeria by which employment into the civil service is not only based on merit but also on what part of the country one hails from. It is meant to ensure that all ethnic groups are adequately represented in government institutions.
While this may seem laudable, federal character should have absolutely no place in educational institutions--merit and excellence should be the key and only criteria for getting people employed.
Students also get admitted into government universities not only based on how good they are, but also on which state they come from—another regressive and outdated policy that needs to be phased out if Nigerian universities are truly in pursuit of academic and research excellence.
So, while Nigerian universities go PhD hunting, the National Universities Commission should note that it takes more than professors and PhDs to build world-class universities.
It also takes progressive policies that are focused in the right direction. Some of these are being undermined by the current system under which federal and state universities operate in Nigeria.Photo: Main entrance to the University of Lagos - one of Nigeria's prominent universities.
Vandu is a Nigerian academic and writer based in Holland. He blogs as Chippla
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