I think the fundamental problem that we face here, like in every other facet of life in this country, is the prevailing philosophy of governance which emphasizes uniformity and over-centralism. This attitude also affects our entire educational system, not only universities and polytechnics.
At some point in my academic career, I got to know that for higher education (nay, the pursuit of knowledge) to flourish it must be imbued with freedom, diversity, creativity and inventiveness.
In 1989 I was privileged to receive from a USA organisation an award which required me to visit and interact (by way of lectures and seminars) with fellow faculty members in eight top US/Canadian universities. I was amazed at the striking difference which exists between the university system in North America and its counterpart in Nigeria.
Tertiary education in the USA for instance flourishes on the foundation of freedom, diversity, creativity and inventiveness, which is reflected not only in the curriculum design of university programmes but also in the manner in which the universities themselves are administered and funded. The US Federal Government, for instance, owns only one university (Howard University) and this, only for historical reasons! Here in Nigeria, the Federal Government is obsessed with establishing more and more universities every day and even expropriating existing ones from their previous owners. And in the end, having a plethora that it cannot fund satisfactorily.
The idea of uniformity and complete tuition and maintenance-free university education also negates the pursuit of excellence and is manifestly unsustainable. As you suggest in your write-up, what is needed is for opportunities for scholarships, bursaries and loans to be made available to only those that cannot themselves bear the cost.
The idea of uniform salary scales and the operation of a centralised payroll system such as the IPPIS proposed by the Federal Government are absolutely absurd.
I found during my lecture/tour of eight U.S./Canadian universities that there are no uniform salary scales for academics. Each academic negotiates his own terms with his employer and they both agree on what the particular academic is worth in terms of his scholastic achievements. If any academic feels that he is worth more than he is getting in his present university, he simply moves to another where he can get higher remuneration. Because of this, there are no staff unions, and therefore no question of national strikes which cripple the entire university system in the country.
In the USA Research funds are competed for from a national pool which evaluates each research proposal in terms of its usefulness to society and national development. Is there then any wonder why USA seems to have a monopoly on Nobel Prize winners?
I believe that for our university system to function optimally, it has to be fundamentally restructured to make universities autonomous. This will encourage competitiveness and productivity. I doubt if the envisaged system can evolve or organically grow out of the existing paradigm. The present system has first to be scrapped completely and a new one developed to replace it.
This new system will also not likely emerge from a governance system such as the one that we have in the country which runs on the foundation of uniformity and centralism. And I do not see the governance system that will emerge from the 2023 elections being any different from the present one.
I have held these views ever since my lecture tour of U.S./Canadian universities in 1989. My convictions in this regard became further reinforced during my tenure as Vice-Chancellor. I found the system which I had to preside over quite sub-optimal but I could not do much about it.
I thank you immensely for the very illuminating piece which you did on this important subject in your last week’s serial.
Congratulations and please keep the banner flying.
Professor Emeritus A R Anao, former Vice-Chancellor, University of Benin, wrote from Benin City.