Upon his assumption of office as the Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission, Professor Abubakar Adamu Rasheed has concerned himself with resuscitating UNESCO professorial chairs in some Nigerian universities to promote best practices, he recently met with representatives of the organisation, as well as officials of the National Open University of Nigeria to tackle the challenges of open and distance learning in the country.Uchechukwu Nnaike reports
Out of the seven UNESCO professorial chairs established in Nigerian universities since 1990, only two are still being held by Nigeria, while five were closed down in 2014 for ‘non-performance’. However, the story is about to change following a recent meeting of the newly appointed Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission (NUC), Professor Abubakar Adamu with the Director-General (DG), UNESCO, Mrs. Irina Bokova who visited the country.
Rasheed, who called for an urgent collaborative effort between the NUC and UNESCO in resuscitating the five UNESCO professorial chairs in Nigerian universities, expressed hope that the DG’s visit would initiate the process of reviving the closed chairs.
Speaking at a reception organised by the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) in honour of Bokova, he stated that the Nigerian higher education sector is currently undergoing positive changes and pledged that with better understanding, awareness and with many new opportunities, the UNESCO chairs when revived would not be allowed to underperform again.
The five chairs that were closed down were: UNESCO Chair on the Use of Technologies in Adult and Non-formal Education at the University of Ibadan; UNESCO Chair in Open and Distance Education at NOUN; the UNESCO Chair in Information Technology at ModibboAdama University of Technology, Yola; UNESCO Chair in Earth Sciences and Geo-resources Engineering Management; and the UNESCO-GEIFON Chair in Environmental Sciences both at the University of Benin.
The two functional chairs are the UNESCO Chair in Alternative Energy at the Kwara State University, Malete and the UNESCO Chair in Mathematics at the National Mathematical Centre.
Rasheed said since joining UNESCO in 1960, Nigeria had been working harmoniously and in mutually beneficial relationships in all major areas of the organisation, adding that UNESCO is a “laboratory of ideas within which it defines emerging problems and the attendant solutions.” He said UNESCO also serves as a clearing house on international best practices thereby acting as catalyst for stimulating international cooperation in education by ensuring that innovations in the sector reflected its goals and principles.
He told the director general and her team that Nigeria now has 143 universities made up of 40 federal, 43 state and 60 private universities, and that soon the country may license a private open university.
“Incidentally this morning I received a prospective proprietor for the proposed private open university in my office before coming here.”
The executive secretary recalled the World Conference on Higher Education in 1998 where far reaching and revolutionary declarations were made and assured the delegation that Nigeria is doing everything possible to realise the full extent of the declarations.
Rasheed also promised that the NUC would partner MDAs to achieve the objectives of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) driven by UNESCO.
Responding, Bokova thanked the executive secretary, NUC and the vice-chancellor of NOUN for their passion and commitment and their efforts to reach the underserved to ensure an inclusive society. She commended NOUN for fully implementing UNESCO goal four on Inclusive, Quality Education and Lifelong Learning.
Bokova assured them that UNESCO would like to have more chairs in Nigerian universities and “expand the network,” saying that higher education holds the key to the realisatinon of UNESCO’s goals and objectives.
In his address, the Vice-Chancellor of NOUN, Professor Abdalla UbaAdamu, said the DG’s visit was a home coming, considering the nature of partnership, mutual understanding and respect that had long existed between both parties. He informed the visitor that the university is the first single mode, ODL University in the whole of West African sub-region, adding that the record puts the institution at the forefront of projecting the gospel of open and distance learning, not only to Nigerians, but also the rest of West Africa.
Adamu observed that NOUN had been a silent, but steady response to the onerous challenge which providence had placed on it. “We have effectively surmounted the cynicism of the 80s that led to the total suspension of all our academics activities, to being regarded as the only mega university in Africa, following our resuscitation in 2002. Within a space of 14 years, our student population has risen from less than 2,000 to about 270,000 active students.”
The vice-chancellor explained that, with the university’s improvement, its target still remains to reach the unreached; to expand access to university education; and to plant the seeds of open and distance education in all the nooks and crannies of the country.
He disclosed that NOUN, which offers unmatched flexibility to students, has established study centres in 78 locations within Nigeria, adding that despite the challenge of dwindling resources that the university is facing presently, NOUN is continuously receiving requests from communities whose thirst for higher education had been impeded by the limited access in conventional universities.
Adamu listed the achievements of the university to include the establishment of special study centres within the Nigerian Prisons, which he said demonstrated its desire to provide a mode of education that transcends all barriers, in addition to the 100 per cent fee waiver to all qualified prison inmates who registered as students.
He added that the institution also established centres for skills acquisition to develop the skills of artisans, explaining that under the scheme, students have been trained on a number of trades like bead making, confectionery, bricklaying, driving, phone repairs, among others.
The vice-chancellor explained that the challenge NOUN faces is that the public is not sure and not quite informed of the gains and validity of open and distance education.
“To most of our citizens, ODL as a mode of instructional delivery remains a suspect. This places advocacy at the front burner of our needs. Consequently, we request UNESCO’s assistance in projecting and spreading the gospel of ODL as a veritable tool for university education in the 21st century.”
Meanwhile, Adamu has appealed to the executive secretary of NUC to intervene in four lingering challenges confronting the university that require urgent solution to put the institution on the right path to delivering quality university education in the country.
They are: NOUN and National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) scheme for its graduates; Council for Legal Education (CLE) and NOUN Law graduates; NOUN graduates and advanced degrees in other universities; as well as NOUN’s Nursing sciences and practical experiences.
He said it is ironic for a university that is nationalistic in its outlook and programmes to be excluded from participation in the NYSC scheme, adding that the desire of its graduates is to participate fully in the scheme and contribute their quota to the development of the nation.
He sought the intervention of the NUC to enable the NYSC to accept graduates to take part in the scheme.
On the refusal of the CLE to admit NOUN’s Law graduates into the Nigerian Law School, the vice-chancellor said it was all about the perception of the mode of instruction of the university’s programmes, which he said are wrongly interpreted as ‘correspondence’ or ‘part-time’, or both, thereby excluding its students from participating in the Law School programme.
He told the executive secretary that the perception was at variance with the prevalent global understanding of NOUN’s mode of instruction, adding that the university had repeatedly drawn the attention of stakeholders to the fact that it is an open and distance learning and not a part-time or correspondence institution.
Adamu explained that NOUN is only one of the large networks of institutions all over the world providing accessible, affordable and equitable education to millions of people, who due to their peculair circumstances work and learn at the same time.
He added that the university had accepted NUC’s recommendation to halt admission into the programme, while efforts are being made to address the matter with the CLE and called on the commission to prevail on the CLE to understand NOUN’s peculiarities and accept its graduates for admission into the Law School.
On the challenge of NOUN graduates and further education in other universities, the vice-chancellor expressed dismay that they are denied placements for postgraduate studies at master’s and doctoral levels when most of the instructors of these students were drawn from the same Nigerian university system.
He argued that the students are offered postgraduate admissions into prestigious universities abroad where they excel and questioned the basis for the discrimination in their country. He also appealed to the NUC to prevail on Nigerian universities to desist from such practice against its graduates.
On NOUN’s Nursing Science students, Adamu explained that the challenge of ODL lies in clinical/practical courses requiring real-time skills acquisition and competencies in specific learning domains. This he said poses a challenge for nursing that requires extensive laboratory experience.
Recognising this fact, he said NOUN is striving to ensure that students acquire the practical experiences through regional laboratories and signing of MoUs with existing teaching hospitals and universities. He therefore sought NUC’s support to facilitate the use of university and hospital laboratories around its centres on MoU basis for the training of its science and other clinical-based students.
Responding, Rasheed stated that his last place of assignment was NOUN, which he joined in November 2015 on Sabbatical, adding that he is therefore conversant with the issues raised by the Institution.
On the NYSC scheme, the he argued that while many of NOUN graduates may not qualify for the scheme on account of age, “even if only one of them is below the age of 30, it would be fair that the person is not denied the opportunity to participate in the scheme.
He promised that the NUC management would discuss the matter with the NYSC and get back to the university, adding that in the current digital age, people should come to terms with the fact that ODL holds the future of tertiary education.
He observed that IT revolution has changed the world and Nigerians must embrace this revolution in tertiary education delivery.
The executive secretary expressed surprise at the discrimination against NOUN graduates by other universities across the country, saying that they are qualified to be admitted for postgraduate studies once they could fit in.
He promised to take the matter up with the Committee of Vice-Chancellors. He said NOUN’s request for its Nursing students may be a harder nut to crack since many universities are already contending with the problem of accommodating their own students.