Many vice-chancellors are implicated in the steady decline in university education

The Association of Vice Chancellors of Nigerian Universities (AVCNU) recently decried what it considers the ‘unemployability’ of majority of our graduates. AVCNU chairman, who is also the vice-chancellor of the Redeemer’s University, Professor Debo Adeyewa, in his address at the 32nd edition of its annual conference, challenged his colleagues and other stakeholders to tackle the nagging problem. According to Adeyewa, “the entrepreneurship, quality assurance, relevance to sustainable development, including the challenge of climate change, leveraging on ICT and Open Education Resources and International collaboration in the Nigerian University System are issues on the front burner.”

The conference could not have come at a more auspicious time considering the crises of confidence which have rocked our educational system. The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) had last June declared that about 29 million Nigerians are unemployed. In 2011, the National Planning Commission (NPC) put the unemployment rate for holders of first degree at 24.6 per cent, master’s degree at 13.7 per cent and 17.8 per cent for doctoral graduates.

However, even before the vice-chancellors came out with their self-indicting statement, it is already an established fact that Nigeria’s tertiary education has steadily deteriorated over the years. You only need to engage some of our university graduates in a 10-minute discussion to discern the level of decay. It is worse when they have to do a written test. This, no doubt explains why Nigeria university graduates with first degree are now required to undergo more rigorous and compulsory retraining and examinations before they could be admitted for higher degree courses in several universities in Europe and America.

It has always been our position in this newspaper that rather than set up mushroom universities across the country for political exigency, the federal government should think of pruning the number of the existing ones through some kind of merger and have them run on a collegiate system. We also do not see the sense in granting indiscriminate approval for the establishment of private universities that have now become the latest business in town.

The pertinent question remains as to the role our vice -chancellors can play in addressing this worrisome trend. The curricula system of our universities have remained theoretical, stagnant, lacking in content and skills that can address today’s demands in most facets of life. Even the appointment of vice -chancellors has become so politicised that in several cases, traditional rulers, community-related associations and stakeholders, influence the decision while merit takes the back seat.

More worrisome is the selection process of lecturers. The noble idea of retaining best graduating students as graduate assistants has been replaced with favouritism and ‘man-know-man.’ Also, government at all levels has continued to pay lip service to improving the quality of education and research through legislation and funding. Besides, students, lacking in primary and secondary pre-requisites for university admission but backed by parents, pay their way through respective courses and come out in ‘flying’ colours.

The consequence of all these is that we breed “certificated illiterates” that cannot compete with “right-brainers” in the global world of the 21st Century. As if to worsen our predicament, our vice-chancellors gathered recently and agreed to a national cut-off mark of 120 over 400.

It is therefore imperative for the AVCNU to understand that lamenting the level of unemployment among our youths and the ‘unemployability’ of our graduates alone will amount to scratching the surface of our educational malaise. Our expectation is that the AVCNU will provoke her members to come up with practical solutions on how to revamp our stunted educational growth. We have, for so long, paid lip service to the problem. This is the time to demonstrate commitment to that cause.