Government must invest more in the universities

In an apparent admission of the acute shortage of lecturers on the campuses, the National Universities Commission (NUC) has asked the government to isolate universities from the current embargo on employment. The commission said that 100,000 academic staff members were attending to 2.1 million students in over 200 universities, both public and private. The universities, according to the NUC Deputy Executive Secretary, Administration, Chris Maiyaki, needed more teaching staff in order “to keep up the pace in attaining comparable standards with their counterparts globally.”

The NUC statement speaks to the concerns of critical stakeholders regarding tertiary education in the country. Despite its important role in the society, it is obvious that there is dearth of qualified academic staff to drive the universities. But this is a general malaise. Most of the institutions of higher learning are not only suffering from inadequate infrastructure, ill-equipped laboratories, overcrowded classrooms, but they are ill-staffed. The Committee on Needs Assessment of Nigerian Public Universities, had long identified these challenges.

Not long ago, Professor Nenfort Gomwalk, a former Vice Chancellor at Plateau State University, lamented that 70 per cent of the lecturers in the nation’s universities were assistant lecturers without doctorate degrees. Many spend more than a decade pursuing their doctoral degrees that should ordinarily take no more than three years without success. This was confirmed by former President Goodluck Jonathan as far back as 2012 when he described the situation as “embarrassing and unacceptable.’’ The situation had since deteriorated further with the continued registration of new universities by both government and private individuals without the backing of adequate resources.

With the proliferation of these institutions, teachers who can’t hold their own as senior lecturers in respectable universities are being hired as professors and even vice chancellors in some of these new universities. The implications are clear: limited skilled human resources have contributed to the declining quality that has continued to elicit concern from stakeholders.

The situation is exacerbated by brain drain. Many senior academic staff, due to poor remuneration, continue to take their services to countries where they are more appreciated. The depletion of scholarship inside faculties is also aided by inability to attract visiting scholars from other academic environments, issues which the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has never emphasized in many of their industrial actions. Besides, self-review and quality criticism have taken the back seat.

The birth of TETFUND opened a window of opportunities as it initiated the funding of many postgraduate students to some prestigious universities in Europe and North America. But this window itself was abused by many recipients who reportedly collected scholarship funds but avoided travelling abroad for training, a practice aided ironically by some TETFUND officials. It is therefore little surprise that many graduates of Nigerian universities are unemployable, as they lack sufficient knowledge, skills and possibly other attributes that will enable them to serve themselves, their employers and the society.

As we have argued repeatedly, government should pay more attention to tertiary education and provide a conducive environment that will make our youths globally competitive in the 21st century. Decayed infrastructure in the institutions should be enhanced while quality journals and books should be made easily available. If Nigeria wants to compete in the prevailing knowledge economy, policymakers must ensure that the research departments of the universities are adequately funded. TETFUND has started something remarkable by promoting national research culture which will flow into encouraging academic staff to stay in Nigeria instead of migrating offshore. Government, in the absence of any other agreed means, must ensure the hiring of qualified staff.

The best universities are those with resources to attract the best and the brightest.