138th Inaugural:Okoli Blames Poor Graduate Harvest On Ill-Equipped Varsities

Despite the chorus of approval that greeted the establishment of more universities aimed at meeting the educational needs of Nigerians, Professor of History of Education in the Faculty of Education, Nkechi Okoli, has picked holes in the development. Professor Okoli blamed the poor harvest of graduates on the proliferation of universities in the country, pointing out that the establishment of poorly-equipped universities in the name of creating access had seriously compromised national development.
Professor Okoli, who is of the Department of Educational Foundations made the submission while delivering the 138th Inaugural Lecture entitled: University Education in Nigeria: Past, Present and Future, at the Ebitimi Banigo Auditorium on Thursday, May 25, 2017.
“The preoccupation of government to restore geopolitical spread of universities is myopic, counterproductive and has triggered worse problems so much so that with about 160 universities, the common problems of illiteracy, poverty, ethnicity, corruption, kidnapping and so on, solved by education in other countries, are still plaguing Nigerians today,” she regretted.
Professor Okoli, who recalled that the universities of Ibadan, Nigeria, Lagos, Ahmadu Bello, Obafemi Awolowo and Benin, were amongst the first-generation universities established between 1948 and 1962, identified seven institutions established in 1975 and another seven as second and third generation universities, respectively. She also listed 20 other federal and 44 state-owned universities, including 65 privately-owned higher institutions with a combined capacity to enrol about 11 per cent of the over 1.5 million candidates that seek university admission each year.
 “Our education has grown in leaps and bounds over the years, but not qualitatively. Qualitative issues have remained unsolved. Indeed, Nigerian universities are not really equipped for competition at the global level,” Professor Okoli regretted, noting that although many private universities had impressive infrastructure, they, however, lacked skilled manpower to transfer the necessary knowledge to students in line with global best practice.
 “The question of technology is very serious in Nigeria. This is the era of globalisation. It is a knowledge-driven era. Universities in the 21st Century are supposed to rub off on society and individuals through sustained scientific and technological advancement. The poor infrastructural conditions run short of an ideal academic environment,” Professor Okoli further noted.
The Inaugural Lecturer regretted that the nation's parlous university system was worsened by general insecurity, Boko Haram insurgency, abduction of students and burning of schools in parts of the North; armed robbery and kidnapping of lecturers in the Southern parts of the country. Professor Okoli also condemned the prevailing inbreeding of scholars and students in the Nigerian university system which results in half-baked lecturers, warning that such a dangerous trend portended grave consequences for the country's university educational system in the long run.
She traced the myriad of problems bedevilling the university system to the colonial legacy which emphasised arts education over science and technology, calling for restructuring of the curriculum to produce entrepreneurs and a strong workforce with respect for the dignity of labour. Professor Okoli also cautioned against the unrestrained pursuit of wealth which had robbed the universities of effective teaching, research and productivity.
She also condemned the geopolitical spread of universities as a myopic policy by the Federal Government to create a balance between North and South, blaming such a misguided policy for the poor harvest of graduates that were not able to fit into the modern workplace that required knowledge workers. 
Tracing the evolution of the university system in Nigeria to the establishment of the University of Ibadan in 1948, Professor Okoli regretted that the early universities did not embrace scientific enquiry as a basis for national development. At the current rate of 160 universities, Nigeria, according to the Inaugural Lecturer, still lagged far behind in quality knowledge production and public service as was the case in other climes.     
“Looking at the future, the major challenges involving policy review, leadership, enrolment and technology need to be tackled. Educational policies should be reviewed from time to time to meet emerging challenges. A situation whereby the same unproductive policies are handed down from one government to another is counterproductive,” she warned.
As a way of repositioning Nigeria's educational system, Okoli submitted that “a very strong arrangement should be put in place to restore the culture of reading that universities are noted for and adequate provisions of funds, equipment and materials should be made available by government for sustained teaching, research and public service.
“Staff development programmes should be intensified to reach every eligible staff without discrimination (possibly overseas) to train researchers who will build a strong foundation in science and technology,” Professor Okoli recommended. She further urged universities to train leaders for the serious business of governance, while those contesting political offices should possess a minimum of university degree that would equip them to understand the philosophical basis of policy-making and good governance.
Emphasising the need for the review of university admission policies to emphasis merit over the prevailing mediocrity of quota system, Professor Okoli recommended that “appointments and elections into administrative and management positions should, as much as possible, be devoid of ethnic, religious and counter-productive considerations, whether at the institutional or government levels.”
Speaking after the Lecture, the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Ndowa Lale, observed that every single point the Inaugural Lecturer made bordered on the development of quality education in the country and its implication for national development.
“Some of the recommendations Professor Okoli made will take some time to actualise and it is important for policy-makers to take another hard look at the country's ailing educational system. Something has to be done to save our educational system, because no country can make progress without solid universities and a robust educational system that addresses contemporary issues,” Professor Lale warned.
He frowned at a situation in which people without foundational grounding were filtering into the university system as lecturers, recommending a system of quality control to redeem universities from such intellectual mediocrity. The Vice-Chancellor regretted that some lecturers were not living up to their statutory responsibilities, charging those in the Faculty of Education to lead the campaign towards the transformation of the educational system for the better.

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