Thursday, 30 June 2022

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Revitalizing University Education in Nigeria in the Context of Triple Helix


I consider it a great honour and rare privilege to be invited home to address my primary constituency on a subject that is very dear to us. As most of you probably know, Bayero
University is my country, my primary base, having spent the better part of my academic career in this great University. I was an undergraduate here; became a Graduate Assistant in 1981 and rose, through the ranks, to the position of Professor of English some 18 years ago. I held various academic and administrative positions, which climaxed in my appointment to the revered position of the Vice-Chancellor of Bayero University in 2010. It was from this University that I was appointed, three years ago, to my current position of Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission (NUC)

Allah, the Almighty, has been gracious to me in this University. From my humble beginnings as an undergraduate in late 1970s, the Almighty has propelled me to the position I currently occupy at the NUC. I dare say that my background in the humanities and years of teaching and research in this great Citadel of learning have given me a broader understanding and appreciation of the functions of the university in nation building. I am most grateful to God and to those He used to steer my journey of life so far. Your invitation, to me, to deliver the 35th Convocation Lecture is indeed a great honour for which I am most grateful. I will, forever, cherish the fact that I have been honoured in my own base.

The choice of the title, “Revitalizing University Education in Nigeria in the Context of Triple -Helix”, for today's Convocation lecture is premised on the dynamic and catalytic
nature of university education, and the need for all stakeholders to ensure that university education in Nigeria delivers on its mandate of teaching, research and community engagement, in order to contribute, significantly, to Nigeria's socioeconomic and technological development as well as global competitiveness. I shall restate the necessity of forging an effective collaboration between the Academia, Industry and Government in rethinking the direction, relevance and operational structure of teaching, learning and research in our universities.

Higher education in Nigeria dates back to the 19th century when Nigerians sought opportunities to acquire the golden-fleece, which was available only overseas at the time. Responding to the pressures generated by this thirst for knowledge and pressures from emergent nationalist movements, the Colonial Government established the Yaba Higher College in 1932, principally to provide “well qualified assistance” in medical, engineering and other vocational disciplines as well as teachers for secondary schools, then known as “higher middle schools”. With time, the Yaba College offered sub-degree courses in Engineering, Medicine, Agriculture and Teacher Education to fill specific but marginal vacancies in the colonial administration.

The restricted scope of Yaba College, the increasing demand for skilled manpower and the unrelenting pressures on the colonial administration forced the British Government to set up the Elliot Commission in 1945. In its Report, the Commission observed that “the need for educated Africans in West Africa in general far outruns the supply, present and potential” and proceeded to recommend the establishment of a university college in Nigeria. Thus, in 1948, the University College, Ibadan, was established as a residential and tutorial college under the patronage of the University of London. The  nucleus of the University College was formed by students transferred from the Yaba College. Thus began what has today become the largest educational industry in sub-Saharan Africa. By 1949, technical education was commenced to meet the emerging requirements of the colonial economy in the spheres of commerce and industry in Nigeria. Consequently, a College of Arts, Science and Technology was established in each of the regions: Zaria (1952), Ibadan (1954), and Enugu (1955). These Institutions were to provide technical education that was, qualitatively, different in character and content from university education. It also comprised professional disciplines such as secretarial studies, land and estate management, teacher certificates, accountancy, administration, pharmacy and engineering, leading to the award of diplomas.

The bedrock of the expansion of higher education in Nigeria could be appropriately attributed to the setting up of the Ashby Commission in April 1959, with the specific mandate to explore the form and nature of Higher Education needs in Nigeria in the wake of Nigeria's independence. The Report of the Ashby Commission gave rise to what has now become the First Generation Universities in Nigeria. The University of Nigeria, Nsukka, was established in 1960; the University College, Ibadan, became a fullfledged University in 1962; the Zaria College was transformed and renamed the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, also in 1962, while the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) was also established in the same year by the Government of Western Region. The investments made on universities were overwhelmingly accounted for by the state, a fact which makes it correct to characterize the Nigerian higher education system in the period from the 1970s to the end of the 1990s as belonging to the public sphere, one that was almost exclusively driven by the revenues accruing to the Nigerian state. With the advent of private providers of university education, the picture has begun to change. 

I must state here, however obvious it may have become, that the findings of the Ashby Commission regarding balance in the structure and geographical distribution of university education, led to the establishment of yet another University in 1962, the University of Lagos. Eight years later, the University of Benin was established as the sixth university in Nigeria. In 1975, the Federal Government decided to take over the Regional Universities at Zaria, Ile-Ife, Nsukka and Benin as well as establish new ones. The University Colleges at Calabar, Jos, Maiduguri, Ilorin, Port Harcourt and Kano, established in 1975, became full- fledged Universities in 1977. The University of Sokoto, now Usmanu Danfodio University, was established from the scratch during the same period. This is a brief history of the seven Second Generation Universities in Nigeria of which Bayero University is an accomplished member.

Although Federal Universities had increased in number by 1975, the existing ones did not, in any way, meet the increasing demands for access to university education in Nigeria. Hence, states found the need and justification to establish their own universities. Rivers State blazed the trail, in 1979, with the establishment of the Rivers State University of Science and Technology, Port Harcourt. In due course, private university education in Nigeria became a reality when the first three Private Universities were licensed to operate in 1999. Today, Nigeria has 173 Universities (comprising 43 Federal, 51 States and 79 Private Universities).

The investments made on universities were overwhelmingly accounted for by the state, a fact which makes it correct to characterize the Nigerian higher education system in the period from the 1970s to the end of the 1990s as belonging to the public sphere, one that was almost exclusively driven by the revenues accruing to the Nigerian state. With the advent of private providers of university education, the picture has begun to change.

In a nutshell, the University System in Nigeria has undergone five major changes/ stages;
- First, the manpower/skill substitution stage; to cater for the needs of a newly independent state;
- Secondly, the economic response stage; to meet the needs of an expanding economy;
- Thirdly, the democratization stage; to meet the universal demand for university education. This was fueled by the failure of the 6:3:3 system, which was intended to create the gateway to an expansive technical education infrastructure for millions of young people who could not or might not benefit from university education;
- Fourthly, the political response stage; to meet the yearnings for state universities, basically, to close the gap left by Federal universities;
- Finally, the privatization stage; which is fueled by the inadequacy of public universities to meet the huge demands for university education. It is remarkable that from one Private University in 1999, Nigeria now has almost as many private universities as the public ones.


The earlier decades of the Nigerian University System witnessed remarkable achievements. Graduates from the system were reputed, nationally and globally, for skills that placed them high up on international scales of evaluation. Research outputs from the system were adjudged highly impactful in solving national, regional and global challenges. In the last three decades, however, the Nigerian University system has begun to experience a disturbing decline.

Between the establishment of the University of Ibadan in 1948 and the oil boom period of the early 70s, Nigerian Universities were at par with the best in the world. Graduates of our universities were highly regarded and were offered unconditional admissions to post-graduate programmes anywhere in the world. Things took a turn for the worse as oil prices tumbled in the late 70s and Nigeria was forced to re-order its economy and adopt austerity measures to keep afloat. For nearly two decades (mid 1980s to 1999), the Nigerian University System was on a free–fall; funding became grossly inadequate and decay increasingly set in everywhere; libraries, laboratories, classrooms and critical infrastructure were in critical stage of disrepair and short supply. Perhaps, more damaging was the fact that the incomes of university teachers were not, significantly, reviewed during this period to cope with the nation's inflationary trend. The result was that most of our universities became theatres of corporate and individual poverty. Lecturers left in droves to seek economic solace elsewhere such as South Africa, the Middle East and, even, Ghana. It was a period in which the academic trade unions coined the apt slogan, “my take-home pay cannot-take- me- home”, and pasted it strategically on the doors of many lecturers across the country.

The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) made spirited attempts to draw the attention of successive Military Governments to the plight of the universities, but they
were implacable, often interpreting the agitation for improved conditions as subversion, or undue radicalism constituting threat to national stability and interest. It was a period in which ASUU (or its predecessor) was, routinely, banned and unbanned. With the return to democracy in 1999, ASUU has had greater latitude in using its labour powers to draw attention to the plight and decay of our universities. 
In the last twenty years, university funding, salaries and conditions of service have been reviewed and improved. Yet, the situation was such that with the establishment of more Public Universities, with increasing demands and yet grossly inadequate funding, the prospects of qualitative transformational university education in the country remain blighted.

In 2016, the Federal Government of Nigeria made a commitment to reverse the decline, with a manifest determination to accelerate the efforts in this direction by building on the efforts of previous administrations. This new directional change motivated the then Honourable Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, to lead the drive of the Ministerial Strategic Plan 2016-2019, which began the process of developing a Blueprint for the rapid revitalization of university education in Nigeria. In January 2018, the National Universities Commission, under my direction, inaugurated a Strategy Advisory Committee to provide the necessary guidance in the reform process.

The Strategy Committee which is composed of some of Nigeria's most distinguished intellectuals, features Distinguished Professor Peter Okebukola as Chairman, with Professor Attahiru Jega, Professor Emeritus Nimi Briggs, Professor Ruqqayatu Ahmed Rufai, Professor Michael Faborode and Professor Gambo Laraba Abdullahi as members. It is backed up by some NUC Directors as internal members, and has been the engine room of our efforts at rapid re-vitalization of university education in Nigeria. The first major assignment undertaken by the Committee was to develop a Blueprint to guide the reform process. The development of the Blueprint was anchored on an extensive multi-stakeholder paradigm. Inputs were sought from students, parents, teaching and non-teaching staff, Vice-Chancellors, Chairpersons of Council and a miscellany of other stakeholders. A three-pronged approach was used for data gathering. It took off by determining and ranking the challenges that currently impede the system. It painstakingly identified practical and sustainable solutions to the challenges. And it also attempted to cost the solutions and propose how funds would be sourced and prudently utilized to ensure cost-effectiveness.  

A thorough scrutiny of the Nigerian university terrain by these multi-stakeholder strategies revealed some of the key challenges facing the system which require urgent reforms, such as:  

i. Paucity of facilities for teaching, learning and research;
ii. Inadequate funding;
iii. Deficit in the quality and quantity of teaching manpower (including the quality of professors);
iv. Governance deficit (including stemming the tide of strikes);
v. Depressed quality of graduates;
vi. Inadequacy in access;
vii. Deficiency in research and postgraduate training;
viii. Academic corruption and other social vices;
ix. Strengthening extant regulations by NUC and professional bodies;
x. Promoting ICT-driven universities;
xi. Fostering Skills Development and Entrepreneurship, and
xii. Gender issues.

On the basis of the foregoing challenges and within the framework of the Ministerial Strategic Plan, 2016-2019, the Strategy Advisory Committee reached some requisite consensus with stakeholders on the following strategic goals for 2019-2023:
I. By 2023, access to university education should have increased by a factor of 20% over the 2018 figures;

ii. By 2020, the curriculum of Nigerian universities should rank among the best three in Africa in terms of its competence to deliver on Africa's Vision 2063 and addressing global SDGs;

iii. By 2023, at least 30% of resource input for teaching, learning and research should have been upgraded to meet international standards and maintained thereafter;

iv. By 2023, the gap in the number of teachers needed in the Nigerian University System should have been reduced from 30% to 20%;

v. By 2023, the quality of graduates from Nigerian universities should have improved by at least 20%, as captured in the feedback from employers and users of the products of the system;

vi. By 2023, scholars in Nigerian universities should be among the best in productivity, as measured by national and global productivity standards as reflected in their relevance to solving Nigeria's socio-economic challenges;

vii. By 2020, NUC should introduce enforceable minimum standards in university governance to ensure at least 10% efficiency in the university system; These ambitious goals must be attained in our quest to bridge the gap between the state of universities in Nigeria, and the state of universities in developed world.

viii. By 2020, the incidence of academic corruption in Nigerian universities should have reduced by at least 10% and progressively decline thenceforth;

ix. By 2020, a sustainable funding model should have been approved at all levels and implemented via appropriate instruments of federal and state governments;

x. By 2020, NUC should have been re-structured and empowered to deliver better on its regulatory functions.

Apart from the efforts of individual universities in ensuring that global standards are attained in the delivery of university education, the National Universities Commission, under my stewardship and building on previous efforts, has taken some measures to revitalize university education in Nigeria. A critical first step, among the steps taken by the Commission, was institutional self-analysis and introspection on its regulatory and quality assurance mandates with a view to identifying areas requiring improvements needed to attain global best practices in its operations. Other critical measures taken include the following:

1) Curriculum Review and Re-Engineering
The defining features and character of any university, the world over, is the quality of its graduates and these are influenced by a number of factors within the domains of input, process and output. A major element within the input and process fields, in particular, is the curriculum. The curriculum is a major quality index for higher education as it defines the content of the knowledge being imparted to the students. The National Universities Commission develops the Benchmark Minimum Academic Standards (BMAS) with the active participation of subject matter experts across Nigerian Universities. The Commission believes that universities should be innovative in their approach to curriculum development and delivery. A review of the BMAS is currently ongoing and it is the intention of the Commission to sustain the process in line with international best practices.

Curriculum review, by itself, is incomplete if the personnel needed to deliver the content lack competence and adequate training. Universities are, therefore, expected to embark on strategic capacity building to bring academics abreast of new trends in their respective subject areas.

Another area of emphasis is the ideological consciousness of the NUC with regard to the principle of liberalizing the curricular in individual universities. This pertains to the proportion of the content of the BMAS prescribed by the NUC vies-a-vies the proportion to be determined by the universities. The Commission believes that while universities may have commonalities in the basic epistemological principles of a subject area, each university should independently and creatively carve a niche for itself to enable specialization to evolve within the socio-cultural contexts and local peculiarities of the universities. At the 2018 Annual Retreat of Vice-Chancellors of Nigerian universities with the Management of NUC, I made an offer of “liberalization “ or “contextualization” of curricular content to Vice-Chancellors to the effect that in the spirit of flexibility, NUC could prescribe national minimum curricular content of 40%, while Universities should provide 60% of the content of their curricular. The preponderant opinion among Vice-Chancellors at the Retreat was that the implementation of the proposal should be gradual and a consensus of a 70:30 content ratio in favour of the NUC was reached.

The curriculum re-engineering effort of the Commission has other ramifications, including the creation of a fourteenth discipline in the NUC with the recognition of COMPUTING as a separate and distinct discipline in the Nigerian University System, which used to be classified under the Science discipline. Efforts are afoot to unbundle Mass Communication and create a distinct discipline of Communication, comprising degree programmes in Traditional Media, Social Media, Broadcast Journalism, Print Journalism, Film Production, Public Relations, Marketing Communication and Media Studies. In a related frame, proposals are being developed for the establishment of a university-wide Faculty of Creative Arts to give the creative and cultural industries curriculum base to fulfill the nation's revenue diversification drive through the arts. By the same token, the Architecture discipline is being reviewed and repackaged as a Faculty comprising Departments such as Interior Architecture, Landscape Architecture, Urban Design, Enterprise Architecture and Naval Architecture.

2) Teaching and Learning
One of the cardinal strands of the tripartite mandates of the university is teaching undergraduate and graduate students. Through teaching and training activities, universities bequeath to and equip individuals with requisite knowledge, skills and expertise in different realms of human endeavour in their disciplines. Students are thus enabled to understand the critical and complex connections, between and betwixt different subject areas and their linkages with social well-being. The critical, analytical and systemic thinking that is needed to conceptualize, understand and address these linkages and issues are, indeed, the mandate of every higher educational institution.

A major challenge that we grapple with in the Nigerian University System now is that of the quality and methods of teaching. Apart from the fact that many universities adhere to the traditional methods of teaching, majority of teaching staff are engaged in parttime teaching beyond their individual carrying capacity, with the result that inadequate time is devoted to teaching in both their primary universities of employment and the universities where they undertake visiting appointments. There is, therefore, the
  urgent need to redress this untoward and degenerative attitude to teaching and its aftermath of reduced productivity in the university system. Universities can develop new attitudes towards improving effective teaching.

As part of efforts to improve outcomes of teaching and learning in the Nigeria University System and producing graduates with the requisite skills and competences, such as critical and creative thinking and problem-solving skills, the NUC, in collaboration with the University of Sussex, has embarked on organizing intensive pedagogical training workshops. The NUC is committed to sustaining the momentum in the transformation of pedagogy and practice through a systematic, train-the-trainer approach with a nation-wide cascading training workshops at regional and subregional levels as a pathway to producing a critical mass of academics with inclusive and supportive skills and competences in higher education pedagogies and practice.

Critical skills, such as pedagogic approaches to teaching large groups; integrating new technologies; assessment and feedback; reflective practice; supporting individual student needs; and creating inclusive teaching environments for all categories of students, including those with disabilities, have become areas of critical focus in the NUC with an over-arching objective of producing a critical mass of academics with pedagogical competence and currency across the Nigerian University System.  

3) Research, Development and Innovation
It has been observed that of the tripartite function of universities, research is, arguably, the most crucial, since research is the source of new knowledge and innovation. Research is not only required to inform meaningful teaching and learning, it is also the source of acquiring new knowledge for Innovation, which is the route through which universities all over the world distinguish themselves and attain relevance to national development. Innovations, patents and new knowledge produced there-from, with the potential of research outputs for generating and impacting tangible improvements on the living conditions of ordinary citizens through wealth creation, poverty alleviation, cure for diseases and overall socio-economic and technological development of a nation, are the hallmarks of universities all over the world. Unfortunately, the current state of research activities in Nigerian Universities and their relevance is dismally poor with a screaming disconnect between university research activities and Nigeria's socio-economic development and vision. The marginal research activities undertaken across the Nigeria University System is concentrated, mainly, in publications for purposes of promotion and the advancement of the academic careers of individual academic staff, with minimal contribution to innovation, patents and other tangible outcomes that can impact on the resolution of real-life challenges of the Nigerian economy, development and technological advancement of the nation.

The “publish or perish” culture is a major reason for the scant attention paid to real-life problem-solving research that should lead to innovations or patenting that can facilitate the development of new products and services or the improvements on existing goods and services. Worse still, the marginal research efforts and outcomes in our universities are hardly utilized in our national development programs. Similarly, many Nigerian Universities are not exerting appreciable impact on their immediate communities and their peculiar local challenges.

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