Adverse effect of economic downturn on education is huge, says Adeyemi

Education starts from the home. The first teachers a child encounters in life are the parents. It is informal. But it etches in the memory of the child long-lasting impressions.

Professor Isaac Adebayo Adeyemi is a former Vice Chancellor, Bells University of Technology, Ota, Ogun State. He shared his views with UJUNWA ATUEYI, on happenings in the nation’s education sector since the return of democracy, saying the current economic challenges have severely affected the sector. He said the establishment of new universities without consideration for the number of qualified lecturers being produced, is also hurting the sector.

How will you rate the country’s education sector since the restoration of democracy?
There have been dramatic changes, positively, in the education sector since the restoration of democracy. A major significant change is the decision to privatise tertiary education nationwide. In the last 10 to 12 years, there has been a significant increase in the number of private universities, polytechnics, colleges of education and technical colleges.

The advantages include access to tertiary education by increasing number of applicants who would not have been absorbed in government institutions, especially for candidates whose parents have the means to fund the education of their wards. Furthermore, the policy has also enabled some of these private institutions to establish themselves globally as centres of excellence apart from restoring the glory of what an Ivory Tower should be.

That some of our tertiary institutions have started implementing Federal Government policies on national health insurance scheme (NHIS) and the national contributory pension is a consequence of the restoration of democracy. It will be on record that the lot of university lecturers improved significantly which stemmed exodus of lecturers to other African countries and the developed world.

Also, the availability of funds from the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND) has changed the face of infrastructural development in most, if not all the federal tertiary institutions. If not, most of our tertiary institutions would have been like glorified secondary schools.

How has the sector fared in the last two years under President Muhammadu Buhari?
The sector, especially at the Federal Government level, has not fared badly since there has not been a radical departure from existing policies. However, at state levels, there has been a lot of challenges which are yet to be addressed.

What are these challenges?
The current economic and financial challenges, which the nation has been going through, have taken its toll on the education sector. We have never had it so bad, especially in the last 12 months when most of the institutions, including the federal institutions, have been finding it extremely difficult to survive.
Parents whose salaries are not paid for months, or are on half salaries have found it difficult to meet up with obligations to their wards in private and public institutions. It is a vicious cycle. As has been stated at several fora, the present administration inherited a fragile economy and the level of plundering of our resources could not be fully ascertained. This education sector has also been adversely affected.

The above challenge could be addressed holistically. Apart from improved and sustained level of funding, available funds should be judiciously spent in critical sectors of each institution’s identified dire needs.  Each institution should put in place checks and balances in all sectors, be it staff employment, programme development and expansion following due process and established guidelines by the supervisory agency, the National Universities Commission.

Institutions should also put in place virile income generating schemes that would improve internally generated revenues. Another critical challenge is qualified and experienced lecturers, especially those with doctoral degrees.  We have witnessed in the last few years that the rate of the establishment of more universities outweigh the rate at which qualified lecturers are being produced. This has resulted in a lecturer ‘moonlighting’ in more than two or three institutions. How can he give the best to his students? What time does such a lecturer have for research? These are some of the challenges.

But establishment of more schools was intended to address the issue of space?
The challenges have not and cannot be solved with proliferation of schools. Rather, it could compound the challenges. It takes time, planning and inputs of resources for any new institution to grow and stabilise. A new institution is like a baby that needs to be nurtured through various stages of development failing which a baby without adequate nutrient, quantity and quality, will end up malnourished and if care is not taken such a malnourished child may die.
Going forward, what could be done to lift education to its desirable position?
We have to understand that we are operating within global perspectives and as such changes in the education sector are not static but dynamic. This is borne out by regional, national and or global rating. The education sector has performed below average, globally judging from the outcome of ratings in the last two to three years.

To lift the sector to its desirable level, we must improve the level of funding and ensure judicious application of the funds. There is the need for adequate planning in the establishment of new institutions in terms of staff, funding and infrastructural development. Training and retraining of teachers and lecturers especially in teaching methodologies and application of information technologies, is very important.

For us to move forward, there is also the need for university/industry partnership in developing new curricula and in reviewing existing ones in line with current trends in the private sector. Development of entrepreneurial skills in the training of undergraduates by ensuring that for each programme or course, the university through Senate should be able to build in some entrepreneurial components in the curricular. Work-Study programme should also be a component of our education, if possible right from the secondary school.

Furthermore, the challenge of under-aged students has been relegated to the background. It is not unusual to find undergraduate students of 16 years of age in most of our institutions of higher learning, under-aged undergraduates! In most developed countries that we are striving to compete with or that serve as reference points, the education system is such that it is pretty difficult to enter the university if the candidate is less than 18 years of age. This needs serious consideration by our policy makers. An immature graduate will find it extremely difficult to easily adjust and cope with the challenges outside the university wall.

It is no longer debatable that private universities/public tertiary institutions have come to stay in Nigeria and recent events have shown that they are capable of contributing to the education landscape within and outside the country. Having established their potential within a short period of establishment, those proven private institutions should be supported through various avenues, like government, private sector and individuals. More especially, private universities should be made to benefit from TETFUND intervention grants, especially for infrastructural and facilities development with specific conditionalities as may be determined and mutually agreed by all the parties.

Special schemes must be put in place to upgrade the postgraduate schools in all institutions currently running postgraduate programmes by providing world class facilities for teaching and research in order to produce the required manpower for the education sector and for research in the private and public sectors.

Government and institutions, with the inputs of staff through various unions, should put in place policies on how to handle industrial unrest in all institutions. The practice of shutting gates of institutions, once there is a dispute, is highly counter-productive and has done damage to Nigerian education sector. Crisis management and conflict resolution should be handled without adverse effect on the system.  It calls for discipline and understanding of all parties that might be involved, whether students or staff with the government fulfilling its own obligations.

Also research institutes should no longer be parastatals under ministries but as academic units of universities.This would enhance research and postgraduate training, and would enable research institutes to fulfill their mandates.

Enhancement of technical education in line with global trends and national demands is imperative. There is also the need to revolutionise technical education and training to ensure that such graduates possess required skills to perform in the private sector and key in into national developmental plans.

What is the present administration doing right and what is it not getting right?
My personal observation is that at the federal level, there has not been a radical departure from existing policies, which were inherited. This is commendable. However, recent pronouncement that the Universities of Agriculture would be transferred to the Ministry of Agriculture as the Supervisory Agency, I think is not the right thing to do. If this is so, I doubt if this decision is thought through. It is like one step forward two steps backward. At the establishment of Universities of Agriculture, they were placed under the Federal Ministry of Agriculture. The likely ripples are for ministries to demand that specialised universities should be administered through the corresponding ministry. If care is not taken, “the falcon cannot hear the falconer, and the centre cannot hold.” It could be the beginning of eroding the powers of the NUC. The consequences could be grave.

The determination of the present government, federal, to give councils of institutions a free hand in the appointment of the chief executive officers of the institution is commendable. I hope council, on its own, will live up to expectation and will not betray the trust reposed in it.

At state level, some states are striving to reposition secondary schools, which form the bedrock of education by putting in place governing board comprising representatives of parents, alumni, teachers and government. This is a welcome development, which I believe will assist government in achieving its objectives and ensuring the implementation of policies that can bring improvement to primary, secondary and even tertiary institutions.

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