For a few months in 2019 and over a year now, the world has been battling with the COVID-19 virus, which has impacted and still affecting people’s movement. Local and international businesses were forced to shut down during the first wave of the virus. Educational Institutions were not spared. Despite the severity of the virus during the first wave, a number of private higher Institutions in Nigeria were able to carry out their teaching duties and administrative functions through various online learning and meeting platforms. This was not actually occurred in most public institutions as the leadership failed to come up with resilient strategies and tactics to overcome the emerging challenges and issues.
As people and organisations continue experiencing impacts of the virus, this piece is not about x-raying the impacts and how the stakeholders are addressing them, the piece only interrogates the recent decision of the University of Ibadan that only graduates with First Class grade will be allowed to participate physically for the year 2021’s Convocation ceremony.
According to the University, “Attendance at the International Conference Centre is opened to First Class Honours graduands and recipients of prizes and awards only. Parents and visitors are not allowed into the campus neither will there be any form of partying or social gathering during the period. All graduands are to comply with COVID-19 protocols, including wearing of face masks, physical distancing and use of hand sanitizer.” This decision has been earlier made and applied by the University of Ilorin which held its 2021 Convocation ceremony recently.
From the news media to the graduates, including their relatives and colleagues, the decision has been framed mostly with negative rhetoric and alternative narratives. While it is obvious that stakeholders across levels and industries and sectors need to be strategic in organizing events that require large gathering of people as the virus continues its spread in Nigeria, it is glaring, according to our checks across HEIs in different continents, that stakeholders are employing virtual playbook for graduation ceremonies.
For instance, information from the University of Regina indicates that irrespective of grades all graduates are being accommodated at the ceremony. According to the institution, “among the initiatives is a special commemorative program for graduates that will be mailed to them together with their parchment. As well, a special video tribute to graduates has been commissioned and will be posted later this month on the University website and broadcast on Access Communications.
A virtual yearbook has been designed that will allow Spring 2020 graduates to share their memories from their time at the U of R and stay connected with their colleagues. The University is also making “electronic swag” (virtual photo frames and backdrops) available on its website so graduates, their family members and friends can create their own special memories. In addition, the University is launching its #UofReginaGrads2020 social media campaign, where all community members are invited to post their congratulatory messages to this Spring’s graduates.”
Some institutions have also followed this approach. The Columbia Climate School, which cancelled in-person in 2020 and this year, adopted a virtual method without discriminating any graduate. The virtual approach was also the main strategy employed by the management of University of Michigan in February, 2021. Instead of denying all graduates opportunity of having shared memorable celebration, schools in New Jersey, the United States of America, were informed by the state government to limit the number of attendees per session and observe COVID-19 containment measures strictly.
Like schools in the New Jersey, the University of Chester, Queen Mary University of London, Cambridge University and Oxford University all had the ceremony in piecemeal, limiting the number of attendees per session/day. Considering the approaches taken and expected to be adopted by the institutions in the global north, the big question among the different schools of thought that have been commenting on the decision, is why is it difficult for Nigeria’s premier University, which claims to be “a world-class institution for academic excellence geared towards meeting societal needs”, to consider some of the identified global practices for organizing the ceremony in the midst of the pandemic?
From virtual sphere to the physical settings, monitored by our analyst, answers to this question remains mixed according to the emerging different schools of thought. One of the schools has people who believe that telling non-First-Class graduates not to attend physically indicates limiting number of attendees in consonance with a social gathering measure of the government. It is also a way of appreciating the best among the graduates.
However, these are not augur well with the second school which believes the decision is a fundamental way of discriminating and pointing out that those with lower grades are not worthy of celebrating. Examining these reactions, our analyst concludes that the management of the University has once again reaffirmed power distance, masculinity and femininity cultural dimensions associated with Nigerians over the years. Separating the graduates is a clear manifestation of making some superior and the other inferior, which is rooted in the masculinity [superior] and femininity [inferior] dimensions. It also stresses why the non-First Class graduates should see those with the grade classification as leader. This is also embedded in the power distance cultural dimension.