Within the week, I had an opportunity to have a tete-a-tete with one of my mentors, a distinguished academic. In the course of the discussion, I appreciated the enormity of Nigerian Universities Commission (NUC) directive that PhD be qualifying criteria for teaching and research in our Higher Educational Institutions (HEIs). I wonder after leaving him a way around this dearth of qualified teachers with PhD. Yet, there is a heightened demand for lecturers. In spite of the shortage in teachers, there is still a surplus supply of students whose needs of access to HEIs are unmet.
The Federal Ministry of Education and Nigerian Universities Commission have challenged all 117 universities in the country to establish an Entrepreneurial Study Centre (ESC) as well as start undergraduate programme in entrepreneurial studies. From available records about 1,036,090 students are in universities excluding Nigerian Defence Academy, with less than 40,000 lecturers to teach them. In comparison our Teacher Student ratio (TSR) is at a dismal proportion in relation to economies like Malaysia and Singapore at the crucible of their development. So for us as a nation with an ambitious goal of vision 20:2020, our leadership need be creative to tackle the challenge of teachers in our HEIs.
My reflection brought an inspiration, which I discovered something like it is already in place, though I call for a significant change in its modus operandi. NUC has initiated a running programme “Linkages with Experts and Academics in the Diaspora Scheme (LEADS).It is a call to industry leaders and accomplished academics to undertake teaching and research in our HEIs for a period between 3-12 months. The initiatives have attracted a number of academics, though I could not ascertain the number of industry leaders so far engaged.
This is where my thought finds relevance and could help resolve the dearth of university lecturers for some disciplines where tradition has endowed us with a repertoire of luminaries. Disciplines like Accounting, Law, Medicine, Nursing and Education easily comes to mind. In recent times, the interest of people in some subjects like Computer Science, Human Resources, Journalism and Agric-Food Sciences makes us have a good supply of experts to draw from.
As an ardent fan of Prof Clayton Christensen’s work on disruptive innovation, the initiative I propose is a disruption to the established norm. A disruption occurs when a new entrant’s/ approach have lower price and lower primary performance, but a great promise of ancillary performance in the future compared to the incumbent’s approach. The initiative will be useful with the ESCs as well help with faculty shortages in Nigeria’s HEIs.
For the ESCs, what we need institute is an Entrepreneurs-In-Residence (E-I-R) programme. The initiative, though an innovation in this environment has been used in countries like USA and Canada. It require Universities identifying and engaging successful (though failed business entrepreneur will be instructive) entrepreneurs to serve as faculty in their entrepreneurship programme. The list of entrepreneurs, business leaders and executive management staff from different areas, industry or sectors could be crowd-sourced from members of the university community.
As a regulatory agency; NUC through the education departments of various universities could organize a short period Train –the-Trainer’s course for such identified entrepreneurs with deficiency in imparting the knowledge. These entrepreneurs will serves as coach as well as possible investors to students as they take the self-employment route. For the universities, it comes at little cost compared to engaging a full time faculty staff, with immense benefits such as creating case study, learning materials and easing the academic staff to do more research than teaching as we have.
Similar to that, for the faculty shortages in those areas where we have accomplished people to draw from the Experts-In –Residence (E-I-R) will serve as an elixir. It brings accomplished professionals to the HEIs to share specialized knowledge and offer advice to students, while offering a chance for collaboration and stimulation of new ideas with faculty staff.
The challenge before us as a nation is pressing and demanding. We need to be dynamic with a constant thirst for new ideas and examples of excellence to take us away from our quagmire.
I will be right to say I know who a university teacher should be, beyond the PhD after his name. A teacher is a specialist in a particular subject; a scholar would qualify, just as a lifelong learner. Those are the attributes that NUC or any university taking up this initiative should be seeking for from the prospective Entrepreneurs- In-Residence or Experts-In-Residence. We need professionals who enjoy teaching and learning in Nigerian Universities.