Nigeria’s educational crossroads – A time for brave and bold decisions.

Nigeria’s educational crossroads – A time for brave and bold decisions.

This article for Tekedia Institute came from the fusion of some contradicting concerns. The first of these were thoughts on the release of the 2021 global university rankings by The Times. The second was a development in Nigerian Current Affairs, where the Minister of Education, Malam Adamu Adamu announced the creation of twenty new Nigerian Universities. The third was a throw back to a previous article by Tekedia Lead Faculty ,  Prof Ndubuisi Ekekwe

One of the things that struck me as odd from the start was the extent to which global rankings of Tertiary Educational Institutes vary. I recall a few years ago, Covenant University in one list was only just outside the top 100 globally, and at the time was ranked higher than any university in India!

I can no longer quote the site but I distinctly recall the comment that introduced it. This was because a client representative for whom I had done Beverage Factory Start-Up work for, had leveraged it to make a comment on LinkedIn. This is what caused it to turn up in my ‘feed’. He was drawing attention to the contrast between the ranking of Covenant and the Indian universities, He then used this as a leap to the conclusion that Nigeria should not have Indian nationals in jobs that required graduate candidates as the ranking showed Nigeria had a University, ‘notionally’ better than the foreigners country of origin (that is assuming Indian nationals with graduate jobs in Nigeria received their academic training in India).

Being the sort of data driven individual I am, of course, I would never then just accept this to reside in my cranial cavity without following the data, and to my surprise, on that specific rating system, and for that particular year, the claim of the content author was true!

I did of course, find an alternative rating system where, while respectable, Covenant had fared less well. I also found several universities in India ranked above it.

The difficulty with University rating systems is that in order to do well, individual universities need to score highly on whatever exotic cocktail of criteria and metrics the rating system is slanted in favour of.

Rating systems are aimed at a global visiting audience and the percentage of international students has become a uniformly present focus for many of them. This needs some degree of ‘unpacking’.

University Entrant Mobility. Years ago, ranking systems were published in ‘Broadsheets’. In fact, the most respected ranking systems in the world were originally produced by ‘Broadsheet’ publications, such as ‘The Financial Times’ in the UK. Leading US periodicals like TIME and Newsweek also liked to get involved. With the advent of the internet, and now with people regularly accessing global data over ‘OTT’ services on Smartphones, things have changed. Online rating systems, like any ‘free-to-browse’ online service need to earn their keep somehow. ‘Pay per click’ adverts, and sale of user behavioural data to sponsors, are common options. Undergraduates where easy commuting from the parental home is a big selling point will have less to do on an online rating system. The more globally flexible a university prospect is, the more online queries they will make. There is therefore a vested interest in the online systems rewarding higher rankings to universities proportionate to their international student component.

Global Economic Migration Popularity of University Location

Some countries attract a higher proportion of annual global economic migrant activity than others. Some economic migrant prospects see studying abroad as a migration tool. US, Canada, UK and France are common destinations. While many go through formal processes, while still studying,  of legally securing the interests of a relevant employer for a graduate trainee positions, a small minority never attend university at all, and disappear into the ‘grey’ job economy as soon as able after arriving. Some very ‘average’ universities attract international students on the back of their nations migrant destination popularity.  Some countries have great universities located in backward economies with poor working conditions, low profession diversity and high unemployment. Is it right that a rating system should elevate some universities and penalize others simply because some international students are making selection choices based on metrics more closely related to the nation a university is in, rather than the university itself?

Unique Local Dialect Expertise

Some universities around the world offer value to different communities locally and regionally by lecturing through obscure languages or language variations of little national, and no international significance, in provincial areas of little interest to students focused on international mobility or migration. Examples of these may be a very localized dialect of Arabic in North Africa which isn’t widely understood by Arabic speakers internationally, or a local dialect of Chinese in a provincial city that differs significantly from either Cantonese or Mandarin. Nevertheless such universities may also excel in producing graduate excellence in innovation demand areas such as STEM. Rating systems rarely acknowledge the value of universities efforts to gain traction with local and regional communities. This, again feeds into the bias towards universities which attract a higher proportion of international students creating more revenue for rating system owners through more site visits. Rating systems are particularly biased in favour of universities which lecture through English.

Top ranking Nigerian Universities in the 2021 list. Covenant falls to 4. LASU overtakes UNILAG for the first time. Critical metric – International Students will depress rankings of Nigerian Universities, highest achievers only attaining 1%
Ireland, originally dubbed ‘The land of Saints and Scholars’ due to an excess of Monasteries, during British Rule, and the early days of The Republic was destitute with insupportably large families and high infant mortality rates. The phrase mutated to reflect that typically, one boy from each family would get sent to the priesthood to have a living, while otherwise, it had more learned persons than it had jobs. Today, the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin boasts 65% overseas students. That’s almost two foreigners for every local.

Lecturer to Student Ratio

Lecturer to student ratio is heavily weighted in many rating systems. It is however not a guarantee of individual student growth in a subject. Many other components and catalysts not only improve knowledge uptake, but more importantly, develop the capacity of the individual to critically appraise sources of information for themselves and onboard it selectively in a unique personalized process. Developing one’s own information discovery and internalizing techniques as an evolution from the condition of receiving instruction, is probably the key leap that needs realization in a graduate study. This is arguably more important a learning output than any technical knowledge or data set memorized. Once these techniques are strongly anchored in an individual, they continue to serve through life, while specific technical application or subject matter may become obsolete, or no longer relevant in the dynamic professional space.

In online pursuits, these components and catalysts may be supporting static content, media libraries, third party engagement environments and services, dynamic learning community tools, and other virtual tools provided. In bricks and mortar delivery environment,  access to photocopiers and printers on demand, with free paper may have historically been a huge plus, right now, free campus Wi-Fi with high transfer rates may be more facilitating. In STEM research pursuits, equipment can be a big distinguishing factor. It is hard to grow leaders of the future from inspiration confined to a lecturer, a board, and a piece of chalk,  when there are other alternatives which supply on demand access to the latest cutting edge equipment, some costing tens of millions of dollars. Partnering leading industries in the professional development of students is a huge plus. Being able to schedule, for example,  sessions in the flavour labs at Firmenich or Givaudan, the research facility at Pfizer, or the engineering development workshops at Hyundai Heavy Industries can be a huge enabler for relevant students.

Universities offering nuclear related courses have frequently built their own ‘research’ nuclear reactors ranging anywhere from several hundreds of thousands of dollars to several million, depending on the design and when built. Reed College in Portland, Oregon US, produced a draft costing for the decommissioning of their research reactor in 2018 costing $4.4m USD

‘Students, even ones who are not planning a career in science, need to learn the scientific method. Mostly because this is critical in reducing the level of insane stupidity that appears on the internet regularly…. handwashing techniques and ways to ensure a bench is sterile is useful in the recent pandemic (as well as most of them understanding what a virus is and therefore never saying things like ‘antibiotics can kill COVID19’ or ‘What about Chloroquinine?)’ – David Lascelles ‘Writers and Authors’; Lecturer in Biology and Social Care.

 

Quality up to date equipment may be more important than lecturer-student ratio. Obsolete equipment in a Portuguese University – the hardware device has a long obsolete floppy disk drive while the system is running Windows 4!

Cost Transparency

Different young adults have widely varied ‘life skills’ sets on admission to university. Others complete first degrees as more mature students. Students with parental dependency for much or all of their undergraduate life are best suited to a cost regime where as much of the cost is payable and visible in advance as possible.

I lament at the stories I have heard from students in Nigeria as far back as the turn of the millennium, with impromptu provision of handouts and other study aids by lecturers accompanied by demands for payment. A robust system should ensure that direct exchange of money or ‘value in kind’ between students and lecturing staff should never need to happen. On the very rare occasion that a lecturer is required to seek recompense for costs out-of-pocket, then such products or services should be managed formally through the bursars office with full chain of custody transparently documented.

Career Conversion

Whether students secure jobs post graduation is a major factor in the ranking methodology of most ranking systems. However the actual approaches different ranking systems take to the metric is highly subjective. The extent to which a position is considered relevant to the course of study, whether it is considered employment at graduate level, whether the remuneration is considered broadly consistent with graduate expectations in the specific job-market, and the duration of the window post graduation in which success is expected, varies significantly.

A pandemic effect? The height of the pandemic 2020. UK takes 1+3. US has 3 in the top 5 but no Ivy League! The highest being Harvard at 7. A US rating system of solely its own universities however, placed Princeton top of the list in 2019 the year before the pandemic.

Politics , Pandemic, The Environment  and Distance Learning

Reflecting back to the hidden agenda of overseas migration, universities that benefit from overseas student volume and by inference their ranking, as a result of their nations immigration popularity, have been hit by pandemic travel restrictions and by student visa throttling driven by political shifts.

Nigeria is a strong producer of globally mobile aspirants.

With the maturing of e-learning, proponents of immigration control at popular study locations argue that if the interests of non nationals in a university is genuine, then they can choose from that universities online portfolio rather than needing to be domiciled at the physical location. Politicians who find resonance with segments of public attitude are quick to secure political capital with voter bases by bringing in restrictive measures as we have seen with the former presidential regime in the US. Though right wing in principle, this finds unlikely support among environmentalists who view any avoidable human mobility as bad for the environment.

The pandemic has forced people to at least consider different approaches to getting things done, which is always a better option than being completely denied progress or a solution. While some business interests with a narrative will have us believe things have completely and irretrievably changed (which isn’t true), nevertheless,  necessity has caused us to challenge notional adverse opinion to some ways of doing things.  These in many cases were found to have less validity than perceived and in some cases were found to be baseless. Online learning has become a winner here.

Moving on…  The Minister of Education, Malam Adamu Adamu has announced twenty private Universities.

In a previous article here on Tekedia,  Prof Ndubuisi Ekekwe had this to say: ‘ Nigeria cannot fund our current university system. People, Harvard spends close to 3x what Nigeria budgets for the ministry of education, from primary to university levels.

The problem is complicated because the professors are part of the problems. Yes, everyone wants to be a Vice Chancellor and the more schools established, the higher the number of opportunities……..

…. Today, what do we have? Bureaucratic systems where a former VC of Kwara State University could buy a bulletproof Toyota at N74M as an official car, even when the school borrows N400M monthly to pay salaries!’ (March 15 2021)’

There are many questions that come out of the point at which these different news items and articles converge…

One may be: How can everything move forward to be self financing?

Morerover: How can the educational collective move forward to learning excellence?

It is possible the twenty or so extra institutions serving the same local population will have some positive impact on the lecturer-student metric.

Nevertheless, more needs to be done to improve the foreign student metric which is practically non-existent.  If global perception of the universities can see positive change, then perhaps perceived improvements will become real improvements by induction.

A professional visa service site lists the types of visas available to overseas visitors to Nigeria… How can Nigerian Universities be expected to achieve respectable global ranking (dependency on international student metric) if FGN doesn’t even have a student visa in its portfolio of visa products? A global view of this could be that FGN does not even have confidence in its own university products ability to prompt interest in such a visa. Improvements could develop Nigeria’s university system into a source of much needed foreign currency.

However other steps also need to be taken to develop quality.

In the light of ongoing conflict and terse exchanges between Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and the Nigerian Government and the stated roadmap for the development of these private universities, there are serious concerns.

On behalf of  Malam Adamu Adamu, Minister of State for Education, Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba, said during the monitoring period, the new universities would be affiliated to older generation universities for academic and administrative mentoring to be moderated by NUC.

“This is part of NUC‘s initiative for early-warning signals to detect compromises in quality for the application of corrective and remedial measures to redress such situations. Substantive licences will be issued to well-managed institutions after the three years of probation following their satisfactory performance and growth, within guidelines stipulated by the Commission,”

If these are indeed to be PRIVATE concerns, then let them be PRIVATE concerns. They do not need to be mentored or otherwise contaminated by management ideologies of institutions that simply can’t crack the global top 1000.

Moreover, they can do well without the ASUU relationship dynamic. They need to stop thinking of these ‘Private’ Institutions as extensions of inert and impotent state apparatus.

When Globacom, MTN et al, were granted GSM licenses, were they put in some perpetual probation with NITEL standing in judgment over them and ‘marking their paper’?

If that happened where would Nigeria’s Telecoms sector be now?

But this is what is being advocated for the Tertiary Educational Sector!

Private Universities need to follow a new road they carve out for themselves. They have more to learn from the disruptive agility of Tekedia Institute than they do from any of Nigeria’s more ‘traditional’ educational institutions.

Because my future is in my children and my children are Nigerians. Therefore the future prospects for Nigeria are somehow, the prospects for myself. Take what I have written here not as a declaration of what is, but as signposts to how things may be.

It is up to Nigerians to interpret those signposts and decide the roads to travel.

This is your journey.

Let the debate begin.

 

Decommissioning Proposal for research reactor at Reed College US https://www.nrc.gov/docs/ML1807/ML18074A347.pdf

Visa options for Nigeria: https://www.passportvisasexpress.com/visa_services/nigeria/country_information/nigerian_visa_types#more_visa_types list of Nigerian Visa types.

Details of a pulsed neutron diffraction study at University of Groningen , Netherlands https://research.rug.nl/en/publications/pulsed-neutron-diffraction-study-of-zr-rich-pzt

Reaction to Trump Student Travel Ban in 2020 https://www.ccn.com/heres-how-students-are-reacting-to-trumps-defacto-student-ban/

 News Express – FGN approves private universities: https://newsexpressngr.com/news/121029-FG-approves-20-new-private-varsities-See-full-list

 Ndubuisi Ekekwe Article – Nigeria’s University Lecturers Threaten to Resume Suspended Strike Over Delays on Salaries: https://www.tekedia.com/nigerias-university-lecturers-threaten-to-resume-suspended-strike-over-delays-on-salaries/

  Times Higher Education Stats 2020 https://www.timeshighereducation.com/world-university-rankings/2020/world-ranking#!/page/0/length/25/sort_by/rank/sort_order/asc/cols/stats

  Times Higher Education Stats 2021 https://www.timeshighereducation.com/world-university-rankings/2021/world-ranking#!/page/0/length/25/sort_by/rank/sort_order/asc/cols/stats

 

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