Oluponna: the Tide must change in fighting the challenges of Higher Education in Nigeria

Fountain University, Osogbo recently concluded the activities marking her 9th convocation ceremony. The convocation, which saw a total number of 307 students graduating from the two colleges of the institution, was heralded by an 8-day programme of activities. As part of the convocation activities was the convocation lecture usually held a day before the grand finale. The lecture, as was done in the past, was an avenue for the university to have erudite men and women contribute to discourse of national importance. It has become a tradition to bring important personalities to come give their voice to issues bordering on national development.

Like its 8th Convocation edition delivered by Prof. Toyin Falola, the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities at the University of Texas at Austin, this year’s lecture was delivered by another big Nigerian giant in the Diaspora, Prof. Jacob Kehinde Olupona. He is a professor of African Religious Traditions, Harvard Divinity School and Professor of African and African American Studies in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Harvard University. He came to speak on “Shifting the Tide: The Promises and Challenges of Higher Education in Nigeria.”

In his close to one and a half hours lecture, Prof. Olupona held the audience spell bound with his insightful, educating and revealing talk. He threw fresh perspectives on issues affecting the Nigerian educational system and proferred solutions to the myriads of problems facing higher education in Nigeria. He did not only speak to the problems but also offered solutions to those issues hindering Nigerian youths from reaching their potentials through the country’s educational system. In specific terms, Prof. Olupona spoke to the following in his speech :

#Educational excellence and the roles of Nigerians in Diaspora. The Harvard professor charged the Nigerian system to place a premium on the input of Nigerians sojourning out of the country. He argued that well celebrated Nigerian professionals and scholars scattered all over the world should be identified and their input sought to make Nigerian educational system more robust. He decried a situation where the Nigerian system places higher value on foreigners at the expense of her own. He decried the fact that Nigeria is “still a nation where a prophet has no honour in his hometown.” He charged the Nigerian government to “integrate Nigerian diaspora with the homegrown Nigerian professionals and scholars as it is this kind of mutual interplay that has contributed to the rapid development of nations like China, Korea and India.” In closing his appeal, Olupona emphasized that “remittances coming into the nation from the diaspora supersedes oil revenues… we must take the diaspora seriously and incorporate its energy into our nation building project.”


#University Reforms and the Quest for Excellence.  The professor of African Religious Traditions made a case for the Nigerian educational system to be reformed. He advised that Nigerian universities need to create more conducive environment for students to engage in intellectual engagements of contemporary issues including their professors’ researches. Olupona charged the National Universities Commission to devolve its monitoring of tertiary education to the regions. This, he argued, would make the monitoring of the implementation of educational policies more effective. He called on the traditional rulers to use their connections and positions as Chancellors of many public universities to influence the reforms in the Nigerian university system.

#Internationalizing Nigerian Universities.  As a Nigerian scholar in diaspora, Prof. Olupona alluded to modern parameters used in determining whether a university is internationalised. By internationalisation, Olupona meant to make a university have global relevance. He said, “ internationalized universities engaged in cutting edge research in all the fields of learning, including science, technology, humanities and social sciences.” He then asked some rhetorical questions charging Nigerian tertiary institutions to wake up from their slumber. “How many Nigerian universities engage in the pursuit of issues of global importance, such as research in global warming, poverty alleviation, sustainability, and social, economic, and cultural development?”, He queried. “How often do our students, both undergraduate and postgraduate, have access to membership in international student clubs and guilds?”, He sought to know.

#TETFUND and the Exclusion of Private Universities. Olupona first identified the yeoman’s job TETFUND is doing in supporting research, infrastructural and manpower development in Nigerian universities. He frowned at the exclusion of private universities from accessing TETFUND grants. He said the act is “not only undemocratic, but also self-defeating”. He wondered why private institutions would not benefit from TETFUND monies despite being subjected to the rigorous exercise of accreditation like their public counterparts. He concluded that “No nation can aspire to greatness by deliberately discriminating against citizens who have legitimately and legally invested their resources in the promotion of knowledge for the benefit  of the nation.”

#Gender Disparity in Higher Education. Prof. Olupona lamented the dearth of women in the Nigerian academia. He posited that the ratio of women to men lecturers on Nigerian campuses is nothing to write home about. He identified a highly patriarchal national culture prevalent in the country as a major contributor to this status of underrepresentation enjoyed by women in the Nigerian educational sector. He charged the Ministry of Education and Governing Councils to come up with deliberate policies to combat this.  

#Faith-Oriented Universities and Acquisition of Knowledge. Before concluding the lecture, the erudite teacher briefly recognized the roles of religious organizations in the process of knowledge. He made reference to a “productive interactions between faith, knowledge acquisition and character formation. However, he lamented the prevalent culture of neglecting the poor and the needy in the Nigerian society despite some manifestation of “deep religious convictions”. He asked, “how could we claim to love God so dearly and yet neglect the cardinal principle of our faith, that we love our neighbours as we love ourselves.”


Prof. Olupona did not leave the podium without some pieces of advice for the Nigerian leaders. He advised that as a nation, there is a need to rethink our values and philosophies. He prayed the Nigerian leaders to stop paying lip service to programmes and projects that would uplift the country.


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