As has become fashionable, the lamentation of the Nigerian condition has been more vociferous from the tribe of those saddled with the task of ameliorating it.
The Director General of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), Brigadier Nnamdi Okorie-Affia joined the bandwagon recently when he made some not-so-startling statements about the NYSC scheme.
Some universities, according to him, have been sending “graduates” to the scheme who can hardly speak English. The quality of these graduates is so appalling that employers who can’t find any use for them are left with no choice but to send them back to the NYSC.
The NYSC has also discovered that some universities send “graduates” of courses not accredited by the National Universities Commission (NUC) for the NYSC scheme.
Okorie-Affia didn’t state if the graduates of unaccredited courses are the same as the ones employers don’t find useful. Worst still, he said some universities collect bribe from Nigerians interested in the NYSC scheme and send them in large numbers for national service, straining the NYSC budget and making planning impossible.
Again, it is not known if these presumably young Nigerians who bribe their way into the NYSC have undergone any university training, even on non-accredited courses.
The NYSC Director-General has opened up another debate on the troubles that plague another national institution. His charges against “some” universities raise so many questions any comment on them has to be provisional.
First, it is regrettable that the concerned universities have not been named. Are these problems limited to a few universities, which thus can fairly easily be addressed or is the malaise near systemic? It is not clear the extent to which the DG’s comments can be taken as a general feedback on the quality of our higher institutions, which is undoubtedly at a low ebb.
It is hard to avoid the conclusion that it is indeed within the powers of the NYSC Director-General to take concrete actions on the skeletons he has exhumed. The easiest of these is to report universities sending unsuitable “graduates” to the National Universities Commission (NUC), and to the police, in cases where it is discovered that these universities have taken bribe to mobilize the concerned students for the National Youth Service Corps Scheme.
Similarly, the NYSC should let the NUC know that certain universities produce graduates who cannot speak English and are not educated enough to teach in even primary schools.
The Governing Councils of such universities should also be informed of the poor quality of students that are coming out as graduates from their schools. Indeed, the NYSC would be rendering a great service to the university system and to employers and parents if it publishes an annual ranking of the employability of graduates from different universities based on the feedback from employers.
There are anecdotal accounts of the high quality of graduates of certain private universities, which the NYSC ranking system may confirm or disprove. The proposed NYSC ranking may even include a table of employer satisfaction with the graduates of particular disciplines in different universities.
Such a ranking will also be useful as additional feedback for the National Universities Commission on the quality of training in Nigerian universities. It is high time the Nigerian public had some kind of external evaluation of the work of academics, as the government cannot be solely held responsible for the poor quality of Nigerian university graduates.
What have University Governing Councils done about the poor quality of graduates that employers and parents have complained about for so long?
Nevertheless, the NYSC Director-General’s comments is a challenge to the government and the university community to take a hard look at Nigerian higher education system and initiate measures to improve the quality of its output.
It is no secret that Nigerian universities rank poorly even within Africa and that academics have forsaken publishing works in competitive international journals for the low-hanging fruits of domestic journals of doubtful quality whose credibility do not extend beyond the shores of Nigeria or beyond the boundaries of particular universities, in many cases.
Universities have developed their own version of zoning and quota systems, which works against merit in hiring and promotion. There is an urgent need to boost the quality and performance of academics, a question which, no doubt, is tied to good remuneration, among other things.
Many Nigerians sadly have resigned to the reality that universities are unable to retain their best products as lecturers, a far cry from the 1960s and 1970s when Nigeria attracted international faculty members, and lecturers routinely published their research in the best academic journals in the world.
There are no easy solutions to transforming the quality of Nigerian universities. But solutions must entail abandoning orthodoxies and taking hard decisions. Certainly, the country needs to increase opportunity for technical and vocational training.
More of the young people should be trained to acquire skills for which they can find ready use in the economy, especially as innovators or small business creators. Nigeria also needs to spend more on teacher training and salaries at the primary and secondary school levels so that we can have secondary school leavers who are easily trainable for jobs or who can gain far more from university education.
There is currently a crisis in the education sector, which has a negative economic impact that is comparable to the damage the nation’s inadequate power supply does to productivity. What is surprising is the absolute lack of appropriate response from the government.
In the end, the revelation by the NYSC Director General about the woeful quality of some graduates must be taken as a call to action.
Source: The Guardian.
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