Osundare: Nigerian Varsities Not Universal

June 20, 2013

Renowned Professor of Literature Niyi Osundare led a cream of scholars to mentor graduate students of Ekiti origin at the Ikogosi Graduate Summer School (IGSS) which opened at the Ikogosi Warm Spring Resort in Ekiti State on Monday. Asked to address the challenges facing education in Nigeria, particularly university education, he blamed the falling standards on the actions and inactions of the publics that make up the system. He said Nigerian universities lack universality; private universities exist to boost the ego of unscrupulous politicians and are run like prisons; students are lazy and teachers are cheats. He spoke with KOFOWOROLA BELO-OSAGIE and SULAIMON SALAWUDEEN.

Quest for wealth has destroyed value for education When Prof. Wole Soyinka a couple of years ago said we should close all the universities in Nigeria, and then start rebuilding, many thought he was exaggerating. Unravel everything and start building again. It is that drastic.

The first and foremost is to change our attitude. Psychologists would tell you that we subsist from inside and we also fail from inside. When free education was priority number one in Ekiti land, we did not need anybody to preach to us. You work hard and honestly. We did all these as that was the only way. Today, politicians have changed everything. Ask many young people now how many books they’ve read, and they will look at you and say, ‘are you asking me how much money I want to count?’ Money, money, money, and they just want to make that money without working for it.

The value system will have to be reversed and our respect for teachers will also have to return. When we were young in the 1950s and 1960s, there were two fields an average Ekiti person yearned for. Either to become a teacher or a preacher. Particularly teacher and the Yoruba idiom for an educated person who was also respectable is teacher. There is a local song extolling the yearnings of an average parent to become the parent of a teacher. That was when teaching had value. The teacher did not earn much but what he earned was enough to give him a decent life and he had respect for the community. But today, everybody is running away from teaching.

Money is really not our problem but how to spend it and spend it well. Our government will also have to reorganise its priority. Today, they talk of defence, education should be the priority. There was a time government was committing 20, 18 per cent of our budget to education. There was a time it went down to 1.8. That was in the 1990s. Yes, that was when our universities got clobbered completely. I was a professor at the bar and my monthly salary was N3, 225. It took a lot of courage at the time not to be corrupt. I was earning what I considered too small; that was between 1993 and 1997.

It was when Obasanjo came that the pay started improving.

Private universities for rich politicians

These days they are proliferating universities all over the place which they call private universities. I think a lot will have to be done to quality control. Many of the so-called private universities are kalo kalo universities. They are set up by people who want to make money. Look at how much they take from parents. There are universities in this country where you pay well over a million naira in a session. Now I ask you, how many honest people will want to send their wards to that place? Which means the universities are set up to care for the children of the thieving political class. It is people who steal money or acquire their income through dishonest means that have such money. Many of them are atrocious. Many of them set up to boost the ego of their founders. They see the universities as factories going by the way many of them talk saying in my university, I do this, I do that. No. There definitely is no universe in such kind of university. It is your private institution. A university is defined by the degree of universality it has in terms of curriculum development, staffing, students intake, and in terms of the generation and dissemination of ideas. And there was a time Nigeria had the right attitude to university education – before the coming of the military.

Many universities, little value

How many universities can Nigeria afford? Right now, we have 129 universities and still counting. It is true that there are so many kids that qualify for university education who are not being admitted. Opportunities have to be created for them. But the solution is not setting up mushroom universities in the country. It is going to compound the problem. What we do is solidify, extend, consolidate and strengthen the existing universities. Take the core ones, about 10 and expand them. The university of Wisconsin Madison when I got there as a Fulbright scholar in 1990 I ask in passing, how many students do you have here? I was told 45,000 students. When I went back there last April, I understood the number had jumped up to 65,000 students and standard has not fallen. Yes, 60,000, 70,000 students in one university and then you save overheads as it would have only one VC or one president, one registrar or whatever. So, you are able to save a lot. If, however, you proliferate that into about five universities, each university will have its vice chancellor, registrar, bursar, a chain of deputy registrars, assistant registrars, and so on. A lot of the money goes into servicing those overheads that really do not contribute directly to what is happening in the laboratories, the library and so on. So, what we need is rationalisation and the moment we set up institutions just for sentimental, egoistic reasons. I hope you know the Nigerian mentality, if your neighbour is doing something and is getting money from it; the next week you set up the same business. At the end of three months, virtually everybody in your street is doing the same thing.

During the oil boom of the 1970s, it was the hotel business. People were setting up hotel businesses all over the place. Later, this went out of fashion and it became petrol stations. Again, everybody joined. We are now in the era of the proliferation of universities. They started with universities, but now I am seeing international nursery and primary school, international crèche, international nursery, primary and secondary. And they are charging money. I still don’t see much of a difference in the performance of graduates of private schools and graduates of public schools. In fact, in a number of cases, the ones from public institutions are better. And they are freer. They have a stronger sense of what a university should be. Many of the private universities are run like prisons. You cannot use your cell phones, u cannot do this, that. If a professor wants to move out, he has to sign for and obtain a permit. Where then is the idea of a university? There is no universe in such universities.

Students are not interested in hard work

Many of our students are also no longer interested in what they are being taught. I am so surprised. As long as they get their As and Bs at the end of the semester, that is it. You have to sit down and ask, I have done one week with this professor, teaching this course, what have I gained? Six or seven weeks later, ask again, what have I learnt? What will I pass on in the future after the whole learning process?

Teachers are cheaters

We, who are teachers, need to be more honest. Many of us cheat the students. We cheat the system. A semester of 15 weeks we teach for three weeks. And you say you are a teacher. Many of us should be sent to jail the way we do our job because we are killing the minds of the future. How much teaching are you doing and how much cheating are you doing? Because today in many of our institutions, you don’t know the difference between teaching and cheating.

I ask people all the time, is that the way you were taught? If I was taught by teachers who behave that way I would not be where I am today. The students are being short-changed while many of our colleagues are out chasing either contracts or government appointments. You cannot combine the two.

Harsh environment under-develops lecturers

Now, I don’t want to be misquoted: Nigeria still has some of the most academic, diligent, principled teachers. But they are now getting more and more into the minority. We still have wonderful teachers and academics in this country who are being short-changed by the system. When I was preparing this keynote address, for four days in Ibadan, there was no power. Now I would put on the generator, but I don’t work with the generator. I only wait and allow it to charge the battery (of my laptop) and when fully charged, I turn off the generator. I remember one night I had a kick in the stomach as it were at three in the morning and I got up. I put on my laptop. The screen was bright but I could not see the keyboard. So, I reached for my torch light. I put it between my shoulder and my neck, and this was how I worked for about three hours. By the time I finished, I found it difficult to turn my neck back to its normal position. Is that how you write your best book? Compare my situation with the situation of a colleague in Britain, France, Denmark or the United States and then you know the real, terrible impact of underdevelopment. And underdeveloped situations have a way of under developing peoples’ minds and corrupting their values.

Should a state of emergency be declared in the education sector as well?

Absolutely. Real state of emergency. Ka tu ka ka tun to. This is what we need. And with that state of emergency, we have to look very closely at all the universities or all the institutions parading themselves as universities in Nigeria and then ask how many of you really qualify for the name you call yourselves.

This article was first published in The Nation

Last modified: June 20, 2013

2 Responses to " Osundare: Nigerian Varsities Not Universal "

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    […] Here you will find 24913 additional Information to that Topic: ekitistate.gov.ng/osundare-nigerian-varsities-not-universal/ […]

  2. Write more, thats all I have to say. Literally, it
    seems as though you relied on the video to make your point.
    You obviously know what youre talking about, why throw away your intelligence on just posting videos to
    your blog when you could be giving us something informative to read?

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