Monday, August 26, 2013

Nigeria Universities 2013 Rankings, ASUU Strike and My Rising Concerns

A lot has been on my mind since I read The Herald newspaper of August 11th 2013 where Nigeria's top 100 Universities were listed. A lot continue to well up in my mind as I try to keep tab on developing stories on twitter and other social media so much so that I had to break the tranquillity of my honeymoon to scribble down my thoughts. This is also coming at a time when the melee between the federal government and body of university teachers (Academic Staff Union of Universities-ASUU) persist . I am deeply worried for my young ones who are affected. This piece is not only to the government or ASUU, it is to teachers, lecturers and all those who are currently insisting on the strike as the way forward. It is a plea for a date to be announced when schools will resume.

I feel I know a lot about how university systems run and what it takes to be a world renowned university because I have not only been a part of the team that produced a document for the European Foundation for Management Development (EFMD) Quality Improvement Systems (EQUIS) responsible for european universities accreditation, it was during my studentship at the UK that the university I attend moved to the Triple Crown category, a level designated for top universities in the world who have met all quality standards in teaching and learning [only 1 per cent of business schools world-wide have achieved Triple Crown status by earning Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) accreditation, the European Foundation for Management Development quality mark, EQUIS, and the Association of MBA (AMBA) accreditation for the school’s MBA programme]. Even though my school in the UK is not among the top 50 neither is it among the top 100 in the world according to the University League Table, but I've always thought to myself that if just a school in Nigeria can meet half of these embedded quality mechanisms in university systems, we could be on our way to becoming one of the best in the world. It's important to mention here that I'm talking from an insider perspective.

I've seen both sides, in Nigeria and abroad. I had my undergraduate degree in Ladoke Akintola University of Technology (LAUTECH) (No.19 in the current NUC list) before going for my masters abroad. I was a teaching and research assistant in Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) (No. 4 on the current NUC list) with extensive networks and partners in University of Ibadan (UI) (No. 1 on the current NUC list) and other top universities in Nigeria; so I'm clearly talking from an insider perspective. Truth be told, there's is urgent need for quality improvement mechanism to be embedded in our educational systems. Yes we have faculty academic board etc, we've never sat to do critical benchmarking and data collection to identify key areas of educational development. Yes the current ASUU struggle is about "due allowance" to the tune of N87billion or N92billion (USD530+million or USD570+million) (we're not sure which amount is correct) but are we sure this is not about some people's pocket? Especially at a time when the roles of Unions are being contested by corporations around the world.  What is the long term vision for education in Nigeria? Is there a roadmap? Who are we aspiring to be like in terms of global education standard? Is there any benchmarking? If UNESCO recommends budgetary allocation of 26% for developing countries and Nigeria is currently on 8%, are we currently working with these international partners to address the issue? Or are we just taking their recommendation without local consideration because experience has shown that policy implementation requires consideration for resultant shocks and effects; a clear example is the oil subsidy clamoured for by World Bank for developing countries. Although the current struggle tries to potray a more critical demand for infrastructure funding for education, how I wish it focuses more on a sustainable long term strategy with both ASUU and the FG drawing a sustainable road map rather than allowance fight alone as it seems now.

As one writer rightly pointed out, the worse part of the ongoing impasse is the fact that the strike call-off date is out of scope with both sides not giving affected students a clear view of what to do; whether to prepare for a quick call off or go on to take up "vocational trainings in tailoring, hairdressing, auxiliary nursing, electronic repairs, shoe making, carpentry etcetera". What has happened to dialogue and peaceful resolution? No other issue require a no-strike action as negociation and discussion continues like the current one because young people are involved, the future generations should be our concerns and not really the huge amount of money for "infrastructure" that is currently being clamoured for. I am worried and so are my fellows in the diaspora.

The backlash of these strikes are already becoming obvious. Every strike means that more young people are on the street doing nothing. As their graduating age goes over the edge so also rises the loss in the quality of these young people. And then they move on to the labour market and they're eventually told they're overaged. These graduates have no choice but to look for dubious ways to change their age bracket to what the banks want as most of them clearly indicate the age of potential employers now. We are talking about skill acquisition and the resultant effect on the Nigerian economy; about the future of the nation and our collective progress. Its so sad how we handle this issues. Nigeria is the most populous black nation, the largest country in Africa and obviously the country with the largest youths and young adult. The country is once again reminded of the tremendous potentials to record quick growth by adequately and gainfully utilizing this strength it has, failure to do so is already spelling disaster for the country in various parts. we only hope something is done urgently to reverse these tide; of violence, delinquency, strive and struggle among these young people. One author describing the situation as "Bastardisation of Academic Procedure" recalls the consequences of this type of strike action: 

"Due to frequent strikes, some idle students gets involved in vices ranging from rape to murder, cultism, drunkenness, drugs,robbery, fraud and when academic activities finally resumes, these behaviorally downgraded students pollutes the already tensed academic environment with their new found vice, fostering cultism  and criminal activities on campuses....While the vice ridden campuses constitutes academic nuisance, the activities of lecturers who constantly harass female students with sexual advances is another form of academic bastardization."

Fastforward to Universities here in Canada, their key objective is to prepare students for the labour market; most schools here are not only maintaining this traditional stand, improvement mechanisms have been put in place right from the on-start allowing for up-scaling and upgrading when the time is due in future. Going back to what I learnt from my work experience as a member of learning and teaching assessment committee (LTAC) and the Quality Committee (QC) in UK it is important to note that first there must be a critical benchmarking against global best practice. Its just like saying we're going to destination B from destination A. We need to evaluate and know the cost of getting to where we're going. What does B have that we need to have or develop. Its not about being a copycat, its about knowing and building the critical requirement for the long term. I will be frank with you, overseas schools know their competition and work very hard to meet and surpass their standards.

I remember in one board meeting at my UK University where I sat as a faculty student representative; we practically scrutinize data and analysis from potential competitors both locally and internationally and we developed strategy to retain the best students in the school. At another meeting we were analysing a report that students put forward for opportunities for complaints to be made against lecturers they feel is standing against their progress. Feedback and student participation should be entrenched at every level of the learning experience. If we go by the good old saying that if student have not learnt then the teachers have not taught, it will help us get the point in perspective.

Quality controls involves all of these and more. Teachers are responsible for moulding lives, they're like role models these student see. Especially those in the university, it's a critical time for adolescents (the millenials as they're now called) and every little encounters teachers have should be considered pristine in moulding the future of Nigeria. I strongly believe that Nigeria is at a threshold and I and my team through our OYESS Initiative will continue to do our best to strengthen education and learning. We're currently working with a Nigeria university in overhauling their library and learning material base and trusting that this will inform the quality of work in the faculty both among student and teachers. We are assessing current technology available and how they can upgrade little by little and with available resources so as to meet global standards. It started with the faculty leaders deciding what they want and where they're going to. I wish every teacher/lecturer see this 7minutes TED video below of Rita Pierson: "Every Kid Needs a Champion" so they can appreciate their roles in shaping the future of young people.

My stand will continue to remain a very unpopular one in the current saga, especially to many of those at the vanguard of these strike action. And this stand is that going on strike, like previous times, will not lead to sustainable solution to improving the quality of tertiary education in Nigeria. Strike action is usually an option when it comes to labour considerations, efficient bargaining systems and wage to welfare ratio analysis but as far as education in Nigeria is concerned, things have gone precariously bad that we can't afford to continue to move motions in similar ways as before. In fact, UNILORIN (which is not part of the current) strike has its ASUU chairman insists that UNILORIN is not part of the ongoing strike because it '"was in a bid to ensure the educational stability of the institution...strike actions has brought about a lot of backwardness to the educational development in the country while" urging the national leadership of ASUU to come out with other means of fighting for the cause of members instead of incessant strike actions.'

We really need to look into the issue of Unions as Morgan Spurlock is already doing with his CNN Inside Man programme. My heart goes to the Nigerian students in general but in particular, the students I had the opportunity to teach and encourage to go all the way irrespective of the increasing challenges they face on their pathway. Many of then don't know what to do at this present time and wondering when the strike will be called off since it started in July 2nd. My heart also goes to the many parents who have to worry about the future of their children.

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