Government should make a law mandating first class students to teach, says Kehinde Coker
You have been in the university system since 1999; what is responsible for the rot in the university system?
Every university is a replica of a nation. It is a micro society of a nation, in the sense that it has its own governing council, vice chancellors, senate members, and other committees. In other words, it is a community on its own. Now when you talk of rot in the university system, who is the cause? The government of course and the system… particularly the system, the system is not favourable.
What is the salary of a professor compare to the number of years and efforts he has put into the system. And somewhere out there, the so called government officials and even the local government chairmen can pay salaries of his professor that taught him upfront, that is a rot. A rot means an aberration of a good system not necessary financial corruption, if a system is corrupt, there would be rots in the society and it will reflect in every sector of which universities is part and parcel.
But I stand to be corrected that any rot emanated from the university system. It is a reflection of what is happening in the global world. If the system is well designed everything will fall in place. Moreso, when you talk of universities as citadels of learning, where knowledge are seek, then we shall be seeking after knowledge and truth in the university system. If there are problems in the society, government should come here and seek for solutions. If the system is so well designed such that there is first and middle class, things will be better. Unfortunately, in this country, we have a few rich and mass majorities of the poor. Few people oppressing the mass majorities, it is really bad.
But it is sometimes alleged that lecturers are responsible for the rot in the university system?
That is not true! How can lecturers be responsible are they the government? Lecturers have a job to perform… they teach, they research, conduct examinations, assess their students and mark their scripts… So in what area are they contributing? Are they school administrators? They are not. Moreso they work within a confinement of a code of conduct. In every school there is what we call academic code of conduct and work ethics. LASU has it. Once you violate it, you face the disciplinary action. As a role model, every lecturer ought to be a guardian of morality. We don’t only teach knowledge, we also teach morals.
There are also complaints that the best brains are not in the university system?
I will answer your question in this way… there should be a law that any student with a first class grade should be retained as an academic staff. But there should be incentives for that. If somebody has a first class grade, such a student should be encouraged through scholarships to go for masters, PhD and then retain him/her in the university system.
By doing so, you have a good academic culture, not mediocre. Somebody who has managed to make a second lower degree and has roamed about the streets no job, and he comes back to the academic system, what legacy are you putting down. Those that will teach my child afterwards must be scrutinised. So for us to have a good legacy, there should be a policy in place and an encouragement.
You cannot mandate people with first class to stay here when the money is so meagre, when their income cannot take them home? So, incentive matters. In those days there was interest, but now it is beyond interest, economic factors must be put into considerations, especially when there are jobs out there with buoyant salaries. How much is a salary of university teacher? How much is my salary? But there is this bogus idea that lecturers earn a lot. When in actual fact it is a peanut. My take home cannot take me home.
What can be done to attract good heads into the university system?
Proper incentives, not until when the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) goes on strike to press home their demands. For example, in 2009 there was an agreement, which ought to be renewed yearly. But no government will listen to you until you go on strike. And of course strike is not a good measure, but government of the day has made it a weapon for the academic staff to use because they are not softheaded. When there is an agreement, it should be honoured. I don’t have to wait until am pushed to the wall before I react. So government must be up and doing to the needs of the universities.
What can be done to eliminate mediocrity in Nigerian varsities?
Part of it is enforcement of PhD as the minimum requirement for lecturing; every academic staff must be encouraged to have a PhD and also should be encouraged through research grants. Lack of research grants is part of the reason why we are not developing in this country. Even the states, the state government should always partner with the university for research. Whatever they want to do, they come to the university since we are into research. By so doing they would be tackling their immediate societal needs. So many research are lying fallow, nobody is using it. If there were proper collaboration, then there would be development.
What can be done to improve the system?
There should be a level playing ground for all. There should be what I call social justice. Year in… year out, we talk of brain drain in the academic world, the system should make sure that every academic community is well endowed through recurrent expenditure and capital expenditure. Development of human capital and structures are also imperative, just as enabling teaching and learning environment. If that is done, we should have our place back.
When I was a student in University of Ibadan (UI), I remember my lecturers in those days use to see UI as a mini London; they hardly step out because everything that is needed is within. But today, what has happened? Is it not the same Nigeria? The system is rotten and that has affected every other sector, universities inclusive.
What is your impression about the 2017 budget?
For me, there is what I call appearance and reality, paper work and execution. How would this money translate to the end users? The slight increase is a good development but how about actualisation and redistribution? It is what we see at the end of the day that is the reality. Success will only be achieved if all parties ensure prudence in the management of the allocation.
What area would you advise government to focus on while implementing the budget?
Two areas, agriculture and education… once we have agriculture in place it is a nation full of food baskets, but beyond that agriculture must go pari passu with education. If we are enlightened, our boys on the street will be engaged. I have travelled round the country and ours is a nation blessed with landmass. For instance, if you take a trip from Lagos to Ibadan, left and right you will see landmass.
Well, the churches are now occupying it. These are land ordinarily should have been used for agriculture. With agriculture Nigeria will bounce back. With cocoa money in those days under Obafemi Awolowo, with groundnut money in those days under Tafawa Belewa, Nigerian economy was rivalling, in fact was superior to Briton economy in terms of pounds and naira, it was two times their money.
But today it is now reverse, even when we now have oil, our oil should have been a blessing, was really a blessing but it is now a curse to the nation. I think we should have a rethink and go back to agriculture. With agriculture in place and education, our youths will leave the streets, the issue of Internet fraud and joblessness will be eased because they will be fully employed and meaningfully engaged. Agriculture is paramount to this nation’s survival, likewise education.
Do you think the contemporary youths are interested in agriculture?
Why not! All they need is change of orientation; once their orientation is changed and they see future in it they will be actively involved. By the way we are talking about mechanised farming.
How would you assess average Nigerian youths as their teacher?
If I make LASU where I currently teach as a case study, the Nigerian youths are faced with challenges. Parental challenges, societal and peer group. Most of them usually come for counselling, most of them sponsor themselves to school, in the morning they are students, at night they are security guards. Just to sponsor and equip themselves. But if given adequate attention and resources, they are talented. If given amiable environment, they will excel, but there are challenges and I think this is where the government should come in.
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