Standards in education: The Ivory Tower (2)
WITH that cut-off mark of 180, which was recently recommended as a qualification for eligibility into Nigerian universities, but which has thankfully been cancelled, at least, for now, the administrators of the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) and the National Universities Commission (NUC) may be sounding the death knell for university education in the country.
Although this gesture was said to be geared towards expanding the access of candidates to other universities with fewer applicants, it has brought an already wobbly sector to its knees.
For several years, stakeholders, university administrators, parents and even students themselves have decried the falling standard in the university system.
They have witnessed from successive governments a systemic dysfunction that has continued to impede the growth of education. They have also witnessed how a vibrant intellectual culture that bred opinion leaders, captains of industries, has been replaced by a rabid, consumerist trend churning out nurseries of mediocrities.
A reason adduced for this, is a leadership problem caused by what some have rightly called cascading mediocrity in university administration. Attributed to the dictatorial tendencies and incivility of years of military abuse on the system, this situation is one whereby every level of mediocre leadership elects or appoints inferior subordinates to carry on in magnified proportion, the foibles of their predecessors.
The result, as one critic observed, is “a linear parade of decreasing mediocrity that eventually runs the system aground.” One aspect of university culture that has suffered this decadence is the capacity for research.
Systemic failure, dwindling economy, poor funding, little private sector promotion of research and intellectual sloth have deflated the problem-solving potential of academic research.
And stripped of the rigours of intellectualism, impervious to mentoring, and decimated by brain-drain, the university system has come to raise a new generation of professors whose publications and research works are unknown beyond their departments, of teachers who jettison the contemplative, studious demeanor of scholars to become a caricature of affluent showbiz persons, and of professorial promotion obtained by unionist blackmail and arm-twisting even after negative recommendation from experts.
So hopeless, lost and forlorn has the situation become, that it is fitting to ask: where are the intellectual giants of today’s universities?
Who are the mentors? Who and where are today’s replicas of the Wole Soyinkas, the Chike Obis, Ayodele Awojobis, the Ayo Banjos, the Teslim Eliases, the Eme Awas, Bolanle Awes, the Tam David-Wests, the Adiele Afigbos, the Bala Usmans, the Jubril Aminus, amongst others? Yes, they may well still exist but in what numbers? What calibre of thinkers can emerge from Nigeria’s universities without the tutelage of minds like these?
Even with their deluge of flattering Second Class Upper degrees, many Nigerian universities are grappling with averageness as the new optimum.
And amidst this multitude of mediocre characters who dictate the pace, if not the standard of tertiary education, are a threatened fraction of geniuses who have been drowned into inescapable acquiescence. In truth, a genuine first class mind would be an endangered species in the nation’s universities.
True, like a typical production line with soiled raw materials, an establishment lacking in any purposeful vision beyond routine production of graduates, would gradually succumb to the tackiness of mass culture – mass production, mass education, mass appeal. And that is the lot of the Nigerian university.
But this cannot go on ad nauseam. Again as this newspaper has rightly recommended in an earlier editorial, an emergency must be declared on education, to sieve the wheat from the chaff in the system. In this regard, it bears reiterating that there is an urgent need and indeed wisdom, in considering university autonomy.
Barring its non-feasibility at this time, standards should be made very high through stiff competition so that the very best, amongst students and staff, get the pride of place in the institutions.
The university is not just another level to be attained as one grows up. It is not the next level after secondary school education; rather it is the powerhouse for growing ideas that empower man and transform society positively.
Also, there is need for private sector endowment of chairs and promotion of research to spur faculties and students to engage in problem-solving researches and projects with culture-promoting content.
Besides, rather than establish universities as prestige institutions for political reasons, more trade centres, technical colleges and institutes for skill acquisition should be set up to provide the manpower that will drive Nigeria’s stagnant technological sector.
If only Nigeria’s authorities understood the inexorable symbiosis between the quality of universities and the intellectual capital of a country; if only they see the imminent disaster that the present sham that is called university education portends; if only they had reasoned that it would have been better not to have a university at all than to engage in a tokenistic expansion of these hatcheries of dense indolence; if only they grasped the truth in the value of scholarship to personal refinement, positive transformation of our immediate environment and contribution to global culture and civilisation, Nigeria may perhaps have become a superpower.