‘Access To Quality Higher Education Should Be For Everyone’

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THE former Minister of Education, Prof. Ruqayyatu Rufai believes that gender, culture, social standing, disability or other situations should not stand in the way of access to higher education for everyone.

  This is in tandem with the first World Conference on Higher Education held in 1998, for which, 10 years later, participants at the 2009 Conference reaffirmed the role of higher education in meeting global challenges ranging from from poverty eradication, sustainable development, to Education for All, while renewing their commitment to improving access, quality and gender equity.

  Against this backdrop, Rufai made her mark by turning around the quality of higher education in Nigeria within three years. 

  With the policy that each state of the federation should have a federal university, nine additional federal universities were established to enhance access to higher education during her tenure. 

  To enhance access and reduce the number of out-of-school children, major programmes were implemented to encourage girls to attend school, especially in the northern part of Nigeria and boys in the southeastern part. Also, 100 boarding and day schools were being constructed across Nigeria for Almajiris.

  The Back to School Initiative was launched in Enugu to enhance Boy-Child education with the construction of schools to address this ugly trend.

  Rufai only amplified the issue of access, equity and quality of higher education as potent tool for overcoming prevailing challenges of development in the continent of Africa at the 2nd Annual Conference of the Association of West African universities (AWAU) that held at the University of Cape Coast, Ghana where she was a guest lecturer recently.

  She said it was a rare opportunity to speak on the issues that are so dear to her heart with inherent potentials for tackling the myriads of development challenges facing the continent.

  “Gender, culture, social standing, disability or other issues should not stand in the way of access for everyone.”

  “Furthermore, quality of education must be given priority for it is only through quality outcome that the efforts made in providing access are realized. Assuring quality will enhance the ability of the products of the education system to serve the interest of the society better.”

  She described Africa as the continent of the future, or the “last frontier” as it is popularly referred to.  

  “Its potential is reflected in the fact that business organizations from across the globe are directing their attention to the continent as they seek recovery, growth and the maintenance of competitive advantage.

  The former Minister believes that Education is critical to the quest for repositioning the African societies in order to take full advantage of global dynamics. 

  “Our citizens must be developed to become assets to national growth through the acquisition of skills and competences that would enable them drive diverse economic and social activities within and outside our shores. Our education system must be in a position to keep ahead of developments in all spheres of human endeavor,” she said.

  She observed that to produce highly skilled individuals for national development, the African societies and tertiary institutions are faced with challenges trying to meet with fulfilling their obligations.  

  Education as requisite, she believes, will provide all citizens with the opportunity to contribute to national development, which helps in improving economic opportunity and reduces inequality as a result of the attainment of relevant skills.  

  According to her, higher education is key to progress in Africa. However, indications are that while there may be increases in the number of students getting into higher education, these are growing at a slow pace in comparison to other regions. Carrying Capacity limits the number of students that may be admitted, which she said is one of the major challenges to enhancing access and equity.

  According to her, specified entry examination requirements for gaining admission such as obtaining required scores of minimum of five credit passes and above, including English Language and Mathematics at the General Certificate of Education has impinged on access negatively. 

  “There are also the University Matriculation Examinations to ensure that they select the best candidates.”

  A snag in gender considerations that make parents hold back girls from going to school in favour of boys, Ruquayyatu, believes heightened the challenge of access as well as economic considerations that lure parents to encourage early marriage of girls in place of education beyond the basic and secondary levels.  

  She indicated that the availability of physical infrastructure would have direct bearing on increased enrollment and accommodation of students and staff.  

  “Research activity and other innovation programmes in the higher institutions can only take place successfully if the necessary physical infrastructure is in existence.”

  Availability of Teaching and Learning resources continue to be a major challenge for most of the institutions of higher education.  

  “If carrying capacity is tied strictly to availability of teaching and learning resources, access will be severely limited most especially in Science-based programmes,” she noted.

  The former minister x-rayed the brain drain syndrome in African higher education, taking a look at the competition from across the world to attract the best brains and linked it to the dearth of quality academic staff in the Nigerian academic environment where over 50 per cent of the academic staff in tertiary institutions have no doctoral degrees.  

  Because enrolments are expected to be on the rise in the coming years, she insisted there must be requisite increase in number of staff as well as their quality.

  She said it is important to ensure that what goes on in higher institutions is in tandem with societal requirements to serve as key indicator of quality to overcome the challenge of mismatch between the curriculum and the needs of industries. The introduction of new courses that are relevant to industries, Rufa’i believes, will also enhance access in addition to providing opportunities to support industries with new skills base.

 However, she said access must not be sacrificed on the altar of quality due to the crucial need for quality being the basis for transforming our citizens into assets for society. 

  “In the light of this, our institutions must pay attention to ensuring that they have access to those infrastructure and resources to help in producing world-class individuals.” 

  To improve investment in education and achieve quality she called for collaboration with the private sector by the government because of competing demands on resources. 

  “Special intervention funds, such as the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund), which operates in Nigeria and is directed specifically at intervening in the Tertiary Education Sector, should be explored and put in place.”

  “Our higher education institutions also need to develop greater collaboration within and outside the continent. This will provide them with the opportunities to share diverse resources.  It will also encourage research in areas that are of common concern to the growth of our societies,” she posited. 

  On teacher recruitment and retention, she observed that institutions must ensure they maintain and sustain a policy of recruiting and retaining the best academic staff that will support their quest for quality outcome and also link with industries and the wider society. 

  She said conducive environment for research and innovation should be nurtured. 

  Rufai called on the Private Sector to support quality of education outcome through endowment of professorial chairs, provision of teaching and learning infrastructure, supporting special scholarship programmes, supporting research programmes And Public Private Partnership Projects.

  According to her, higher educational institutions in Africa should objectively look at ways of sharing costs in the provision of education. “This can be a good source of additional funds to provide the needed facilities. In the same vein, students’ loan and bursary schemes should be given priority so as to further encourage access and equity.

  “Every citizen has a right to be provided with the opportunity for education. Participation in education is the basis for preparing them to be useful to society. 

  “Apart from the challenge of access, ensuring equity and quality of education outcome are also major areas of drawback.” 

  She called for continuous equitable access to higher education because every citizen has something positive to offer to society. 

  “Ensuring quality education outcome is another sure way of promoting growth. African nations need to increase investment in education as a way of supporting skills development and growth. Higher educational institutions must pay attention to recruiting and retaining the right calibre of personnel to support their programs.” 

  “Development and rehabilitation of infrastructure and related learning resources are also essential. Collaboration with institutions both within and outside Africa is also an avenue for enhancing quality of education delivery. 

  “To take advantage of the diverse resources in the continent, institutions should develop research and innovation r that will target addressing specific challenges as well as exploiting local natural resources.”

  She canvassed attention to be given to the application of modern technology in education, Technical and Vocational Education and Training. 

  All these, she said, will combine to ensure that the Africa of the 21st century is self-reliant, competitive and bereft of the current challenges of poverty, diseases, conflicts and a number of other negative issues associated with the continent.

  Rufai noted that it is a thing of pride that the Association of West African Universities, which was inaugurated in Nigeria during her time as the Minister of Education is already playing significant roles in promoting quality higher education in the sub-region.



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