In search of a pragmatic university curriculum

NUC Executive Secretary, Prof. Abubakar Adamu Rasheed

President Muhammadu Buhari has ordered a review of the curriculum of Nigeria’s universities to get tertiary education out of the doldrums and make it competitive globally. In this piece, Head, Education Desk, Iyabo Lawal, examines the current state of university education in the country and the fillip a rejig of the curriculum can add.

It was the seventh convocation of the National Open University of Nigeria. The mood of everyone was expansive, particularly because former President Olusegun Obasanjo was among the graduands. Everybody was dressed to the nines. The air was festive. But the festering wound of Nigeria’s university education could not be ignored even on that jolly occasion.

In simple candour, speaking through a representative at the convocation, President Muhammadu Buhari unambiguously told the National Universities Commission (NUC) to review Nigeria’s tertiary education’s curriculum to meet global demands. Such review, he demanded, must be innovative.As if taking a cue from the President, the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, broke the news that the Federal Government would declare a state of emergency in education sector in April.

Adamu said, “By the end of April, we are proposing there will be a declaration of a state of emergency in the education sector all over the country.”
But he asked for more: “We request all the state governors to do same in their states and we hope that once this is done our educational sector will improve. I will also meet with the governors to appeal to them to give special emphasis to address the problem of low standard of education especially at primary level.”

The minister said the ministry was planning to present a proposal to the national council of state for graduates of education to henceforth be employed on grade level 10 of eight, adding that the proposal would also include offering employment to students studying education in tertiary institutions.

In January alone, the Federal Government has signified its interest twice to tackle the problems bedevilling the nation’s education system.The idea to rejig the curriculum was also mooted last June by the NUC when it said would develop a curriculum of programmes to be used for the proposed West African Institute of Migration Studies to be established in Toga, Kebbi State.

The NUC Secretary, Prof. Abubakar Rasheed, had said, “Our role is to work closely with the NIS to see to the take-off of the proposed West African Institute for Migration Management Studies that will be based in Tuga, Kebbi State. The NUC will ensure that programmes of studies around migration are brought into the curriculum.

“The universities that the institute will be affiliated to would be both from outside and within Nigeria to enhance the concept of cross-border education, which is being tested first in Nigeria.Following that, in August, the NUC had expressed its desire to begin a comprehensive curriculum review of all the academic programmes offered in Nigerian universities.

According to Rasheed, this was necessary to remove course programmes that are not necessary in the developmental need of the country.He said, “NUC will never be a stumbling block to any university that wants to develop. All universities have something in common; so do not shy away. We aim to be quite flexible about it by allowing universities to think innovatively in the process. We will not be hostile in anyway.

“We will welcome a situation where each of the universities can come up with courses which will challenge the university system. Universities will be allowed to submit these ideas through proposals to NUC which we will all scrutinize and institutionalize if need be.”
Nigeria, once home to some of the best universities in the world, missed out even on the Africa Group of the elite in the 2016 editions of Global Ranking of Universities on Employability Skills Index released by two reputable global bodies. The rankings, which recognised only four universities in Africa, marked out two in South Africa and another two in Egypt. None of the more 150 universities in Nigeria was rated.

The decadence in university education, according to experts in the sector is attributable to years of poor funding, incessant strikes by university teachers, poor admission standards, corruption, and fraud.The four African universities reflected in the 2016 Quacquarelli Symonds’ (QS) Graduate Employability ranking, Global Employability ranking were the Universities of Cape Town and Witwatersrand in South Africa; the American University in Cairo and Cairo University in Egypt.

In the QS ranking, leading the packs were Stanford University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the United States of America while China’s Tsinghua University was third. Universities with a strong focus on STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics – particularly those emphasising technology, ranked high.

While the top 10 demonstrates American dominance, with United States universities taking five places, there were four other different nations in the top 10. The others were China, Australia (the University of Sydney, 4th), France (Ecole Polytechnique, 6th), and the United Kingdom (the Universities of Cambridge and Oxford, 5th and 8th respectively).

The other top-10 American institutions were Columbia University (7th), the University of California, Berkeley (9th), and Princeton University (10th). Latin America’s highest-ranked university is Mexico’s Tecnológico de Monterrey (40th), while Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile (45th) was also placed within the top 50.Lebanon’s American University of Beirut (81-90) is the highest-ranked of six featured universities placing in the QS University rankings: Arab Region. Universities from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt were also ranked.

In the same vein, California topped Times Higher Education (THE) ranking released in that same year. The release of the QS employability ranking followed a week after Times Higher Education published its sixth annual Global University Employability Ranking revealing that employers consider graduates from American universities the most employable, but with California Institute of Technology (1st place) leading the pack, followed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (2nd) and Harvard University (3rd).

The Times Higher Education (THE) ranking was based on research commissioned by HR Consultancy Emerging and drawn from 2,500 recruitment managers from large international companies – and showed that US institutions continue to have a strong grip among global employers, taking 37 places in the 150-strong ranking. Six US universities made the top 10, including Stanford University (5th), Yale University (6th) and Princeton University (9th).
Four institutions located outside the US also made the top 10 in the 2016’s employability ranking: the University of Cambridge (4th), University of Oxford (7th), Technical University of Munich (8th) and the University of Tokyo (10th).

Do rankings matter? Sure, they do, education experts have said.It is, perhaps, a good thing that the Buhari-led Federal Government is determined –going by the two January pronouncements – to tinker with the universities’ curriculum and also declare a state of emergency.The QS and THE 2016 rankings illustrate the fact that there is a direct relationship between quality in education and development of countries as exemplified by the US, the UK, China, Japan, Germany, and South Africa – little wonder that South Africa is the only African member of G-20 (one of the 20 largest economies in the world and BRICS –Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – an influential club of emerging markets).

The Universities of Cape Town and Witwatersrand can attest to the link that exists between quality in their higher education and their economic development.
Until now the government has treated education as a hit-and-run affair. It can no longer continue to act that way. It is never too late for the country to develop a curriculum that measures up to international standards but also is futuristic in outlook.

An education expert, Edwin Agbionu, noted, “In Nigeria we are very fond of theoretically developing new and beautiful policies that seem to be addressing current and popular problems. But in practice, the old and outdated policies prevail. Such is the situation in our education. The greatest problem of our education system today is that the curriculum developed to take care of the graduates that would fill the few vacancies in the modern sector of our economy (modern sector less than 30 per cent of the entire economy) is what we presently use to take care of the graduates that can hardly find any vacancy in the modern sector of the economy.”

There is a consensus among education stakeholders that Nigerian graduates need skills to create jobs rather than the skills to fill existing vacancies.Speaking further, Agbionu said, “The bias of our education system is to produce skills needed in the modern sector of the economy while our economy is predominantly traditional. As a result of this we produce unemployable skills that culminate into serious unemployment. No wonder our youth are struggling to escape from Nigeria to overseas economies (modern economies for which they are produced by our education system).

”The curriculum should be reviewed in both the methods and contents to address the immediate needs of the environment such as producing entrepreneurs who create jobs. Emphasis should be on education for living and not education for certification.”He, therefore, called for a meaningful revolution in the education system, with focus not on certification but on being inventive and entrepreneurial.

According to the Director of the Centre for Petroleum, Energy Economics and Law at the University of Ibadan, Prof. Adeola Adenikinju, any curriculum review without proper funding will amount to little or nothing in revamping university education in the country.

“The government should provide more funds for federal universities and the states should do the same to the extent that these institutions can achieve their goals. I also think the era of centralized admission system should be over. The qualities of the products entering universities can be improved as well as that of those graduating,” Adenikinju said.

In this article:
Abubakar Rasheed
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