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Nigerian Universities and Unhelpful Policies – By Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye

By Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye, Lagos, Nigeria, March 12, 2012- Great expectations are usually piled on our universities as very essential intellectual factories for the production of reliable human resources for achieving our lofty dreams and aspirations as a people. That is what it should be. Every year, the universities are expected to give the country quality graduates whose formal education and other forms of grooming ought to duly equip with sound intellectual, psychological and even ethical properties to assume very important and strategic positions in both private and public institutions for the advancement of national development.

But what appears to be seriously in doubt now is whether the National Universities Commission (NUC), could still be considered a reliable ally in this aspiration, either because it has run out of quality ideas, or it is being savagely influenced by some unwholesome sentiments within its ranks to, in fact, brazenly sabotage this grand expectation.  It is tragically surprising that we have had to sit passively and watch a handful of men and women that constitute the NUC churn out a cocktail of clearly misguided policies whose only benefit is their ability to effectively erect uncrossable mountains before otherwise brilliant students and promote devastating mediocrity in the university system, with far-reaching implications to the larger society. While several local and foreign observers are bemoaning the quality of the graduates our universities are turning out these days, the NUC is busy compounding the problem by formulating policies that can only further devalue the degrees awarded in Nigeria. 

I wish to examine one of the most offensive and pernicious of these policies, and I would like to begin with an illustration.  A young girl who chose English Studies as a course of study sat for the last (UTME), and passed very well. She went to her university of choice, sat for the Post-UTME tests and performed brilliantly and was offered admission by the university. But when she packed her bags and went to the university to register in order to commence her programme, she met a brick wall. Even though that university had stated in the JAMB brochure that it required a pass in Mathematics to admit students to study English, she was now told at the departmental office that only a credit in Mathematics will qualify her for an admission. Okay, she would be considered if she had a credit in a science subject.  That is what the almighty NUC had decreed. And so, despite her marvelous performance in English, Literature and other arts subjects, she is at home now, while those who managed to merely crawl above the pass mark in English but had a credit in Mathematics are there now studying English! And if she is unable to get the Mathematics eventually or her parents do not have the resources to take her to a university outside Nigeria whose curricula was drawn up by sane and progressive minds, that’s another great journalist, writer, artist, scholar, researcher, teacher, etc., brutally frustrated out of university education and consigned to the roadside by the NUC and its backers. Needless to add that many other brilliant youths like this girl will suffer the same fate in the various departments of Theatre Arts, Foreign Languages, History, Linguistics, etc., and the faculties of law across the nation just because of this outlandish condition placed before them by the NUC.

Now, are we merely interested in just admitting all manner of students into the universities and giving them degrees after a number of years or do we have the future in mind? Who should be encouraged to study English, the person who is very good in the subject, or the person who manages to obtain a credit pass in it but does well in Mathematics? We know very well that it is only in very few cases that we have people who are very good in Mathematics and the sciences also excelling in English and other arts subjects. We are already complaining that the there are graduates of English and other arts subjects whose written and spoken English are so horrible that one feels very sad reading them.

Newspaper editors can readily tell you the amount of work they do on reports sent in by reporters these days to make them readable. It is no longer shocking to go to even a university and see a secular issued by a high ranking university staff riddled with unpardonable grammatical errors. Some of the young men and women graduating from the Law School these days write and speak semi-literate English. Instead of the fellows at the NUC to help in combating this malaise by encouraging square pegs to fit into square holes, they are, for self-serving reasons, formulating outlandish policies, usually wrapped with attractive covers, to further compound the problem. And if they are allowed to continue having their way, Nigeria may face the embarrassing situation of having judges in future writing court judgments in unreadable English, or law reports appearing in substandard grammar.

And as today’s reporters graduate to tomorrow’s editors, one can only dread to imagine the kind of language that would convey the news, editorials and feature articles in Nigerian newspapers, or whether even literary works from Nigeria will still be intelligible to properly educated people. In as much as we want to encourage the study of Science in this country for very good reasons which we need repeat here (and there are many candidates flooding the faculties of Sciences annually), we must not use that as an excuse to frustrate the emergence of Nigeria’s future men of letters! 

Now this policy is already creating terrible problems in secondary schools, and I wonder how many people are taking note.  I never really knew the extent of the harm already done until recently, when a friend and I visited his son’s school.  My friend was given his son’s result sheet and even though his son had taken the first position in his class, my friend was a very sad man. Why? The poor boy had FAILED. It was boldly written in his result sheet. And the reason is that despite the fact he had scored very high marks in the other subjects which had earned him the first position in his class, he had failed Mathematics by just a few marks. And so, because of that, he had FAILED the examination for that term!  Wonderful!

Now, somebody should please just tell me what on earth this kind of totally bankrupt and senseless policy is meant to achieve? In fact, I was so moved  that  I had to go and confront the principal of the school, and it was then I learnt that almost every school now in Nigeria is operating this policy as a fallout to the NUC policy on English and Mathematics.  Now, it is enough that Mathematics remains a compulsory subject in primary and secondary schools, but  to pronounce that  a child had failed a terminal examination merely because he did not do well in Mathematics does grave damage to the psychology of such a child. Assuming the will of the child to continue in school is sapped in the process by such a devastating verdict? Now, time has come for us to agree that we cannot all be experts in numbers, and that it amounts to inflicting grave damage on both the psychology of our youths and the society each time the NUC callously denies a child university education simply because such a child was created to be another Wole Soyinka instead of a ! That is why we have various fields of study to cater for individual peculiarities and endowments. So, the NUC must be called to order and stopped from elevating what is clearly a misplaced passion to a destructive superstition. Indeed, I would be glad if anyone can come out to tell me how much Mathematics had contributed to earn Wole Soyinka a Nobel Prize?

What one finds very annoying is that some of the fellows at the NUC and their cousins at the various Faculties and Departments churning out these obnoxious regulations would have ended their careers as roadside traders or artisans if such policies were operational when they themselves were admitted for degree programmes several years ago. I am also reminded that why Nigerian rulers have till now showed no interest in this totally backward policy is because their children are all studying abroad where such needless inhibitions are non-existent. That is really sad. Nothing kills a country like acute selfishness in its leaders.

But, what is all this fetish about Mathematics, by the way? A school principal told me the other day that English and Maths constitute the core and the foundation of all branches of learning, and that once a child excelled in both subjects in secondary school, such a child would be adequately equipped to capture a degree in any discipline any day. Interesting argument, isn’t it? So, why don’t we take it a step further by immediately collapsing the dwarf wall between Arts and Sciences and then start compelling every child to take combined honours in, say, Physics and English, or Pharmacy and Theatre Arts, or even Mechanical Engineering and French,  and so on?

I have also heard that too many candidates are applying for the few spaces available in our universities, and so this policy was put in place to significantly scale down the number of applicants. If at all this is true, then it is very unfortunate. If one million people, for instance, are applying to the read law or English, and the Department or faculty can only admit 300 students, the most sensible way to get the best qualified is to offer admission to the candidates who had performed better than others in the relevant subjects and not the irrelevant subjects! The same thing should also apply in reverse to those seeking admission to the Faculties of Engineering or Medical Sciences. I will be alarmed if these faculties deny admission to somebody who had excellent grades in the core sciences simply because he had a pass in English, but offer admission to the person who managed to obtain credits in the core sciences but had a distinction in English. Then we are preparing the ground for multiple, enduring disasters in this country which the NUC must be held solely responsible.

It is possible that the ego of the nation’s “Mathematicians”, especially, within the ranks of the NUC and their friends, may have been overplayed here. Why the premium place given to English at the expense of Mathematics in the university admission process when both of them are compulsory subjects in the secondary and primary schools?, they may have reasoned. Well, the Federal Government must urgently save the future of this country from the destructive ego of a few men and women. English (for now) is the nation’s language of communication, and that is the only reason we insist that people pass it so that when they are in the classroom, they can at least understand their teacher. That is also the reason foreign universities (in English-speaking countries) insist on candidates obtaining good grades in , before offering anyone admission. But what is the argument for Mathematics? Somebody should please tell me.

Indeed, it is difficult not to also suspect that some clearly self-serving reasons are motivating this pernicious policy. In fact, the whole thing smells and tastes like a very clever stratagem for creating a very large market for the countless “Mathematics Made Easy” pamphlets which have flooded our markets. And one would not require a soothsayer to suggest that the advocates of this policy and their cronies may be among the happiest beneficiaries.

The Federal Government must put a halt to this madness and restore sanity to the system by throwing this obnoxious policy into the nearest refuse dump. May be, too, the NUC is fast outgrowing its usefulness. Time may have arrived for its powers to be significantly abridged. Some might even be thinking that it should even be scrapped. Why not? I don’t mind the universities maintaining autonomous existence and formulating their individual admission policies without an NUC breathing down their necks. 




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Posted by on Mar 12 2012. Filed under Articles, Columnists, Education, NNP Columnists, Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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