QUALITY ASSURANCE: A TRANSFORMATIONAL STRATEGY.
Emeritus Professor, University of Port Harcourt.
Pro-chancellor and Chairman of Council, Federal University Lokoja.
Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of Council, Bayelsa Medical University.
at the meeting of the
Association of Vice-Chancellors of Nigerian Universities (AVCNU)
University of Ibadan.
Monday 26th August 2019.
There is a Nigerian (Ibo) adage that says a good thing sells itself. That element of goodness in a thing or product that enables it to sell itself is its quality. In a broad sense therefore, Quality Assurance (QA) – process efficiency1 – and its related subject of Quality Control (QC) – product efficiency1 – connote quality management.2 Such a management usually involves the establishment and maintenance of rules, requirements and standards for creating good, reliable and consistent products and services as well as the processes taken to verify that these standards are upheld. Thus, QA is not only about the products. It starts from the raw materials (inputs) and the processes adopted in order to guarantee the quality of the products. By assuring and controlling quality, an organisation builds a reputation, establishes a name, launches a brand and cultivates a favourable public perception of its goods or services. QA and QC also enable an organisation to continually improve on the worth, value and acceptability of its goods or services.
Let me illustrate with two examples. Ethiopian Airlines, generally regarded as Africa’s best airline, had a fatal crash on 10th March 2019, six minutes after takeoff and close to the town of Bishoftu at 08.44 hours in which all 157 persons on board died. On account of the stringent quality management measures the company had put in place – sound operational methods, flight reliability, smart and courteous staff, good safety record, delicious food and the welcoming as well as commendatory public opinion the airline had garnered over the years, public response to the disaster was generally sympathetic and understanding to the company. This enabled the airline to quickly re-establish flight operations shortly after the dreadful event. It was clear that despite the terrible accident, the confidence of many of the airline’s passengers was not eroded to the extent of abandoning the airline. This stands in sharp contrast to plane crashes in Nigeria where such events have often led to the complete liquidation of the airlines. Secondly, partly on account of rigorous QA/QC measures which had given it a reputable brand name, Toyota, a globally renowned motor vehicle manufacturing company is currently selling its Toyota Corolla in Nigeria at about N8,000,000 (eight million naira) as against its cost of under N1,000.00 (< one thousand naira) in 1976 when a close friend of mine purchased one in Zaria where I lived at the time!!
This general concept of QA/QC as being one of taking deliberate steps to ensure good products and services is not limited to production lines, merchandising, aviation or hospitality; it also applies to education, including university education, where the supremacy of quality makes it an imperative for sustainability in all aspects of the higher education chain.3 In the short time available for me to deliver this keynote address, I will examine the link between universities and QA. Next, I will review how universities in Nigeria have fared over the years and the circumstances that have made QA a transformational strategy for universities, especially those in Nigeria. I will then discuss the measures that are being adopted to achieve this transformation and end with a conclusion.
UNIVERSITIES AND QUALITY ASSURANCE
Universities, in essence, are QA institutions and it is expected of them to display this commitment to quality and excellence in all aspects of their work. This expectation subsists because it is the extent to which a university is able to institutionalise the sterling features of quality and excellence into all its operations that determines its visibility, perception, respectability, acceptance and relevance, locally and internationally.4 Furthermore, quality and excellence, to a large extent, underpin the ranking of universities, which has become an important yardstick by which universities are assessed everywhere.5
Thus, intake of candidates into a university is through a competitive and credible process at which students are required to obtain minimum set scores in various assessment examinations. At their formal induction into universities as members of the community of scholars, all students statutorily take a Matriculation Oath which has a force of law, committing themselves to the rule of law and decent standards of behaviour to which they could be held accountable. Thereafter, every student receives a matriculation number which serves as the student’s identity in all transactions with the university. Only senates of universities have the authority to design curricula for the various programmes that students register for and prescribe methods for their delivery as well as approving the lists of successful candidates at the end of every academic programme, with contributions of examiners, approved only by senate, that are external to individual universities.
Furthermore, after graduation, many universities keep contact with their alumni and among other issues, solicit for and obtain suggestions from them on how to do things better. Some universities even extend this QA measure to employees of alumni and obtain information on how the university education had impacted the alumni for a life of work.
With respect to staff, universities usually restrict the appointment of persons to academic positions to those who obtained not less than second- class honors (upper division) in their first degrees as well as possessing recognised, earned doctorate degrees as terminal qualifications. Career progression is usually through well-defined criteria that are expressly documented and peer reviewed internally as well as externally in the case of advancement to professorial ranks. Research outputs are made to contribute to existing body of knowledge through publications in reputable journals and to the availability of goods and services through patents and innovations. In the same vein, engagement with the community is conducted with the highest levels of probity, accountability, professionalism and candor as obtains in many university-operated activities like the teaching hospitals, reference laboratories, veterinary hospitals, university farms, consultancy services, commissioned research, science and technology parks, university primary and secondary schools as well as contract awards and execution. Financial transactions are strictly regulated and monitored by an internal audit system as well as periodic external auditing. Universities have governing councils that make policy decisions and superintend over all aspects of the institutions’ activities including their public relations. Council itself is made up of internal and external members who represent public interest. Additionally, the Visitor to every university is constitutionally required to cause periodic visitations to the institution. This, among others, is to ascertain how well standards are enforced and maintained as the university carries out those responsibilities, including its specific Mission and Vision, for which it was founded.
With such well-established traditions, these internal mechanisms, which were stringently applied, sufficed as QA measures on the operations and products of Nigerian universities in the early years of the country’s experience with tertiary education. They assured the obligations of proprietors and that the universities were properly set up. Students were admitted on merit and held accountable for their behavior. Only staff with the qualification, attitude and commitment to the ideals of the university were employed. Accordingly, the respect and reputation of the universities within and outside the country was high, their operations akin to international best practices, quality of their graduates, good and comparable to their global peers in character and in learning. So also was their research output and service to the community. Indeed, if global ranking of universities had been in vogue at the time, some Nigerian universities would have been ranked along with the best.
HOW HAVE THE NIGERIAN UNIVERSITIES FARED?
However, things began to change for many reasons, affecting standards. First there was a gradual, then rapid increase in the number of universities from the five of the first-generation universities in 1964 when I commenced university education to the 13 of the first- and second-generation universities in 1975 when I commenced my academic career. Next, state government-owned universities, specialised universities and private universities all came on board to make up the current number of 173, with more still in the process of registration following the inclusion of education on the concurrent legislative list of the nation’s constitution in 1979 as well as Decree 9 of 1993 which permitted the establishment of private universities. Along with this increase, student population in the Nigerian University System (NUS) soared from about 2,000 in 1962 to 1,967.548 in 2017 while that of staff rose from few hundreds in 1962 to the current number of 2,500,000, one third of which are academic staff.6 Paradoxically, although the private universities constitute about 50% of the universities in the country, they habour only 6% of the entire student population in the system.
But funding did not keep pace with the increase in student population resulting in inadequate and dilapidated infrastructure in several universities, inadequate hostel space for students, deficits in classrooms, laboratories, laboratory equipment and reagents. At the same time, all manner of malfeasant activities by staff and students crept into the system and affected the quality of operations, graduates and research output making it difficult for the system to maintain those high standards it depicted originally that earned it fame and reputation. One must also recall the no love lost relationship that existed between the universities and the military during the 33 years (1966-1999) of military rule, except the short-lived return to democracy (1979 and 1983), that the armed forces controlled the reins of power in the country. The universities’ constant repudiation and revulsion at, as well as persistent condemnation and denunciation of the military’s command structure and rulership by fiat, fetched the university wide system in the country severe penalties resulting in neglect, shut downs, disdain, disregard and rebuff.7 Additionally, the largely pariah status in which many democratic nations held Nigeria at the time, obstructed trans-border student movement and international collaboration in teaching, research and innovation – factors needed for global visibility and recognition of universities. Accordingly, standards plummeted and many reputable academics left the system.
While expansion in the number of universities is a welcome development as it is helping to address the important issue of access, it has also introduced an element of dilution to the quality of the system as the institutions recruit some staff who ordinarily would have found no place in the university system from their knowledge content and orientation, were it not for shortage of persons with the right attitude and qualifications. Not being in tandem with the ideals of a university, such staff, with others in the tow, not infrequently involve themselves in various forms of dishonest and dangerous practices – truancy, cultism, manipulation of students’ admissions, outright theft, academic corruption including sale of grades, plagiarism, exchange of sex and or money for grades – the antithesis of what a university is established for.8a&b
Regarding funding, the point has to be made that inadequate funding has been cited repeatedly as being responsible for the many ills of the NUS. From the derelict and parlous state of infrastructure, the severe deficits in the teaching and learning environment as well as where students live, the palpable inadequacy in research and innovation, the inability to satisfactorily engage communities, to the meagre take-home pays of university staff and general staff discontent, poor funding straddles as an important factor, denuding the standards for which universities are known.9&10
During the sunshine years of the NUS, universities were funded by their proprietors – the federal government – based on their needs – the so-called Needs Based Budgeting.11 The amount released to universities closely mirrored that appropriated as well as that budgeted for and all students paid all prescribed fees for their programmes, including tuition fees. Students on scholarship from any source had their fees, together with stipends for their upkeep paid directly to the universities by the awarding agencies, governments inclusive. The universities scarcely lacked and were substantially able to meet their obligations to staff and students as well as running their affairs reasonably well. On their part, staff were considerably contented and strike actions by them, very uncommon. Then, a number of things happened. First there was a gradual deficit, which grew bigger with time, between the budgeted sum, appropriated amount and what was eventually released by government thereby creating what became known as shortfall.9&11 Next there was the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) of 1986 which drastically devalued the purchasing power of the Nigerian currency.12 Furthermore, the Needs Based Budgeting system was abolished in 2004/2005 and government gave Envelopes, containing various amounts with which universities were to manage their affairs.9 Unfortunately, the envelope system, more often than not, only catered for staff salaries and emoluments leaving shortfalls of various magnitude for universities to contend with. For this, universities sourced for funds on their own through an Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) system.9 Thus, funds available to universities to run their services not only dwindled but also became unpredictable affecting the quality of all aspects of universities’ operations
One important fall out of poor funding which underpins the hard times that the NUS is currently going through, is the spate of strike actions embarked upon by staff unions of universities, which, among others, are designed to draw government’s attention to the plight of universities. More often than not, poor funding has been advanced as the reason for the many strike actions embarked upon by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), which arguably is the most vibrant staff union in Nigerian universities.9 So disruptive have these strike actions become, that, irrespective of their justification or otherwise, they are now regarded as one of the primary sources of the debased standards in the NUS. For example, between 1993 and this year (2019), there has been 20 ASUU national strikes lasting a total of 219 weeks and involving almost all the government-owned universities in the country! Cumulatively, this translates to closure of the universities for over four years in the 26-year period or closure for over eight semesters. As bad as this revelation sounds, it does not consider disruptions caused by strike actions by other staff and student unions and those caused in individual universities by staff unions in their respective institutions, euphemistically known as local strikes. Obviously, it is difficult for any system to operate with such levels of interruptions and uncertainty and still maintain standards.
With kind permission from Professor O.A. Bamiro
Finally, sight must not be lost of the debilitating effect the current weak state of the nation’s economy and the prevailing insecurity of lives and property in some parts of the country, especially the flood of kidnappings, assassinations and killings on the fortunes of universities in Nigeria. They give the country, including its universities a bad name, hinder the recruitment of international staff and students, limit external support and enhance lack of trust and confidence in the NUS by their counterparts outside the country.
These challenges and more, have degraded the quality of a once vibrant, highly successful and profoundly respected NUS which in the 1960s and 1970s boasted of institutions like the University College Hospital, Ibadan, reputed to be the third best tertiary health institution in the entire British Commonwealth, the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, one of Africa’s academically strongest universities and the University of Ife (Great Ife, later called Obafemi Awolowo University – OAU) Africa’s most picturesque and scenic university. Nothing stands as a bolder stark reminder of this fact than the inability of any university in Nigeria to obtain a decent ranking in the global university ranking system since this came into vogue. The best the system has attained is the current ranking of the University of Ibadan as being among best 1,000; it was ranked 991 worldwide in 2018/2019 by the Times Higher Education World University Ranking.13.
However, no one should be under the illusion that these wrong doings, human failings and academic fraud occur only in Nigerian universities. Quite on the contrary, they are in most other countries and occur almost everywhere, even in some acclaimed World Class Universities. Russia is introducing a national entrance test for university admissions on account of corruption in the traditional entrance system. Russian families pay about $300 million annually in bribes to ensure acceptance to universities because of the coveted nature of access to higher education, especially to the most prestigious ones. China recently suffered an admissions scandal in which university officials demanded a payment of $12,000 from a student whose test score qualified him for admission to a prestigious university.14 Furthermore, the breathtaking 2019 college (university) admission bribery scandal, nicknamed operation varsity blues which exposed criminal conspiracy to influence admissions into top United States Universities came to many as a surprise. Since the story broke, many rich and famous persons have openly confessed to having offered bribes to the tune of 25,000 USD to highly placed university officials for the admission of their children between 2011 to 2018.15 So also, the report in the UK Guardian International Edition of Sunday 29 April 2018 to the effect that the number of students caught cheating at the UK’s top universities has shot up by a third in three years.
QUALITY ASSURANCE AS A TRANSORMATIONAL STRATEGY
Societal expectations of universities are high. Not only are they to produce the skilled, informed and capable manpower needed for national development but also, as is expected of them, to continually advance the frontiers of knowledge that should translate into goods and services for the progress of society and the upliftment of the quality of life of all. Additionally, the community should positively feel their impact and they should serve as the conscience of society. More recently, universities are being called upon to define humanity’s response to the enormous impact AI and other technologies are set to have on human existence. This is what prompted the recent huge donation of $188M to Oxford University by Stephen Schwarzman, a businessman and philanthropist from the USA for the establishment of a new institute at that university for the study of ethical implications of AI. A university that satisfactorily meets this remit is a tremendous asset not only to its country and community but also to the world at large. Accordingly, society accords universities certain rights and privileges including respect, prestige, autonomy, academic freedom and support based on the public good nature of the work they do for which probity, accountability and integrity are integral.16 So, when these fundamental ethos are threatened by corrupt practices and the other matters that pose existential threats to universities, the university system itself should express grave concern as such issues could lead to erosion of trust, irrelevance in society and the withdrawal of public support. With growing scandals and corrupt practices in universities everywhere, rising graduate unemployment, global extremism, unending poverty, coupled with easy access to information from the internet, digitalisation of the education space and commercialisation of higher education with little regard to quality and integrity, such alarm is already being sounded in some quarters as was extensively ventilated at the 2019 meeting of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) in Washington DC, United States of America, January 30-31. The thrust at that meeting was on Quality Assurance and Sustaining Trust in Higher Education and the point was made that higher education and its commitment to quality have long been accepted and highly regarded by students and society. More recently however, there are significant signs in various countries that some universities do not command the respect they once did. Participants debated why this is so and what higher education could do to strengthen trust in its work. They concluded, among others that trust is closely associated with QA. So, QA, QA, QA; hence the process of transforming universities must be deep and sound in QA.
For universities in Nigeria, lack of trust leading to diminished interest in university education does not currently appear to be a problem. Rather, it is the issue of inadequate access, which compels many applicants to vie for limited vacancies, especially in the professional programmes of Medicine, Law, Engineering, Architecture and Accountancy that universities are currently grappling with.
However, quality concerns, brought about by a consternation of factors as discussed in the earlier parts of this paper are real and if not addressed properly could also lead to the same lack of trust and confidence, irrelevance and withdrawal of societal support. Furthermore, persons with questionable credentials could gain a majority in academia with serious consequences for the sector and by extension, the society.
So, QA, QA and QA as a transformational strategy to revitalise the universities. In this regard, it is instructive that a study in 201717 designed to identify areas needing urgent reforms in the NUS in which eight chairmen of councils, 54 vice-chancellors, 11 other principal offices, 106 full professors, 531 students and 82 parents were surveyed, indicated the following areas:
- Facilities for teaching, learning and research
- Teacher quality and quantity (including quality of professors)
- Governance (including stemming the tide of strikes)
- Quality of graduates
- Research and Postgraduate Training
- Academic Corruption and other social vices
- Regulation by NUC and professional bodies
- Promoting ICT-driven universities
- Fostering Skills Development and Entrepreneurship
- Gender issues
As can be seen, stringently applied QA measures can be used to redress a good number of these key challenges. Such measures will tackle, among others, the issue of:
- Intake of duly qualified students. A good portion of corrupt practices that occur in universities do so in connection with the admission of students, especially into choice universities and the professional programmes. Sadly, until recently, the qualifying examinations into universities in Nigeria – the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) has largely been a sham and had often involved undisguised malpractices, including cheating and bribery by candidates, parents, guardians, proprietors of couching centres/ miracle schools and even the invigilators. Some candidates who scored high grades at the qualifying examinations, were unable to defend their grades by their performances in the universities. The need therefore arose for the establishment of another assessment, known as the post UTME Aptitude Test, which is carried out by individual universities to compliment the grades obtained from the UTME. The experience of many universities is that students admitted via illicit means are more likely to be involved in unlawful activities like cultism, rape and examination malpractice.
- Recruitment of right caliber of staff. Not only should university staff be properly qualified, they should also be persons who are committed to the university’s way of doing things where rectitude and quality should buttress all activities. Applying QA principles therefore to the recruitment process would ensure that only the best who are unlikely to be purveyors of corrupt practices in universities are employed.
- Teaching and Research Facilities. Teaching and research are such core aspects of a university’s activities that rigorous steps must be taken to support them. In addition to appropriate infrastructure, QA must ensure that curricula are covered and that teaching timetables are respected by all staff. Research and innovation must be encouraged at all stages and the university should seek to have a respectable list of tangible innovations and products (patents, creative works, prototypes, medical feats among others).
- Day-to-day running of the affairs of the university. There is no better way of ensuring order and good governance in a university than to strictly apply QA measures to its day-to-day operations.
In these ways and others therefore, QA can serve as a transformational tool in the current effort at revitalising the NUS and it is being so applied. In the next and final section of this lecture, I will draw attention to some measures being adopted to achieve this.
MEASURES BEING ADOPTED
It is true that despite the difficulties they have to contend with, universities in Nigeria strive to apply QA measures in running the affairs of their institutions. Efforts are made to run the universities through appropriate management techniques including abiding by the strict government financial system of Treasury Single Account (TSA) and Government Integrated Financial Management Information System (GIFMIS). Universities react when infringement of laid down regulations are observed. In 1995, the University of Port Harcourt expelled over 1,000 individuals who had obtained phony admissions into the institution via foul means and registered for various programmes.18 Only last year (2018), the Obafemi Awolowo University, in a highly publicised case of sex scandal, dismissed a professor who was found guilty of having used his position of power and authority to demand sex from a student in order to alter her grade to a higher one.19 Furthermore, universities embraced SERVICOM, the service compact between organs of the federal government and the Nigerian people, established QA sections to guide operations from the departmental to the highest levels of their institutions, verify entry certificates and degree results . Over all this, at the 27th meeting of their Association in Keffi, Nasarawa State, in 2012, vice-chancellors of universities in Nigeria reiterated the importance of integrity, ethics, decorum and quality in all operations of universities, including the admission process, matriculation, convocation, award of earned and honorary degrees, senate, council and congregation. This affirmation that is known as the Keffi Declaration, is a documentation to guide the quality management of universities in Nigeria. In addition to QA networking in the country, Nigerian universities participate in the activities of international quality assurance networks like AfriQAN. The University of Port Harcourt had to subject itself to several QA processes, including the determination of equivalence of its Course Credit Unit System and the European Credit Transfer System (ECTS) in order to run international collaborative graduate programmes at its Institute of Petroleum Studies that led to the award of joint degrees.
However, even with these measures, corrupt practices of multiple and complex dimensions that bring the names of institutions into disrepute and degrade the quality of their operations and outputs, remain areas of major concerns. This unfortunate state of affairs has prompted the production of several university wide improvement plans, extracted from meetings that are commonly referred to as summits by a motely of stakeholders like the federal government, parent-teacher associations, staff unions, student unions, alumni associations and development partners notably the World Bank and UNESCO. The recommendations of these plans have converged to the point of predictability of the proposals of future plans. Also predictable is the failure of the different stakeholders especially government that are assigned the responsibility of implementing components of the plans, accounting for the repeat of many recommendations from plan to plan 20
It is in this respect that one sees fresh hope and inspiring enthusiasm emanating from the current bold actions of three federal agencies and parastatals in the higher education sector: The Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB), the National Universities Commission (NUC) and the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund). Under their current managements, led by Professors Is-haq Oloyede, Abubakar Rasheed and Suleiman Bogoro, respectively, these organisations are taking actions that are giving fresh fillip and impetus to the health of universities and QA measures in the NUS.
Realising that a good portion of academic fraud in universities occurs at the admission process, JAMB, under professor Oloyede has declared a zero tolerance to all forms of cheating and malpractices at the UTME – Computer Based Tests (CBT) it conducts for applicants for admission into universities in Nigeria. The organisation, under him, has rejiged the CBT and established an elaborate system of surveillance, checks and counter checks by humans and machines such that cheats are very likely to be identified irrespective of their locations and modus operandi. At the 2019 UTME examination, the organisation used this system to oversee the conduct of its examination in 702 approved CBT centres nationwide with a surveillance team of over 7,000. It was able to fish out forgers and fraudsters, persons who did multiple registrations, impersonated others, deliberately disrupted the examinations in order to engage in fraud, manipulated the biometric verification process and colluded with others to commit fraud.21 While it cannot be guaranteed that all cheats were caught, the probability is that not many escaped the radar. Furthermore, some of those in the net have already been arraigned before various law courts and have received their due reward. The examination was also administered in like manner of strict control through a JAMB Equal Opportunity Group (JEOG) to blind candidates in special centres located in Lagos, Kano, Benin and Enugu. With the improvement that would follow future versions of such exercises that are predicated on probity and integrity, students will be admitted into universities with their proper UTME scores and not with fabricated ones. Such students are more likely to abhor malpractices in the universities than those with fictitious scores and the NUS will be better for it.
As for the NUC, what has changed is that the organisation has moved from its usual turf of approving the establishment of universities, setting Benchmark Minimum Academic Standards (BMAS) and programme accreditations as QA measures to a more fundamental, strategic and far reaching approach to the matter. Professor Abubakar Rasheed shortly after his assumption of office recently as Executive Secretary of the Commission was sufficiently far sighted to have empaneled, on January 22, 2018, an 8-man Strategy Advisory Committee (STRADVCOM) of very senior academics and experienced university administrators, along with 6 from his commission, to, among others, assist him in reorganising and strengthening the commission so as to position it properly for the task of revitalising the NUS, including the quality of university education in Nigeria. The committee, which is chaired by the erudite scholar, Professor Peter Okebukola has come up with the following 14 Strategic Goals, that are aspirational which it is currently pursuing.
|1. By 2023, access to university education should have increased by a factor of 20% over 2018 figures.|
2. By 2020, the curriculum of Nigerian universities should be rated among the best three in Africa in terms of its relevance to producing nationally and regionally relevant graduates who are high-level human resources for delivering on Africa’s Vision 2063 and addressing global SDGs.
3. By 2023, at least 30% of facilities for teaching, learning and research should have been upgraded to meet international standards and maintained thereafter.
4. By 2023, the gap in the number of teachers needed in the Nigerian university system and those in post should have been reduced from 30% to 20%.
5. By 2023, the quality of graduates from Nigerian universities should be improved by at least 20% as captured in feedback from employers and users of products of the system.
6. By 2023, scholars in Nigerian universities should be among the top three in productivity as measured by national and global productivity standards and reflected in relevance to solving Nigeria’s socio-economic challenges.
7. By 2020, NUC should introduce enforceable minimum standards in governance that will ensure at least 10% increase in efficiency in the university system.
8. By 2020, the incidence of academic corruption in Nigerian universities should have reduced by at least 10% and remain on the decline up to 2025 and beyond.
9. By 2020, a sustainable funding model should have been approved at all levels and implemented via appropriate instruments of federal and state governments.
10. By 2020, NUC should have been re-structured and empowered to deliver better on its regulatory functions.
11. By 2025, at least 80% of universities should have adopted ICT driven teaching, research and institution management systems, and running an efficient research and education network (NgREN)
12. By 2020, incidence of forced closures and strikes in Nigerian universities should have been reduced by 40% of its current level.
13. By 2023, the functional skills level and entrepreneurial engagement of Nigerian graduates would have been raised by at least 40% of current levels.
14. By 2023, the level of uptake of research results from Nigerian universities and the formation of start-ups arising from university-industry research and development networks would have been raised by at least 25%.
The overall objective is the expectation that by 2023, the Nigerian University System will be the best in Africa in the delivery of quality university education and so far, STRADVCOM has, among others, assisted NUC in
- producing a blueprint for the Rapid Revitalisation of University Education in Nigeria, 2019-2023, to which many local and international organisations, such as UNESCO, British Quality Assurance Agency (QAA), French Development Agency (AFD), World Bank and the Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG) have made positive comments and indicated willingness to partner in its implementation. NESG is currently in discussion with government (FME) and STRADVCOM to reinforce the Triple Helix system of collaboration to bring industry, government and universities closer together so as enable universities to better establish their relevance to society at large.
- holding extensive discussions with the AFD and World Bank on the operations of the17 new African Centres of Excellence (ACE) in Nigeria, especially as a good number of them admit foreign students,
- supervising the development of a number of Monographs on some key issues in university management and administration,
- seeking areas of possible collaboration with some internationally recognised QA agencies like QAA and the National Authority for Quality Assurance and Accreditation in Education (NAQAAE) of Egypt,
- producing a Strategic Plan, 2019-2023, in tandem with that of the Ministry of Education, 2016-2019.
- producing two important books on university education in Nigeria
- The State of University Education in Nigeria, 2017
- Directory of full professors, 2017
Furthermore, the Commission has evolved a Code of Governance Structure for privately- owned universities with emphasis on ethics and premium and is about to resuscitate Institutional Accreditation for all universities – a more probing and deeper evaluation of institutions than programme accreditation. As can be seen, if the political will is present and these actions are achieved, they will bring about a turnaround for the better for the NUS.
Lastly to TETFund whose contribution to this renaissance in the NUS is in the area of academic staff training and development as well as research. For since Professor Suleiman Bogoro was reinstated as the organisation’s Executive Secretary, the body, as is most expedient and appropriate, has laid emphasis on supporting the training of academic staff and funding research that would contribute to the advancement of knowledge and national development in the universities.
To Restore the Dignity of Man, the motto of one of Nigeria’s foremost universities, is aspirationally transformative. For, implicit in the words of that motto is a charge by the founding fathers of that great institution for the university to aspire and transform humanity by raising men and women who, by their utterances and actions, would serve society better. Engaging society and transforming it for the better has therefore, always been central to the operations of universities. This much of a goal or aspiration also underlies Agenda 2063 (to which reference is made in STRADVCOM’s 14 Strategic Goals), where the people of Africa and her diaspora, in The Africa We Want, with profound self-confidence espoused seven aspirational goals that would lead their continent, by that time, to become an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in the international arena. In their depth and breath, these aspirations encompass and exceed even the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) not just in their terminal dates (2063 as compared to 2030) but also in the intensity of the transformational changes that would impact the continent. Among others, Africa aspires to realise her full potential in development and culture and to establish inclusive and prosperous societies. To be able to do this, the continent, as well as in many other ways, seeks to catalyse education and skills revolution and actively promote science, technology, research and innovation, to build knowledge, human capital, capabilities and skills to drive innovation…22
Universities are in a unique position to perform this role of establishing inclusive and prosperous societies for Africa. Other than being neutral institutions with an immense number of specialists constituting a rich mix of human capital, universities are the pinnacle of education and centres of enlightenment.23 So, universities in Africa, must leapfrog development in the continent to catch up with 21st century realities of the 4th Industrial revolution (4IR) brought about by globalisation and digitalisation in which robotics, automation, artificial intelligence, organ printing, 5G technology, internet of things and other forms of technology driven activities will drastically alter the way people live and relate with one another.24 They must also address the fundamental issues of poverty, disease, illiteracy, environmental rot, lack of opportunities and social dysfunction in which Africa is currently immersed. Not only should access to universities be increased, curricula as well as programmes have to be designed and research activities that address Africa’s unique problems, embarked upon to produce the type of graduate and transformed society that Africa requires. These will be graduates that can embrace and navigate a world led by the 4IR and also address Africa’s peculiar problems.
Nigeria, with an estimated population of 200 million persons and 173 approved universities, is not only the most populous country but also the one with the largest national university system in the continent. Accordingly, it is right to expect Nigerian universities to be in the forefront of leveraging African development and to do this, Nigerian universities must first put their house in order. Whereas funding issues are important, the NUS, has to, as a matter of urgency, frontally attack those impediments that damage its process and product efficiency, as has been amplified in this paper. It must redeem its image before the public that once held it in utmost trust and respect through the transformative power of QA.25 The nation itself should demand more from its universities, especially in the area of research that would solve national and continental problems. Universities involved in the African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA), research centres and all others especially the specialised ones and those of the first and second generations must apply themselves more diligently in this direction. In this respect, the recent action by Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India is instructive. Despite the giant strides his country has made, through its universities in the areas of textile, software technology, health care, space and much more, the Prime Minister has just presented an ambitious plan to restructure higher education and boost research, just days after his re-election.26 One hopes that from the collective actions of our universities, what is currently happening at JAMB, NUC AND TETFund, as well as the emphasis of the current government on students in Nigeria being digitally literate in Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics (STEAM)27 some ray of light will soon appear at the end of what has been a long tunnel in Nigeria.
Let me end by thanking AVCNU for inviting me to deliver this keynote address. I recollect, with some nostalgia, my time as the chairman of the association in 2004 when I had cause to write to all members to brace up to their responsibilities – to quality assure their activities as it were.28 What a wonderful privilege that I am here, 15 years thereafter, to speak, not write, about QA. I wish you all, vice-chancellors of the component universities that make up the association, well.
- Ajienka, Joseph. Uniport. The Making of an Entrepreneurial University. 2006
- Bret Arthur. Opendialog@dialog.com.au
- Briggs, Nimi. Quality as an imperative for sustainability in higher education. Keynote Address. 9th International Conference and Workshops in Higher Education in Africa. Accra, Ghana, September 19, 2017
- Briggs, Nimi. University Advancement in a Globalised World. 28th Annual Conference of the Association of Vice-Chancellors of Nigerian Universities (AVCNU). Federal University of Technology, Akure, 27th October 2013.
- Briggs, Nimi. Creating World Class Universities for a vibrant Nigerian Economy and Sustainable Democracy. 24th Convocation Lecture, University of Uyo. 24th November 2018.
- Rasheed, Abubakar. The State of University Education in Nigeria 2017. Sterling Publishers.
- Briggs, Nimi. Education for Political Stability in Nigeria. Keynote Address. 2018 Philosophers of Education Association of Nigeria (PEAN) Conference. University of Port Harcourt. 24th October 2018.
- 8a Briggs, Nimi. Scourges in our universities. Public Lecture organised by Ahmadu Bello University Alumni Association in Port Harcourt, 2 November 2001.
8b Okebukola Peter and Briggs Nimi. Academic corruption as depressant of Quality in the attainment of the SDGs: Crushing the octopus. 9th International Conference on Quality Assurance in Higher Education in Africa. Accra, Ghana, September 18-22, 2017
- Briggs, Nimi. Resources and Prospects of Development in Nigerian Universities. 2nd Convocation Lecture. Federal University of Lokoja. 2 November 2017.
- Briggs, Nimi. University Advancement and Financial Management. 2014 Association of Vice-Chancellors of Nigerian Universities (AVCNU) Executive Educational Programme. Le Meridien Hotel, Uyo.19 November 2014
- Bamiro, Olufemi. Nigerian Universities and the Challenges of Relevance. Convocation Lecture, University of Lagos. 12th January 2012
- Harrison KA. Poverty, Deprivation and Unsafe Motherhood in Maternity Care in Developing Countries by Lawson, JB, Harrison, KA and Bergstrom S. RCOG Press.
- Altbach, GP. Academic Corruption: The Continuing Challenge. International Higher Education. International Issues 5
- Briggs, Nimi. Fulfilling the Mandate. 24th Convocation Lecture. Rivers State University of Science and Technology. 3rd May 2012.
- Rasheed, AA. Blueprint on the rapid revitalisation of university education in Nigeria. National Universities Commission, Chapter 2. Key challenges to Quality University Education in Nigeria in 2017
- Nigerian Tide. Thank You, Prof. Briggs. Editorial. Wednesday, April 12, 1995.
- Punch Newspaper. OAU sacks professor over sex-for-marks scandal. Evening Newsletter June 20, 2018
- Rasheed, AA. Blueprint on the rapid revitalisation of university education in Nigeria. National Universities Commission, Chapter 1, Previous University System Improvement Plans and challenges of implementation.
- Oloyede Is-haq. Doing things right and Doing the right things. Text of the press statement by the Registrar of Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board on the release of the 2019 UTME results at JAMB headquarters, Bwari, Abuja, Saturday May 11, 2019
- Agenda 2063 https://au.int/en/agenda2063/overview
- Fredua-Kwarteng. The Role of African universities as development partners. World University News. 30 March 2019.
- Edwin Naidu. Harness 4IR for public good, universities urged. World University News. 22 June 2019.
- Odukunle, Femi. Emplacing the Culture of Transparency and Accountability in Tertiary Institutions in Nigeria for Development. Annals of Social Science Academy. Nos. 18 & 19, Jan. – Dec., 2013/2014.
- Shuriah Niazi and Yojana Sharma. Ambitious Modi plan to restructure HE and boost research. University World News. Issue No. 555. 9 June 2019.
- Osinbajo, Yemi. Vice President of Nigeria. African Centres of Excellence (ACE) in African Universities: A Veritable Catalyst for Nation Building and Development. 23rd Convocation Lecture, Lagos State University (LASU). May 16, 2019.
- Briggs, Nimi Chairman, CVC/AVCNU. Situation Report. Letter written to all Vice-Chancellors 14th. August 2004, CVC/ACVNU Office, Abuja. Nigeria.