BASTARDISATION of tertiary education in the country plunged to new depths with the discovery that 37 universities were running 150 illegal or unaccredited courses. There has been a considerable din about the quality of degrees in Nigeria, both within and outside our shores. This racketeering corrodes the value of such degrees. It is a strong reason why the masterminds should not go unpunished to forestall future abuse.
Ironically, federal and state-owned universities lead the pack; and this speaks volumes of the level of impunity on our campuses. The University of Abuja, whose medical programme was involved in a similar storm, tops the list with 15 disciplines. The 150 programmes span arts, science, education, law and engineering. One of the state-owned universities in the South-South ran five unaccredited engineering courses: civil, mechanical, petroleum, chemical, electrical and electronics. The details are in the National Universities Commission accreditation status of academic programmes in the nation’s 143 universities in 2016.
Evidently, the students have been scammed by these schools. Undoubtedly, it is a return of the outreach or off-campus programmes through the back door, which the NUC had banned a few years ago. Such flagrant disregard for the rules has ceded acreage for unlicensed universities to sprout. In August, last year, the NUC closed down 57 of them after they had successfully swindled thousands of youths desperate for university education.
Guided by the Benchmark Minimum Academic Standards, the NUC is empowered by law to ensure quality control by approving every course in the universities. For any academic discipline to be accredited, a critical mass of lecturers must be available. Other criteria are objective of the programme, curriculum and physical facilities that comprise classroom, laboratories, studies, workshops, machines, student admission and graduation requirements, and standards of degree examination as stipulated by NUC guidelines.
This process ends either with full, interim or denial of accreditation of a course. Any discipline with interim status means that the university authorities must remedy the deficiencies that led to the denial of full accreditation or lose its legitimacy. This is a canon well known to every vice-chancellor, university senate and council, and even heads of academic departments.
These delinquent institutions might have succeeded in the past, and were therefore encouraged to continue. What is puzzling is how the students were enrolled. As admission to universities is done through the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination, were the 150 courses published in the brochure of the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board, for every prospective undergraduate to be guided in his or her choice of the course of study? If so, where was the NUC then? If not, how were they admitted?
It is apparent that these universities exploited the weaknesses in the operations of our quality assurance agency. The President of the Nigerian Academy of Science, Oyewale Tomori, also a former vice-chancellor, had early this year, touched raw nerves of the NUC hierarchy when he questioned the integrity of its accreditation during his convocation lecture at the University of Abuja.
He asserted that the process was compromised with “brown envelopes” (bribes) given to the accreditation teams by universities. “When there are allegations that some of the people who conduct accreditation in the name of NUC receive brown envelopes, the NUC will ask: Are those who give or take the envelopes not your colleagues? But the NUC forgets one thing, that the accreditation bears ‘NUC’s accreditation’,” Tomori exclaimed.
The new NUC Executive Secretary, Abubakar Adamu, now has his work cut out. He has to strengthen the agency’s regulatory mechanisms so that no university exploits any latitude to cheat. When universities exceed their admission quotas, they abuse their carrying capacities, which ultimately erodes the quality of instruction and degrees they award. This is why many graduates today cannot defend the certificates they parade or are unemployable.
In the United Kingdom, the Accreditation of a Higher Education Programme involves course content, delivery, staffing, relevance, quality assurance, coherence, challenge, assessment and resources. The NUC can help desperate students by maintaining a “National Data Base of Accredited Qualifications (programmes),” as it is done in the UK, which prospective students can consult. Academics alone should not oversee accreditation, going by the integrity questions the process has evoked here. For instance, specific professional engineering institutes do degree accreditation in the UK.
However, the degeneracy of the system is fuelled by the proliferation of universities: 40 of them owned by the Federal Government, 43 belonging to states and 60 privately-owned. Professors and PhD holders are not enough to go round. How Kano State University, set up in 2001, had just one professor and 25 PhDs, according to the 2012 Needs Assessment of Universities, puts the issue in bold relief.
To get the NUC approval, many universities engage in a sleight of hand by hiring senior academics and equipment from other universities, or hurriedly recruiting staff to cover up their deficiencies. Those rented return to their base soon after the accreditation and those dishonestly hired are fired. Enugu State University of Science and Technology was nabbed in this labyrinth early this year.
Our political and university authorities should get the message right: a university is a global centre of excellence involved in knowledge production through teaching, learning and research. Being ranked among the top in Africa, let alone being world beaters, will continue to elude Nigerian universities if sticklers for academic excellence and university tradition are not in the saddle as vice-chancellors. Indeed, we need to once again produce the Kenneth Dikes, Hezekiah Oluwasanmis, Ade Ajayis and Adamu Baikes, among others, as vice-chancellors if we are to restore sanity to the system.