Moses Ochonu: This simple innovation can help Nigerian universities raise revenue

by Moses Ochonu

Such is the rot in Nigerian universities that the system needs deep, disruptive reforms to become compatible with the educational trends and needs of the 21st century. I have identified the problems of Nigerian higher education in many forums, problems ranging from poor teaching and research to a lack of accountability on the part of lecturers to the abuse of students.

The more I think about it the more I realize that the overarching problem is that the sector is saddled with quaint, anachronistic and inflexible rules that are stifling innovation and preventing universities from responding to new societal needs. Nigerian universities complain about poor funding, but there are simple things they could do to raise revenue. However, they can’t seem to embrace innovation and new ways of making themselves relevant.

I am not just ranting. Come with me patiently.

My mentee in Nigeria applied to a US graduate program. The program is interested in him but they’re a little worried about his preparedness for the rigor of the degree. In particular, after inspecting his undergraduate transcripts, they found that he had not taken a certain course that would prepare him for much of what he would be doing in the program, especially since his major as an undergraduate was a bit removed from what he wants to study in graduate school.

I looked at their concern vis-a-vis the program he wants to study and found it reasonable. US graduate programs worry about the prospective student’s ability to succeed in the program. They don’t enjoy bring people in and not graduating them or having them quit midway in frustration as Nigerian postgraduate programs and professors seem to enjoy doing.

The program advised my mentee to enroll in the prerequisite course at a college in Nigeria and promised to reevaluate his application if he succesfully completes it with the grade of A or B. This was good news, and I encouraged my mentee to do exactly as he was told.

He went to several local universities in Nigeria to inquire about the possibility of paying for and enrolling in the course he needs to prepare him for the program he’s applying for. He talked to people in the appropriate department. All the universities told him that it was not possible and that he had to apply for and be admitted into a masters program or a PGD program, either of which would last for between 12 and 24 months and would involve taking a slew of courses that my mentee doesn’t need, and some of which he may already have taken. At any rate, he doesn’t need the degree.Nonetheless, in effect he was been told that he had to enroll in an entire degree program that includes the course he needs to prepare him for the graduate program he’s applying for in the States.

Needless to say, I find this rule asinine and stupid. It is silly, self-defating inflexibility expressed in the form of a rule. They are lazy and can’t think outside of what they’re used to, what is familiar.

Here in the US where I live, you can go to any local college/university and pay for an individual course or two or three and just take those a la carte without studying for the entire degree under which the courses are offered. It helps the universities raise revenue and sustain enrollment but it also helps citizens to acquire or polish skills, and to improve themselves intellectually by picking and paying for courses they need. If in the course of my work I realize that I need to improve my computer programming skills or my accounting skills or my public speaking skills, or acquire any new skill or knowledge at all, I simply go to the appropriate department of a local college and pay the tuition for the course I need and enroll in the class, attending lectures and fulfilling all the requirements of the course(s). I get a grade at the end of it or I can simply take it for pass/fail if the grade is not important to me or if I don’t want to do all the graded assignments. If I want the grade/course to count towards a future degree program, I submit the result/grade/ transcript for it.

In Nigeria, the universities would want you to enroll for an entire degree program even if you only need one of the courses offered under that degree to prepare you for an educational or professional challenge or pursuit. No room for innovation or flexibility.

Again, Nigerian universities complain that they are underfunded and need more revenue. Why not open your courses to working adults or others who do not need new degrees but would like to acquire certain skills or knowledge either to help them in their jobs or to simply satisfy their curiosity or prepare for a future educational challenge? You could even charge a higher tuition for such a la carte course offerings. But no, backward looking, rule-obsessed Nigerian universities won’t do that. Tomorrow they’ll say the government doesn’t give them enough money.

Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija

Moses E. Ochonu is Professor of African History at Vanderbilt University, USA. He is the author of three books, the most recent of which is Africa in Fragments: Essays on Nigeria, Africa, and Global Africanity (New York: Diasporic Africa Press, 2014).

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