Perceptions on the essence of tertiary education (university education) vary amongst individuals, groups, and nations. The variation is even more visibly intriguing in Nigeria. To students and parents, access to university education is largely viewed as a gateway to better-paying jobs and higher quality of life. In the far past, besides being a status symbol, to be a university graduate was of instances in which employers went around the campuses to attract prospective graduates to their employments. University education was a life-changing factor. But to the governments of modern societies, the essence of tertiary education is more deep-seated. It is believed and globally acknowledged that tertiary education is the hub of nation-building, national growth, and development. As a citadel of knowledge, tertiary education remains the promoter of innovation through teaching and research. Countries that have been able to create and maintain effective and functional tertiary education systems are distinguished in the area of science and technology, making relatively fast progress in all indicators of social and economic growth and development. It is a formal process of inculcating certain desirable knowledge, values, and habits in individuals to enable them to understand humanity and become an agent of social
Education remains the most important instrument of change. The major difference between the developed and underdeveloped (developing or less developed) countries today lies in the quality of their education. However, every society has priorities in terms of the essence of education based on its values and other peculiarities. Education in every society reflects peoples’ conception of the role education should play in that society. While this is expected, can we rightly say that the essence of education in Nigeria is based on values and philosophy that are unique to us? Nigerian education is yet to emphasize consensus values that the schools should promote. Currently, there are no common modes of behavior of Nigerians that can be attributed to the effect of education on them.
The question of whether tertiary education in Nigeria plays its role (and significantly too) particularly for the essence of education and the goals set for it in the national policy on education should agitate our minds at this point. In more organized societies, tertiary education is acknowledged and respected as the engine house for research and innovations which are fundamental to social and economic transformation. Responsible and informed governments look up to tertiary institutions for empirically-based ideas to support policies rather than base such policies on common sense or political consideration as mostly observed in Nigeria. Governments in organized societies fund tertiary institutions to research national priorities such as security, warfare, health, agriculture, etc. When will governments in Nigeria respect the place of tertiary institutions in this regard? The recurrent face-off between the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) on the revitalization of the universities look like the government is being bored in its unwillingness to comprehend the need for a functioning university system nor to fund it.
While playing its primary role of feeding the human mind and liquidating ignorance, tertiary education produces competent managers of available resources. These are persons equipped with appropriate values, thinking, creative and innovative ability, and sound knowledge of how the economy can be made to function and grow. One of the major roles of tertiary education as a driver and propeller of the economy is to produce a production-oriented rather than consumption-oriented citizenry. Therefore creating more employment opportunities for citizens in a production oriented economy
More Tertiary Institutions but less Impact
In recent times, Nigeria has witnessed an astronomical increase in the number of universities. The Federal, state, and private proprietors have established a vast number of such institutions. To the Federal and State governments, it is nothing but political while the main attraction is profit for the private proprietors. Evidence abounds on the state of some of such institutions in terms of organization and adequacy of qualified manpower and relevant facilities. The creation and management of functional tertiary institutions in Nigeria remain an issue for discussion now and in the foreseeable future.
Given the foregoing development, most tertiary institutions in Nigeria exist largely for the certification of students rather than providing appropriate and adequate training for technological, economic, and social transformation. It would appear that states zones or communities are competing in terms of the number of graduates of their origin rather than the quality of the graduates. Are we ever interested in the quality of some products of Nigeria tertiary institutions? Should there not be a national program for the evaluation of products of Nigerian universities based on certain criteria? Should there not be a national program for the comparative evaluation of graduates of the various Nigerian universities? These are issues that should deserve our attention now. We must be concerned about the impact of the Nigerian tertiary education system. Our institutions cannot continue to be certification institutions instead of educational institutions. These institutions have not made a significant impact on the pace of national growth and progress because there is a disconnection between theory and practice. Tertiary institutions in Nigeria cannot continue to teach students how to use imported technologies. The time has come for Nigeria to learn how to domesticate such technologies and how to produce them. Selected universities did this for China, India, Malaysia, Korea, and Singapore.
Selection and Quality in Tertiary Education
By its nature, education is an input-output function. It is what you put in (quantity and quality of resources) that determines what you get as output (quality of learning, leadership, tone of the school, and so on). With majority of our focus on the quality of students admitted into tertiary institutions
First, reflecting on the process of selecting students for admission into tertiary institutions in Nigeria. It is required that passing the required number of subjects at the secondary school certificate level and obtaining the prescribed score in the UTME are the major conditions for admission to tertiary institutions. Can we say that this process has always produced the best and most well-qualified candidates for our institutions? Tertiary institutions in Nigeria have always inherited the consequences of the lapses and inadequacies of primary and secondary education where students are poorly prepared but assisted to write and pass their external examinations
We have said so much about the apparent failure of our tertiary institutions to provide the needed propulsive force for technological, social, and economic transformation in Nigeria. One of the critical areas to address in this regard is the available academic programs. Most of the tertiary institutions in Nigeria offer mundane academic programs which have little or nothing to contribute to the present-day world. Some of the curriculum contents are outdated and most of them do not develop creativity in the students. What the Nigerian youths need today is creative education which equips them with life-support skills. The school curriculum should focus more on the future by emphasizing knowledge diversification. Apart from the student’s main area of specialization, they should have some skills that last.
Funding Tertiary Education in Nigeria
No tertiary institution can fulfill its mandate unless it is organized and made to function. This can only be possible if adequately funded. Objectively speaking, the condition of most tertiary institutions in Nigeria in terms of facilities and the right caliber of lecturers is pitiable. Most such institutions, especially the public ones, lack adequate quantity and quality of academic staff. As a consequence of the poor condition of our tertiary institutions, they have not been able to make the desired impact on society. In most cases, state and private tertiary institutions rely on borrowing qualified academic staff to boost their profile during accreditation
This has drawn our attention to the obvious fact that the world has left Nigeria behind in terms of education and using education to change the society – Nigerian students are still consigned to obsolete knowledge and methods of teaching which their counterparts in many countries left perhaps a decade or more ago. Nigerian tertiary education lags and their graduates ill-prepared for effective functioning. These are rooted in the neglect that the system, especially public institutions, has suffered over the years. Governments pay lip service to the need to provide public institutions with what they require to be effective. What we get is the low impact of the institutions. No one expects any magic. You get what you pay for. Nigeria gets the worth of its investment in tertiary education as measured by the quality of its graduates.
Nigeria is in dire need of a viable, relevant, and effective tertiary education system capable of providing a propulsive force for the nation’s socio-economic and technological transformation. That the nation’s tertiary education system lacks the capacity for propelling national transformation is not in contention. The system lags globally in the areas of infrastructure, modern facilities, well trained and well-paid staff all of which are largely attributable to poor funding. Incessant union strikes and the resultant unstable academic calendar are feared to have negative effects on the quality of the products of the system