From Abdullah Hassan, Zaria
Until Prof. Sadiq Abubakar’s appointment as Dean of School of Postgraduate Studies of Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, in March 2017, he was pioneer Vice Chancellor Alvan Ikoku University of Education, Owerri.
He was also Director National Agricultural Extension Research and Liaison Services (NAERLS)
He in this interview told The Education Report, about preparations for ABU to migrate from conventional undergraduate programmes to postgraduate studies, research and development. He also gave reasons why ABU postgraduate programme was seen as frustrating and difficult in the past years by graduates.
State of education, particularly tertiary education, has been an area of discussion by many stakeholders. How do you see the state of affairs of tertiary education presently?
Tertiary Education in Nigeria, by my view is full of problems. Some are very obvious while many are buried in the system. Let’s start from the perspective of access. If I am to be specific with universities, presently, we have 40 federal universities, 42 state universities, 67 private universities. That is a total of 149 universities in the country. The The number of students that sit for JAMB every year is up to two million. Together with polytechnics and colleges of education and mono-techniques, we‘ll have about 500 tertiary institutions. This clearly shows that the access is very limited in terms of diversity and responding to national needs. In other words, we don’t have spaces at the tertiary level that can accommodate our children who will become professionals.
This is one key challenge in our system. With this number, I am not sure if we can absorb up to 40 per cent of those seeking admission from the turn out from the secondary schools. And again, we have also the challenge of very narrow space to train our students in entrepreneurship skill programme that can supplement the present state of unemployment after graduation. So in terms of access, Nigeria is not doing well. There is need to open up the space for more access to tertiary education, though this is one of the agenda of the present administration to increase the access to tertiary education.
There is also the issue of quality, which some people usually look at it in terms of relevance and comparative quality. The quality of tertiary education is not improving if you look at the past two decades. Here you can find many reasons why we cannot have quality education like before or why we have unemployed graduates, unskilled graduates, and the kind of availability index we have in our system.
From your analyses on the access, don’t you see the establishment of more private universities as positive development?
That is why I gave you the statistic of universities, which create the notion that every state must have a university. Well luckily for us every state is trying to have its own university. The 65 private universities especially those in the southern part of the country are doing very well. Private universities are increasing the access both in terms of number and specialization or professionalism. We also have the problem of capacity. If you have a university you must understand how to contain the capacity by sustaining infrastructure development like programme expansion and human resources which include recruitment and training. These are also areas that constitute yet other fundamental challenges.
So here we have two conflicting scenario, universities want to expand their programmes and improve their infrastructure, they need more resources, on other hand, the prevailing economic down turn of the country has made universities begin to have dwindling financial allocation from the federal government. This scenario will definitely affect access not necessarily in terms of number but in terms of capacity. For instance, a university that is supposed to admit 100,000 students now takes 40,000 students only. Another perspective on access is the graduation of students. You have five pioneer university including ABU, these universities by now ought to have migrated from its traditional role of teaching or training to something very important like research and development. In other words, they are supposed to be postgraduate universities. So when you open access to postgraduate studies, the new universities will concentrate on undergraduate programmes. But the questions here to ask is have these universities shifted to postgraduate studies? I think the answer is no, largely because of inadequate funding.
Postgraduate programmes of ABU seem to be the worst among Nigerian universities in terms of delay in graduation, students sometimes spend six to ten years for M.Sc and Ph.D. How do you tackle this?
Yes, it is true that students have been complaining of our programmes. Since 1980 when the postgraduate school of ABU was established, to around 20 years after, ABU post graduate was one of the talks of the town in terms of quality, adherence and delivery. But later we saw a decline in the performance and administration. In short we are aware of those complains. I think from four to five years back we started repackaging of the postgraduate school. I was opportune to be in Senate when a lot of issues regarding those complaints were raised. Later, we had a retreat in 2010 and 2013 and one of the key issues discussed was the quality and performance of ABU post graduates studies and I remember the decision reached. The then management followed up to get clear direction for the postgraduate school and the school later responded positively by organizing a retreat to rediscover itself. Later an excellent document came out and it was presented to the senate of the university in 2013 and senate deliberated and approved the strategic plan for the postgraduate school. The name was changed from postgraduate School to School of Postgraduate Studies. Since then, there have been changes in policy, operational deliveries that really try to put the postgraduate school at a higher pedestal comparatively with the likes UI and UNN. I am happy to say that the current administration led by Prof. Ibrahim Garba consolidated on that ongoing rebranding and what we are doing first as approved by the management of the university is to migrate ABU to a postgraduate university with about 60 per cent postgraduate and 40 per cent undergraduate students proportion. In other words, ABU is trying to emphasize postgraduate studies more than undergraduate studies. Currently, in the post graduate school we have student population of nearly above 12,000. Seven thousand are returning in this session, while 5,000 are new students. These are all on campus in different programmes from PhD, M.Sc, Postgraduate Diploma and M.ph. We also have another set of students on Distance Learning. Through our Distance learning Centres we have 1,162 students in courses like MBA and PGDS programmes in Peace and security, Public Administration. This is a total of nearly 15,000 students in the university postgraduate. With this huge number, there is no way we shall sit down without bettering and advancing the programmes. Recently, we got approval to restructure the entire postgraduate school and the process is on.
We have been having registration of about 55% of admitted postgraduate students for years which we researched into and discovered that one of the reasons is the rigid payment system of the university. ABU insisted that every student must pay all school fees at once, no part payment and school fees is about N100,000. A committee was set up and it came up with a flexible payment system for all postgraduate students and the university management has given the school go ahead to implement it. So from next session ABU is going to adopt a flexible payment system for postgraduate courses. Under the new system, students can pay at once if they wish, while those that cannot pay once can pay at the interval of each semester by splitting the payment into 50-50. We are also going to adopt e-wallet system for students that haven’t the capacity to pay all. We`ll create an account in our micro-finance bank so that he/she can drop small amounts until the target of 50 percent is met. This is an operational challenge in terms of enrolment which the restructuring will certainly address.
Another big challenge is the low percentage of graduates. Our graduation rate is usually less than 20 per cent yearly, so we asked, why students are not graduating as stipulated? Now in PG school, we have the supervision and examination unit that addresses the issue of delay in graduation. The unit is responsible for allocating supervisors to students as well as look into the way supervision is being handled. We introduced a log-book where both the supervisor and students fill out their interactions.
This system was abandoned in the past because of other reasons. This is re-introduced to effectively assess the performance of both supervisor and student, and we tied the submission of this log-book to the payment of supervision allowances for supervisors. This is a new practice that has never happened in ABU. I am happy to tell you that recently, two students came to collect their result after they completed their PhD. programmes in less than three years in ABU. This is strange indeed especially in a very critical Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences. So already we are beginning to see the result of our changes. With these new changes, it is our hope to speed up the rate of graduation of our PG students.
There are complaints that most PG students lack facilities and equipment as well as clear area of research that would benefit society. How far have you gone on this?
We`ll also increase the rate of enrolment of our new students and more importantly, research trust. We asked every academic staff to define his/her areas of research. We demand each department to give us five areas they have strengthened in researches for PhD and MSc. It is a global practice, we don`t want our academics to claim that they know everything, you must have specialization. When PhD, M.sc students come they will see from our prospectors the areas where ABU is competent to allow them to consider the studies and research based on the availabilities of our manpower, facilities and equipment, this will eliminate the overload lecturer supervising more PG students without considering his capacity. It will also give ABU research specialization, thereby attracting more funding.
What is responsible for the delay in students’ graduation in the past, who is to blame?
If you look at the system carefully, you will see that a lot of PG students nowadays enroll because they have no jobs, so the motivation is to be occupied doing something. While they start the programme, they pay for the first year, once they get a job they will abandon the studies, this way, it takes them four or five years to complete a year programme. Such students no longer see the programme as important.
On the other hand, we don’t have a clear direction on how to monitor the supervision of students by lecturers at department, faculty or senate. We introduced a supervisory committee from departmental to faculty level. As I said, all the measures introduced will now monitor and reduce delay in graduation.