Obinna Odogwu, Abakaliki
Perhaps, in few years to come, the South East may become a reference point for qualitative university education in research and development throughout the country, and Africa by extension. This is in view of the current synergy and plans of mutual collaboration being promoted by the vice-chancellors of the 24 federal, state, and private universities in the region.
The leaderships of these tertiary institutions converged on Alex Ekwueme Federal University Ndufu-Alike, Ikwo (AE-FUNAI) in Ebonyi State recently to breathe life into their vision of making university education in the region the best in the country and strengthen their alliance.
The first meeting was convened on the instance of the Vice-Chancellor of AE-FUNAI, Prof. Chinedum Nwajiuba, was held on April 1. The second was held in July.
Secondary education in the geopolitical zone, according to the rankings by various examination bodies including the West African Examinations Council (WAEC), the five states in the region made the top 10.
WAEC rated Abia and Anambra states as first and second respectively while Imo, Enugu and Ebonyi placed fifth, ninth and 10th positions respectively.
More credence to the positive educational exploits being made in the secondary education sub sector in the zone is seen in the recent victory of five young Anambra State girls from Regina Pacies Secondary School, Onitsha, who emerged tops in the World Technovation Challenge in the Silicon Valley, San Francisco, United States of America.
The girls put Africa on the global technological map with their rare talent. The team defeated representatives of other technological giants including the USA, Spain, Turkey, Uzbekistan and China to clinch the gold medal and are now celebrated as Africa’s Golden Girls.
In the same vein, four boys from St. John’s Science and Technical College, Alor in Idemili South Local Government Area of Anambra State, in March 2019, won the bronze medal at the International Festival of Engineering, Science and Technology in Tunisia.
Encouraged to step up these achievements to the tertiary level in addition to the already existing landmark achievements recorded by universities in the region at both national and international levels; and other ratings, the VCs converged to lay foundation and work out modalities in that direction.
On the maiden edition of the meeting, the Deputy Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission (NUC), Victor Onuoha, former Minister ofEducation, Prof. Ihechukwu Madubuike and former Economic Adviser to the President and current Director of the Institute for Development Studies,University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Prof. Osita Ogbu, were present. The convener, Prof. Nwajiuba of AE-FUNAI, said the purpose was to form strong synergy that would aid the promotion of qualitative university education in the zone:
“We believe we have common interests and common challenges; and that we can collaborate with one another for better service delivery. We also believe that coming together, we can create better awareness and consciousness of these interests and challenges, as well as the opportunities there are.”
He said it was also to highlight the need for the older universities in the geopolitical zone to mentor the younger ones as well as the federal and state universities in the zone should support the private universities; all aimed at promoting research and development: “While we acknowledge that we have common interests, we also have different challenges. Some of these challenges may confront more of our private universities.
“There still, is the idea that younger universities should be mentored and supported by the older ones. Without mincing words, our private universities may require the assistance of the public universities. This becomes clear when we juxtapose our private universities and those in other parts of Nigeria.
“Our idea is to create synergy amongst universities and offer each other assistance where required. Our relationship is complementary (not competitive).
“We envisage a relationship that includes staff and students exchange, access to facilities including laboratories, workshops, and libraries among others.
“Our collaborations may seek to create avenues for the exchange of research ideas and innovations. This should give room for rigorous academic activities in the South East as well as complementary relationships.”
To work their talk, a proposal for the establishment of a board equivalent to the Joint Universities Preliminary Examinations Board (JUPEB) and Interim Joint Matriculation Board (IJMB) by South East universities was put forward on their second meeting.
It was presented by the Vice-Chancellor of Hezekiah University, Umudi, Imo State, Prof.Enoch Ajunwa. The university was, during the VCs maiden meeting, requested to do a paper on the matter and present during the second meeting of the VCs. He said the idea behind the proposed board was to establish an advanced level examinations body that would run a one-year advanced level programme based on internationally standard and acceptable syllabus, as well as conduct examinations which would qualify candidates for admission into second year of a relevant degree programme.
He said the rationale was also to enrich the academic experience of the South East; lay a solid foundation for academic excellence; promote and strengthen partnership and collaboration among South East universities and as well, facilitate admissions by providing alternative mode of admission for their candidates among others.
Onuoha underscored the role of universities to the development of any nation and therefore urged them to work more in that direction. He lamented that series of Memorandum of Understandings (MoUs) endorsed by some Nigerian universities with their counterparts abroad have not really affected the local content and peculiar needs of the nation’s universities satisfactorily.
He called for enhanced synergy amongst the universities in the country. Specifically, he urged the management of the universities to look inward into areas of strength and weaknesses and find ways of assisting each other.
Onuoha asked the vice-chancellors to make available their institutions’ researches to one another and collaborate in areas of teaching by exchanging staff where needed.
Regardless, he cautioned the leaderships of the universities in the country not to lose sight of the objectives of the university education in pursuit of financial gains, as according to him, higher institutions of learning are not money making ventures.
He advised mangers of universities and other higher institutions of learning across the country to look inwards to find what society stands to benefit as well as what the graduates could offer; saying however that with quality assurance, universities today, are better for it.
He advised the management of universities to review their strategic plans and begin to work on them. While expressing the NUC’s readiness to assist Nigerian universities to achieve their goals provided they put necessary machineries in place, Onuah advised those who do not have strategic plans to develop same.