He speaks on university education in the country and urged the National Universities Commission (NUC) to scale up monitoring of universities.
Magnus Eze, Enugu
Dr Sylvester Emeka Igwe; a thoroughbred academic and Deputy Vice Chancellor of Coal City University, Enugu is reputed for his frankness. In this interview with The Education Report, shortly after a national roundtable organised by the young institution on hate speech; he speaks on university education in the country and urged the National Universities Commission (NUC) to scale up monitoring of universities. He regretted that many private universities today, are clearly out to make profit. Excerpts:
As a player in the sector, how do you rate university education in Nigeria?
I think that we are just grappling to grow up but we have challenges as it were. So in a matter of rating as a personal observation, Nigerian education is rated wonderfully well. I wouldn’t want to say it is dwindling or going backwards but at least we are making efforts to move, though it is difficult to do so. I think also that government is not paying enough attention to education because I know even those that are the key actors now, many of them studied overseas. Some of us, we know what it is outside there and when we come back home we begin to have all manners of difficulties in building up Nigerian students the way they should grow, re-culturing them as it were, because the facilities may not be there. So, we deal much with improvisation to see how we can push Nigerian education forward, we don’t have to keep going round and round. With all due respect, you would not be shocked that even the Minister of Education may have his children studying abroad. Children of Commissioners for Education or those who can afford education away from the shores of Nigeria but all these are things of the mind. I think that if we put all hands on deck, surely we will move Nigeria education forward but as it is now, it’s difficult. Some of us that are supervising postgraduate students, we have to call them, to ask them what they are doing, why don’t you bring what you have done so that we look at it and see how we can move away from where we are, but you keep struggling in getting them but they keep giving excuses. All these things are behavioural and it’s affecting everybody and not just the government alone.
We have all manners of universities these days; what does this trend portend for Nigeria?
It portends danger because I do not see why ‘unapproved institution’ should be operating but then, there is a whole lot of ignorance on the part of those that patronize them because it is so easy to know an approved university. Just go online to NUC website and you’ll see all the approved institutions. But ignorance is part of the problem of education; people should also know what they should do and if they don’t know that, then anybody that flies any kite about an institution; without making enquiries whether that institution is approved one, people nosediving into it and at the end, this is the kind of thing you see. That is very dangerous and we also call on the NUC to update; make upkeep on how they monitor fake universities, fake institutions as it were, so that they stop creating problems around.
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What’s special about Coal City University?
It is a very special university not minding the age; we are in 200 levels; that’s two years of operation. We got approval in November 2016. Coal City University is an outcome of a group of great thinkers, those who deal with critical and creative thinking that came up with the idea of Coal City University and as the name goes, we are seriously going into specialty like doing clean coal research in the university; that is being developed now. Apart from normal programme, we want to delve into that and we’re so much involved as it were right now for the programme to come on stream. Coal City University is also another avenue to create what I call opportunity for self-expression because here, we use what is called andragogy to teach as against pedagogy. Andragogy is a system by which you let your students to come up with issues. If student asks question out of context, but the question cannot be out of context in an andragogical system; yet if it is in pedagogy once you ask that question and it is not within the discourse area, maybe the teacher will tell you no; it is out of context; it is not a good question, it is a stupid question. The issue then is what’s right and what’s wrong as it were? Andragogy provides opportunities for students to bring up issues; lecturers here are like midwives as opposed to baby nurse. Baby nursing is if a child is supposed to eat by 12 O’clock whether that baby needs it or not; she feeds it; whether the food is palatable or not; she decides when to get the baby to eat. But a midwife is simply to create a conducive ambience for activity to take place; like a midwife helping a pregnant woman on labour to deliver her baby; the woman delivers her baby naturally but the job of the midwife is to create a conducive ambiance that the woman can deliver what she has. So, all those lecturers that are using andragogy are simply the facilitators and that is what we do in Coal City University.
How soon is the clean coal research taking off and do you have any grants for that?
Well, we have not got grants from any source but we are using what we have to make a difference. Recall that the university has former Minister of Power, Prof Chinedu Nebo as Pro-chancellor. So we’re focusing on the area to make the abundant coal deposit in Enugu that gave it the sobriquet of “Coal City”, environmentally acceptable. We want to make a statement in this direction and invariably help humanity especially in tackling the nation’s energy need. This would be our contribution in diversifying the nation’s energy sources to ensure steady growth of the economy. We are aware of government’s efforts in driving research on the development of renewable energy like solar energy, wind energy, bio energy and small hydro power. For us, we want to see how coal can be more acceptable to the environment because of its low sulphur. We are interested in carrying further research so that ultimately we start using it as a major source of energy.
Don’t you think that private universities are rather too expensive in Nigeria?
Agreed that education is not cheap but the fact remains that one of the problems today is that many of the private universities we have are profit-driven, yet we get all manner of output. We know that it’s not easy, but at Coal City University, we are committed to offering quality education; world class programmes at affordable cost. Our driving force is not just profit; that’s why with all these I’ve said; you might be surprised to hear that our fees in a session is less than N200,000. We made it affordable so that all classes of people are here.