IN a move aimed at refocusing Nigerian universities on their core mandate, the National Universities Commission (NUC) has scrapped pre-degree and diploma programmes in all the institutions. At meetings held between October 10 and 12 with the Vice-Chancellors of the 143 universities in the country, the Executive Secretary of the Commission, Prof. Abubakar Rasheed, directed the universities to leave such programmes for the polytechnics.
He advised the universities to concentrate their efforts on producing cutting-edge human capital in the core undergraduate, part-time and postgraduate degree programmes. We believe that this advice is timely, even if it is bound to meet with some resistance.
University administrators will probably see the wisdom in this directive, but the urge to meet the pressing financial needs of their institutions might make them want to resist the directive. In an economically challenged time like we currently live in, many are bound to ask: How then do we survive? A lot of money is made by the universities through their diploma and pre-degree programmes for which they charge huge fees that are not regulated by the government. This accounts for the growing popularity of these programmes in our universities, to the detriment of their regular under-graduate and post-graduate programmes.
Pre-degree and diploma programmes gained ground in Nigeria in the latter half of the 1970s, in the wake of dwindling resources from the owner-governments and subsequent poor funding of universities. This also coincided with the boom in the establishment of universities, rapidly increasing the number from a tidy five in the early 1970s to the present 143 government and privately-owned ones.
The pressure for funding and survival mounted, and many resorted to various measures to augment their earnings. The pre-degree and diploma programmes became money spinners. Other measures include the indiscriminate conferment of honorary degrees, establishment of commercial ventures (some of which are unbefitting of the universally accepted standards of universities), and thinly disguised and open appeals for funds.
The introduction of pre-degree and diploma courses have tended to distract the universities from their core mandate of producing globally competitive products and concentrating efforts on research and development, which universities in the advanced world thrive on. We cannot afford to continue on this course.
This and many other distractions explain why our universities are never well-rated on global university rating indexes. Just recently, for example, Times Higher Education (THE), a global university rating concern, found space for only the premier university in the country, the University of Ibadan, in its ranking of the best 1,000 universities in the world. This is supposed to be a gain for the country when we consider that for many years, none of our universities made the list.
In reality, this modest achievement should humble government and all stakeholders in the education enterprise in the country. Time was, in our glorious past, when our universities competed with the best in the world.
The University of Ibadan; the University of Nigeria, Nsukka; the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria and the University of Ife, Ile-Ife competed with the best universities in the world in terms of faculty, infrastructure, research and development, prior to the advent of military governments in our political life.
Our country lost the competitive edge soon after. Whereas, the diploma and pre-degree programmes were initially introduced to ostensibly improve the chances of candidates seeking admission into degree programmes, and to give the universities a say in orientating future entrants, the affiliate programmes soon degenerated to mostly money-making ventures with little or no regard for quality, capacity and needs. The result was that many of the university faculties and their personnel were stretched to breaking limits.
It is better that universities return to their core mandate of producing competitive graduates. They should leave the polytechnics which are better suited to award diplomas to do so. There is no doubt, too, that the move may be aimed at boosting the prestige of polytechnic education which is presently flagging in the country. The needless controversies about which, between university and polytechnic education, is superior should not be allowed to continue as both levels of education should emphasise different, but complementary priorities.