After months of disputes, students’ protests and rhetoric, the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) finally announced the suspension of admissions into its law programme. NOUN’s Vice Chancellor, Prof. Abdallah Adamu, explained that the exclusion of the university’s law graduates by the Council of Legal Education (CLE) from the Nigerian Law School informed the decision. The National Universities Commission (NUC) had also advised that students be stopped from enrolling for the law programme, pending the resolution of the impasse between NOUN and the CLE on the suitability of the students for admission into the Nigerian Law School.
We sympathise with NOUN law graduates who have been caught in the middle of this wholly avoidable dispute. While we acknowledge the merits of the arguments of both sides, we believe it is time for the three institutions to actually sit down and chart a way forward. The CLE is clearly concerned about the maintenance of legal education standards, even if some of its arguments are manifestly elitist. The NUC seems to have some blame here because it ought to have made sure that graduates of the law programme in NOUN are such as would readily be admitted into the Nigerian Law School before conferring its valued accreditation on the NOUN law faculty.
On its part, we think NOUN ought to have ensured that its law graduates would not face the awful prospect of being refused admission by the Law School, before graduating them. It should not have assumed that the NUC accreditation was all it required to get its students admitted into the Law School. It also did not seem to have had close consultation with the CLE to correct its misgivings and perceptions about NOUN’s law degree. For instance, the CLE has put down NOUN’s law programme as a correspondence course and a part-time study which would prima facie disqualify its graduates from entry into the law school.
NOUN’s vice-chancellor, Prof. Abdalla Adamu, explained last week that those perceptions are wrong and that NOUN’s law programme is neither a correspondence course nor a part-time study, as the digital revolution has profoundly changed the world and the way it learns.
The national aspirations which informed the founding of NOUN are such that it would be a national calamity to undermine the institution. Millions of Nigerians are hungry for education and rightly so because we live now in a knowledge-driven world where nations succeed not by the resources they own but by their human capital The CLE should not lose sight of the fact that some prominent lawyers in the country obtained their law degrees through correspondence studies and part-time degree programmes. NOUN is an institution designed to help numerous Nigerians to acquire knowledge while they work by providing affordable access through the digital open distance learning technology which has revolutionised modern living and communication.
NOUN’s lofty ambitions will either be fulfilled or betrayed by its administrators and the government whose commitment would determine its success or failure. The anxiety of the nation is rising over the uncertain state of the institution, given the various reports about its organisation, resources, faculty members, conditions of service and the quality of its staff. The NUC must closely monitor this institution to ensure the quality of its products. The law programme of NOUN may, in fact, not be the only one in need of attention.
We urge the law faculty at NOUN to sit down with CLE and NUC to design a programme that will make its graduates eligible for enrollment in the Law School. There is hardly any skill that cannot be taught by digital open distance learning, as has been proved all over the world by some of the world’s most famous universities. We urge the Federal Government to invest more in NOUN so that it can access high quality faculty members, experienced administrators and adequate teaching facilities, to make it an institution that the nation can be proud of.