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EDUCATION: THAT TERTIARY BOARD OF NOTHING

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Nigeria will reduce government agencies. Nigeria will do it in 2013, and it will cut recurrent expenditure in the process. Now Nigeria is creating another agency. Tertiary Education Board, this one is called. It will be an addition to the layers of boards and agencies that currently exist under the Education Ministry. A panel recommends it. The president had commissioned the panel after the last round of crisis in the tertiary education sector. Now it has submitted its report. The board was its foremost recommendation. The president is for it, of course. His executive council members (FEC) are not left out, and now the FEC’s mouthpiece and Minister of Information, as usual, is trying to sell the recommendation to Nigerians. FEC’s mouthpiece must do his job. And a panel paid to jaw-jaw in a five star hotel must do its own job, too. What it recommends is as good as adopted. The worry is that recommendations that seem not to have been thought through are quickly implemented here. Those with deep thinking behind them that even the man on the street could see are forgotten on shelves. Tertiary Education Board. It’s a step away from recommending a Tertiary Education Ministry, one can bet, after this one also must have gone the way of other existing structures in the same ministry.

Now these are a few of the outfits which take care of education matters that are above secondary school level at the moment: National Universities Commission (NUC); National Board for Technical Education; National Commission for Colleges of Education; National Business and Technical Examination Board. Isn’t an outfit in charge of polytechnics? Other outfits sit on funds; civil servants in them are paid to share money. That’s basically it – share money to institutions. Those include: Education Trust Fund (ETF), and lately Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETF). Some official will soon come on TV screen to say such is applicable in other climes. The usual. They copy and copy badly. They copy what is fine and wreck it. That’s not the point here though. Educational standards in Nigeria’s tertiary institutions finally may be getting the top-level attention it deserves. It was the way an online publication reported the outcome of the FEC meeting where officials proposed to adopt a board to oversee tertiary institutions. Positive review, that. It will be positive when a closer look is yet to be taken at half-cooked ideas that is sometimes dished out in the name of reforms here. A closer look is what this piece seeks to take.

Once, it was shouted that 6-3-3-4 system of education would rescue the nation’s education. Everyone paid to come and take a piece of the cake in Abuja had mouthed it. After more than a decade of failure, others are saying the same 6-3-3-4 has ruined the nation’s education, and so everyone should return to the old 6-5-4 system. There was a time some had said NUC was the solution to challenges confronting tertiary education. And there was another time ETF was touted as the ultimate solution to funding, and much later, TETF. Now, the hammer has been falling on NUC: Students graduate from universities that wholly or partly lack accreditation.

And the reputation of officials that go on accreditation has not been up to scratch. TETF’s performance too is up for debate in the face of the crises that led to the setting up of this latest panel: Funds don’t get to where they are needed. When they do, nothing shows deliverables for funds delivered. Facilities in the tertiary education system are inadequate, faculties are not what they should be, and students often outnumber required faculty members. These form a part of the numbered problems. Government is blamed. Everyone in the system points fingers in others’ direction. Now that the panel’s report is heading for the National Economic Council for approval, the president would implement when it returned to his table. FEC’s mouthpiece said that too, an indication that it is a big step forward to officials who naturally wish this problem with higher institutions will fade from national discuss as quickly as possible. And as he addressed Nigerians, there was that note as though the recommendation was the final nail on the coffin of the problem confronting the nation’s higher institutions. Yet there are reasons to worry.

“In order that we would be able to come up with a very, very comprehensive intervention policy, Mr. President felt there was a need to draw in other stakeholders,” the minister had stated. Thus after, “the presentation to the National Economic Council, Mr. President will then proceed to agree on an intervention formula following a thorough analysis of the report that has been presented.” Intervention formula. Doesn’t that sound like a promised intervention that followed the fuel subsidy brouhaha in January, but which the president has since said can no longer be implemented? Intervention. It does sound like a short term measure, a palliative that will be applied, and after every crying child is quiet, government officials go about eating groundnut and popping coke behind their desks.

A close look at the problems that have bedeviled tertiary education shows that as things stand, the structures that should tackle the problems are in place, but the structures under the education ministry are not getting the jobs done, and actors in these higher institutions are not just there to get things moving. But they are being overlooked. This is a reminder of the occasion the president visited the national stadium in Abuja recently. The stadium was in a clear state of disuse. Sport officials were on the entourage. Officials that are paid to ensure facilities are not in a state of disuse were present. None of them was asked questions on the spot, none was fired. Instead, the president said he would set up a panel to look into the reasons facilities were not cared for at the national stadium. Now a new board is to be established, at a time the government says it will collapse agencies and cut N36 billion naira in recurrent expenditure. A new board at a time officials in education ministry have been going around their more than two dozen parastatals in order to collapse them into a smaller number. At a time just about 31 percent of the proposed 2013 budget is meant for capital expenditure, what the government wants to do is an intervention programme for tertiary institutions that includes a board which will run after university administrators who are used to doing things their own way.

Government officials know for a fact that Nigerians have heard this latest announcement and dismissed it as usual. For what officials want to do, really, is sidestep the main sore in a system that ought to be re-jiggled, improve capacity and capability in the existing organs that deal with tertiary education, curb corruption, make corrupt officials face the music, up accountability as well as get university administrators to stick to rules of the system. None of that is being done, rather, a solution, which is not a solution going by such that had ended up in the usual pit, is what the nation’s rulers are settling for. This proposed board which will be an addition to others on ground that do nothing but bloat public expenditure is not a solution. The sincerity of those that recommend it, in doing so, is suspect. For they are sure to know where the pitfalls for the existing structures in tertiary education are. Further, nations that have quality universities and quality education which officials here say they want to copy don’t solve problems by overlooking existing structures that don’t give value for public fund. They make them do what they are established to do. This is the more important angle the federal government should focus on.

Written By Tunji Ajibade
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