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PhD as Minimum Qualification for Academic Staff in Nigerian Universities: A Policy of Self Deception

By Balarabe Yushau

Last year, the Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission (NUC) in person of Professor Julius Okojie gave a threatening statement to all university lecturers in Nigeria– to the effect that all lecturers must possess a doctoral degree by

the year 2009 or lose their jobs (University World News, 30 March 2008, Issue: 0021). Although the year 2009 is about to end, there does not seem to be any noticeable change in the number of “PhDless” lecturers; and the possibility of dismissing almost seventy percent of the affected lecturers does not appear to be a viable option.

Despite the prevailing reality, it was reported by the Nigerian Tribune of 23rd of November, 2009 that the Minister of Education, Dr. Sam Egwu reiterated the same careless statement during the 17th convocation ceremony of the Auchi Polytechnic, Auchi, Edo State . The question that immediately came to mind was what did the government put in place to make this policy a reality well in time before or even after the unguarded statements? Or is the situation that bad that a whole minister does not have any sensible thing to say in an important occasion like this other than this unrealistic statement? It is more baffling if one takes into cognizance that both gentlemen are PhD holders and university lecturers at one time. Therefore, they should know what it takes to get a PhD. Perhaps, the atmosphere at the top echelon is so "conducive" that on arriving there people easily forget the reality on the ground. My intention in this article is to remind the minister that the reality on the ground is such that it will make the realization of the policy, as it stands, impossible to achieve, and I hope to suggest a realistic way forward. I have narrated the precarious situation of our higher education in some other write-ups in some other instances and places. I have argued that the first major bust that incrementally blows our university system to smithereens was the successive strikes the system experienced in the last two decades or so. This has turned the minds of the lecturers away from the academics. In the early days of these strikes, the lecturers were thrown into confusion and redundancy. This was because most of them at that time were full time academicians, and did not know any other business or option to fall back upon. The unwise approach the government used to intimidate the lecturers to go back to classroom by stopping their salaries and throwing them out of their houses served as an eye-opener to them for alternative ways of surviving. Gradually, the lecturers became more entrepreneurial and were able then to intrude into other business sectors. As a result, hardly will you now get a full time lecturer that does not have one or two other businesses running. Even though this is not something bad, it diverts the attention of the custodian of knowledge away from the academics. It is worth noting that the last strike lasted for four months, and there was no much complaint from the lecturers, unlike before; and thus they were ready to continue had the government not succumbed to their demands. Although people in general do understand the danger of these strikes to our educational system, not many appreciate the extent of the damage the strikes have done to the psyche of our lecturers. Now, hardly will you go to the library and find lecturers reading, and on paying visit to their offices you will find them very busy doing "nothing" (as one of them aptly put it). The culture of reading that is well known among academicians is almost gone.It should be noted that all these strikes were as a result of the fact that the government succeeded in systematically starving the universities of the resources necessary for any meaningful learning, teaching and research to take place. Teaching material as basic as chalk was missing in our classrooms and the lecturers' "take home" was no more taking them home. Now that the lecturers have become acquainted with the value of outsourcing money away from their call to academic duty, the government opened another door that diverts their attention more away from research and scholarship. I am talking here particularly about part-time lecturing. Superficially, it is a good way to compensate for our lack of manpower and also assist the lecturers to generate more income. However, it is another policy of self deception, and a way to divert the attention of the lecturers away from the academics. You will find a lecturer teaching in three or four universities. And the distance between the institutions in some cases is hundreds of kilometers. How do you expect this person to carry out his teaching responsibility effectively? In one of the institutions I visited, I was reliably told that one visiting professor attended the classes only once in the whole semester. And surprisingly, he was given his full salary. With the prevalence of these circumstances, not only have the lectures no time to teach effectively, but also they cannot engage themselves in research due to physical and mental exhaustion. This policy that allowed for the part-time lecturing also allowed the inclusion of these part-time lecturers in the departmental available manpower. This has made many programs get accreditation that otherwise could not. For instance, I know a department that had only one permanent lecturer who was just a Graduate Assistant (B.Sc holder). He was the HOD and the lecturer at the same time. All other lecturers were part-time. Whom are we deceiving then?Coming into the postgraduate programs, where PhD is the climax, I noted elsewhere that the situation of our postgraduate program is specifically an indicator of the gloomy future of our educational system. The students coming to the post graduate program are graduates of our system. Therefore, they are coming to specialize in courses they are inherently deficient in. Also, due to lack of manpower, the lecturers taking these courses are either post-graduate students themselves, ill-prepared PhD holders or busy professors. None of these is mentally and psychologically ready to teach post graduate courses, talk less of the confidence to remedy the undergraduate deficiencies carried over by the concerned students. Furthermore, most of these students and lecturers have other interests that are significantly in conflict with the academics. As a result, the quality of our post graduate program is extremely low. Teachers blame the students of lack of seriousness, and the students blame the lecturers of wickedness. At the end, the students compensate for their weaknesses by taking "good care" of the lecturers and the lecturers compensate for their incompetency by "passing" the students regardless of the quality of the work. Once a professor told me that these days after you do the research for PhD students, they also expect you to teach them how to defend the work. Likewise, a colleague told me that her thesis had been with her supervisor for more than a year, and he was yet to get time or rather commitment to read the work. The reason was the work was too bulky and he could not make head or tail out of it. How on earth was this the case? You may ask! The student in question happened to have had the privilege to be in the US for one year, during which she was able to update the thesis with some recent literature that the supervisor could not keep pace with or understand. But alas, he was arrogant to admit that. She told me that she talked to another professor if he could intervene, but his response to her was that PhD was no longer earned solely on its merit and, therefore, she just needed to do more "dubale" (whatever that means). As we know, a post graduate program is both a social and an academic experience. Since most of our professors have lost touch with the academics, hence, they do not have what to give (in the real sense of it); our academic environment has now been politicized. The environment is not that friendly. There is a huge social gap between the students and lecturers in this era where education has became a shared commodity rather than a property of a privileged few. This is a very sharp contrast with the happenings in the developed countries. I was privileged to meet some top academicians in my area. One thing I noticed in all of them is the willingness to learn from as well as share their knowledge and experience with others; while most of our professors are so academically arrogant as if they have the monopoly of all knowledge. Nothing describes this than the adage "an empty vessel makes the loudest noise". This sad but stark reality manifests its ugly specter in the quality of the Thesis presented in partial fulfillment of the terminal degree. Take a random sample of PhD theses and you will notice that most of them do not add anything to knowledge, but rather expose the squalor that our educational system has grown to become. Quite a number of these PhDs are supervised by people who do not have any proven training, research contribution or in-depth knowledge in the area they are supervising. They are supervisors just because they have PhD in that subject! I know a professor in such a situation who has supervised many PhD students in Topology, Algebra, History of mathematics, and Computer sciences all added to his laureates. A good undergraduate student of mathematics should be able to understand the impossibility of this ridiculous Academic 419. Most importantly, if you check the academic records of this professor and many of his likes you will find them empty. The system that allows for this Academic 419 is surely faulty and will in no way produce anything other than 419 graduates. After all, it is like begets like. Take this as a further challenge, pick all the lecturers that supervise up to five PhDs in our universities, I can assure you that more than 70% of them cannot defend more than 70% of what they supervised. Students are just good in compiling other people's work, and more often with no proper citation, a plagiarism per se. We have quite a number of cases, where both the student and the supervisors do not know what the thesis is actually all about. I come across one in which the student, the supervisor and external examiners do not know "anything" on what the "fancy" title is fundamentally all about. And these ill-prepared PhD graduate will soon be surrounded by many other PhD students. Whom are we deceiving?!With this reality on the ground comes the danger of asking the lecturers to have PhD by all means. No doubt, the policy will only increase the mediocrity that is already in the system. I disagree with those who are asking for more time for the affected lecturers to complete their degrees - the issue is not that of time. I however, sympathized with those who think “With improvements in the working and living conditions of lecturers with PhDs, they will be in a position to train their colleagues with masters degrees”. The issue is beyond that. PhD is not something that you produce when the need arises. It requires time, and more importantly academic commitment of the students and supervisors. Without this no amount of improvement of condition of service will bring any meaningful change. For instance, despite all the reasonable adjustment in the salaries in recent times, not much has changed in terms of the attitude of the lecturers toward teaching and research.Then what is the way forward? If the government is sincere with the policy, I have radically suggested a way forward in some other place. I said "our universities should stop given any post-graduate program". We should stop deceiving ourselves. We must understand and accept the reality that we do not have the expertise, manpower, and commitment to provide sufficient training for even our undergraduate programs not to talk of post-graduate program. Let us concentrate on the undergraduate program. This may appear as an insult to some people, but they should know that I am not talking of individuals here; rather I am referring to the system as a collective whole.

Both the state and federal governments should invest heavily on education. Potential students for post graduate studies should be sent abroad for their Masters and PhD. The approach will not only expose the students to environments where academic is at its cutting edge, but will also give them opportunity to compete internationally. On coming back to Nigeria , these students will come back fresh with different academic perspectives, knowledge and academic experiences that are of international standard. This is the academic culture and revolution that our university system needs. Certainly this change cannot come from within the present system, as the system cannot give what it does not have. This investment is worthwhile and will yield a lot of profit in the near future. If you want to understand clearly what I am saying, take Malaysia as an example; just calculate how much money Nigerians are currently sending to Malaysia annually for the education of our children.

But this is because Malaysia has initially invested a lot of money in the education of their children abroad, in the UK , USA , Australia , etc. Should we have done the same thing, we could have been an educational hub at least in Africa , and could have not been sending huge amount of money to other countries that are not better than us forty years back. Rather, education could have been competing now with oil as an income generating machine for the country. We could by now with our population, have a ministry of exporting manpower – Nurses, Doctors, teachers, and lecturers to all parts of the world.I hope the minister and NUC will think twice on this policy, and consider the proposal forwarded here, which is practical, affordable and worthwhile. Or think of a better but realistic alternative. Otherwise, we will continue to waste our time formulating policies of self deception.

Balarabe Yushau ( [email protected])

Dhahran, Saudi Arabia

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