100 Fake Professors; a Pointer to Larger Frames of Challenge

By Jerome-Mario Utomi
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Writing on the topic; The Questions Every Entrepreneur Must Answer, Amar Bhide, Professor at Harvard University, among other remarks, noted that formulating a sound strategy is more basic to an organization than resolving hiring issues, designing control systems, setting reporting relationship or defining the founder’s role. Ventures based on a good strategy can survive confusion and poor leadership, but sophisticated control systems and organizational structure cannot compensate for an unsound strategy.

As an escape route, he advised entrepreneurs to always put their strategies to the following four tests; is the strategy well defined? Can the strategy generate sufficient profit and growth? Is the strategy sustainable? Are my goals for growth too conservative or too aggressive?

Each time I remember the news recently published by the National Universities Commission (NUC), where Abubakar Rasheed, the Executive Secretary, inter alia announced that the commission has uncovered about 100 fake professors across Nigerian universities, it does not only leave me lost in the maze of high voltage confusion of what the nation’s education sector has become but naturally allows the warnings by Amar Bhide, come flooding.

Expectedly, since our ‘national culture’ towards public institutions in the country tends to reflect a management system, that anticipates and appreciates sympathy/excuses more than objective criticism, especially now that NUC –as the regulatory agency, claims to have evidence of a far-reaching recommendation of basic rules guiding the appointment of full professors in their latest published version (2017) of the Directory of Full Professors in the Nigerian university system, such sign of diligence, in the estimation of some Nigerians is enough to absolve NUC of being culpable in this event, without looking at other areas the Commission failed in its responsibilities.

Conversely, not only will the above offer NUC advocates considerable potentials to absolve the Commission of all wrongdoing but discredit this piece with such poser; what is the correlation between Bhide’s admonition and 100 fake Professors? Or what is the link with the general challenge fronting education sector in Nigeria since that admonition was private-sector specific? What business has government institutions such as the NUC got to do with Bhide’s business ideology that is roundly profit-centred?

Without doubt, thinking along such a narrow axis remains a sign of non-understanding that the same quality required for success in private organizations are similar to qualities needed for achieving sustainable growth in public institutions. Just as factors that impede success in private institutions also undermines and engineers failures in public institutions.

For a better understanding of this piece, there is first an important distinction to make.

Though the news about the advent of fake Professors sowed confusion, portrays the country as a space drained of its national will and dangerously diverted attention from real threat deserving of healthy and appropriate fear, it is, however, imperative to note that the interest of this piece is to underline how lack of well-defined strategy, unsustained policies and other mirage of challenges such as the ‘fake Professors’ daily retard educational development in Nigeria.

Essentially, the problem of Nigerian universities, going by records started a long time ago. Before independence in 1960, Nigeria had only one university, University College, Ibadan, which then was an appendage of the University of London. This, the colonial masters and Nigerian nationalists reasoned would not be adequate for the country which was going to be independent and would require high-level manpower to build and sustain its economic and infrastructural needs. It thus, set up the Sir Eric Ashby commission in 1959, to identify the high-level manpower needs of the country for the future.

The committee report recommended that education was, indeed, the bedrock for our nation’s national economic expansion and the social emancipation of the individuals. Toward this end, it recommended the establishment of four federal universities in the country and prescribed some vital courses for them to undertake. These universities were established as follows; University of Nigeria, Nsukka, (1960), Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria(1962), University of Ife, Ile-Ife(1962), The University of Lagos, Lagos(1962), and the University of Ibadan, first established as University College, Ibadan in 1948. In 1972, the University of Benin was established. By 1999; Nigeria had 41 universities made of 25 Federals, 12 states and four privately owned. And today, the nation is ‘blessed’ with over 170 universities.

During this period of ‘rapid growth in the number of universities in the country’, a judgemental error occurred- low investment/inadequate funding of the sector crippled in. And is then, the consequences of such strategic mistake have refused to forgive the nation -as we can see from the continued low national growth.

To explain this fact, it is on public domain that inadequate funding by all strata of government remains the most fundamental challenge of education on our shore. This particular challenge is more pronounced in the government's inabilities to complying with the United Nation Educational Scientific, and Cultural Organization [UNESCO] budgetary recommendation which states that any nation desirous of achieving a hypermodern development must allocate at least 20% of its annual budget to the educational sector. This is against the nation’s 2019 budgetary allocation for education, which is about 7%. Even the recurrent Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) face-off with the FG has its root on inadequate funding.

Now, these are the consequences of such wicked neglect.

The most alarming effect of perennial underfunding is that it has taken the sector to a level where Nigerian universities are now reputed for producing graduates that are extremely educated in negative values of life and ill-informed/misinformed in the values that promote life chances of citizens; impedes lecturers from carrying out scholarly researches, truncates academic calendar with strike actions, lace Nigerian universities with dilapidated and overstretched learning facilities with the universities producing graduates devoid of linkage with the manpower demand by the nation’s industrial sector.

Under this arrangement, why can’t fake Professors appear on the nation’s tertiary institutions?

This may not be the only explanation. Inconsistency in policies made by the government is another issue. Policy somersault from what experts are saying is usually driven by several panels set up by the government to recommend measures to enhance the qualities of education country. The problem is not so much with the recommendation of the various panels but their poor implementation by those entrusted to do so.

Effect of such poor implementation manifested in the recent complaint by Shuaibu Ibrahim, Director-General of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), during a meeting with vice-chancellors and NUC, where he among other things express concern that some corps members’ degree certificates obtained from some prestigious universities were questionable. It further lays out the dilemma posed by the impact of a nation that is both certificate and title conscious as against skills development needed for both personal and national growth.

But like every ideological debate which comes with 'productive innovation and destructive demagoguery'', the NUC’s observation has the capacity to kick start real reforms of the sector if the government commits its resources in getting to the root of the challenge, in doing this, the potential consequence could be lower than that of other challenges currently ravaging the country.

To get started, the Nigerian government should work with like-minded individuals and organizations to define a new set of standards on issues that concern education. '

Jerome-Mario Utomi ( [email protected] ) writes from Lagos

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