Ghana — Dr. Emmanuel Ifeanyi Ani is a lecturer at the Department of Philosophy, University of Ghana, Legon. His field of speciality is social and political philosophy with an African bias. In this interview, he undertakes a critical assessment of Nigerian university education, identified anomalies and proffered panacea for the ailment.
You have painted a very dismal outlook of Nigerian universities. Are there some of them that are still salvageable?
A lot of Nigerian universities are doing very well. For instance the University of Ibadan, University of Benin, the University of Lagos, the University of Ilorin, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ahmadu Bello University, University of Jos and the University of Port Harcourt are doing very well. These universities came up on world ranking lists. They are on the ranking of top 100 African Universities.
So I don’t think that Nigeria is lost in the University Community. A closer examination of these universities will show you that they are struggling to keep some form of international co-operation. Their lecturers publish international journals. They subscribe to international institutions like Von Albert in Germany. You have a lot of Von Albert scholars and lecturers at the University of Ibadan. UI seems to be a seat of Von Albert foundation.
You have the Kennedy Foundation in New York which hosts the American council of learned scholars. And you have a number of Nigerian universities having some form of cooperation with them. I think the major federal universities are struggling to be part of these societies. So it is these international linkages that keep you working, improving yourself and other things.
Other universities that are not part of these arrangements will simply carry out their activities in isolation and as far as academics is concerned you cannot afford to be isolated. Otherwise you will not have any idea of what you are doing.
You have just made a very salient revelation on why Nigerian universities are placed on the bottom level of universities in Africa. Where does the problem really lie, the academic community or the administrators?
The problem is largely administrative, especially not only from governments, but on the part of university authorities themselves. Part of it also lies on the Nigerian Universities Commission (NUC). I do not think that the NUC is doing enough to ensure the quality of Nigerian universities.
What should the National Universities Commission do?
The NUC should ensure that lecturers in Nigerian universities are internationally promotable, not locally promotable. This means for instance, that somebody who wants to be a professor should not have all his publications within the locality. Besides, there are lots of journals that are not peer-reviewed, journals that you can describe as roadside printing. So it is possible for a lecturer to submit 180 publications – roadside publications or self published works and become a professor. Then I don’t see how the university is going anywhere – these things have to be reversed. The application for professorship by a lecturer should be taken to world class university lecturers and professors for assessment.
For instance, some professorship applications here are taken to lecturers in Harvard who will look at your work, assess you and determine that this person is a professor material. Already, there is a mark of international standard.
So my recommendation is that the Nigerian universities should be on the look out for journals that are not peer reviewed; peer review, especially blind peer review where a fellow lecturer is reading an article without a name and doesn’t have an idea of who wrote the article. All he has been instructed to do is to be as critical as possible. When you do that a lot of Nigerian articles will have to be reversed or will not qualify for publication at all. I have been receiving a lot of articles from colleagues back home and many of them are not publishable. And that comes from a culture of lack of peer review.
As a university lecturer in Nigeria and also in a well-established university in Ghana, what would you say is the distinguishing quality between the two systems?
One very distinguishing thing about the quality of education between the two countries is the evaluation of lecturers after each semester. Students are asked to evaluate the teacher, the content, the structure and the quality of delivery; the impact on general knowledge the conduct of the lecturers. These things make it impossible for lecturers to become lazy or to utilize students or to demand money. What you call ‘settle’ in Nigeria or to use the girls to a large extent.
It also ensures that lecturers grow. So you can imagine a culture where there is growth, constant growth in teaching, constant growth in research. You cannot teach better if you do not research. It may be a minor component but I think it is doing a lot. It is something that Nigerian universities should adopt. I have a copy of the teaching evaluation form which I intend to send to one of the vice-chancellors – my VC back in Nigeria. I think that is a component that Nigerian universities should watch out for. Without that component universities cannot really grow.
Now, as a Nigerian in a foreign country, what will be your advice to the Nigerian authorities on how to improve education?
Nigerian universities should strive to open up international educational linkages. There should be linkages and relationships between Nigerian universities and a lot of reputable universities around the world. Departments in Nigerian universities should begin to work out … to establish relationships with fellow departments in selected parts of the world and there should be an exchange of both teachers and students, and personnel in these departments so that one would go the other way and other ones could come the other way for a period of time. And that way, there can be a free-traffic of knowledge and that is how free knowledge would be injected into an otherwise closed society. I think this is very crucial.
Another thing the authorities should introduce is the evaluation of courses at the end of each semester. You see, that is the educational equivalent of democracy.
The masses evaluate their leaders, basically, before elections, but in our educational system the masses are not helping. So the students who by now are prepared to be mature adults should be given the opportunity to evaluate their lecturers.