The Executive Secretary, National Universities Commission (NUC) Professor Abubakar Adamu Rasheed, mni, MFR, FNAL, has said that continuous interventions in the Nigeria University System (NUS) by the World Bank has transformed Higher Education in Nigeria into a result-oriented and global commodity.
He said last Thursday while receiving the World Bank team on Higher Education who were in the commission to obtain first-hand information on how to support higher education in Nigeria and the NUC in its regulatory functions, that the African Centres of Excellence (ACE) project was a huge success.
The Executive Secretary expressed appreciation for the good working relationship between the Commission and World Bank, stating that the ACE had not only provided skills and manpower development but also evolved healthy competitive spirit within the NUS.
He said that apart from the current 10 ACEs, the World Bank had also released funds for the take-off of additional 7 ACE IMPACT Centres, which had amounted to 17 ACEs in Nigeria.
He told the team that “the Honourable Minister of Education is quite impressed with the ACE project and has indicated interest to visit some selected centres for the first time since commencement. All arrangements have been concluded for the visits and I would like to invite the World Bank team to join us on the tour”.
Professor Rasheed further said that the proposed World Bank intervention on Higher Education was apt, stressing that there were some critical areas in the NUS in dire need of intervention. These areas he said, included Governance structure, Information and Communication Technology, Procurement management as well as Industrial Linkages.
He added that introducing short courses in procurement was key to creating transparency in the way business was done in the Country, as workers in both the public and private sector would benefit from the training. He also stated that there was need to involve captains of industry in training students in relevant areas to provide specific manpower needs for the micro-economy.
On the Governance structure, the NUC Scribe assured that the commission was capable of handling issues arising there from, stressing that vice-chancellors should take ownership of World Bank project sited in their institutions, and that they should deemphasise all unnecessary bureaucracies capable of slowing down the progress of the project.
He said further that Vice-Chancellors must find common grounds to work with the coordinators of projects sited in their respective institutions while they provided the needed governance.
The NUC scribe also pointed out that an expansion of Pedagogy in retraining of teachers would be a step in the right direction and noted that there were currently three ACE Impact Centres for Pedagogy, which included Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) , Zaria, with Pedagogy in Engineering, National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN), with Pedagogy in ICT and University of Lagos (UNILAG), with Pedagogy in STEM.
The Executive Secretary, requested that since similar interventions had been carried out by World Bank in other parts of the world, the team should provide excerpts so as to enable the commission draw up curriculum for the programme.
He thanked World Bank for its continuous interest and belief in the leadership of the NUC to provide the necessary coordination and its drive to ensure a globally competitive university system.
In his remarks, the World Bank team leader, Andreas Blom, said that the bank’s proposed intervention was mainly due to the feat achieved in the ACE project and was aimed at promoting skills and manpower development at the university level in order to promote socio-economic development in Nigeria.
In a related development, the Head, World Bank Project Lagos Office, Ms. Sarah Osaka was also in the commission to assure on the bank’s willingness to support the NUS through collaboration with private universities to enhance their operations. She said that the bank was ready to partner with interested private universities through funding, to augment their areas of needs.
She added that her team had already been interacting with seven private universities in Lagos and three in Abuja on possible areas of interventions that would address their respective challenges through access to loan facilities by World Bank, while thinking about creative ways to expand their reach and also improving quality control.
She revealed that her team had also met with some banks that had shown willingness to work with the government in helping private universities and the students. “We are trying to get the banks to give out the said loans which would be immediately impactful but payment could be spread over a period of time.”
On the issues of quality assurance, she commended NUC, especially on the aspect of reviewing and increasing the flexibility for curriculum development.
Responding, Professor Rasheed appreciated World Bank for its partnership and support for the Nigeria University System. According to Prof. Rasheed, the rationale behind the establishment of private universities was not for them to be money making ventures, but to expand access to university education.
He sounded a note of caution on the proposal to include private universities in the world bank facility because the fees they charge were only accessible to the children of the elites.
He revealed that most of the private universities did not usually invest in staff development which was very important to the system, adding that the commission found it worrisome that students could be charged heavily in private universities while such universities refused to invest in human capital.
He however agreed that there were areas that would require intervention in the private universities, saying that NUC had been encouraging them to go into relevant research to pull investments such as agriculture and well-equipped Medical centres that could attract more funding. He emphasised that most private universities needed to stick to excellence by running small institutions where quality was highly maintained.
He informed that the Commission was concerned about quality in the system, especially on the efforts towards ensuring internal quality assurance within the universities. For effective running of private universities in line regulatory requirements, he said that the Commission’s role was to ensure that those universities continued to operate as academic structures answerable to Nigerian government. In this regard, he said that NUC had set up a committee of experts to draw up a corporate governance code for private universities with sanctions for default, to stop private universities from being solely run by either the proprietors or religious leaders of faith-based institutions.
The Executive Secretary recommended to the team that the World Bank loan should come in form of scholarships for indigent students which would cut across board to ensure social mix within the universities. He said that would break the continuous dichotomy created by social class in the country.