It gives me great pleasure to address this important gathering on the theme “Politics and Funding of State Universities”. Given the fact that my institution Benue State University is over 20 years old and the various challenges faced by the state government, and indeed all state governments in trying to address the demanding needs of the university, it is my considered opinion that brainstorming on this issue is timely and crucial.
Politics and education are social institutions. Politics is concerned with putting a government in place to provide and cater for the needs of the citizenry. It involves the process of planning, controlling, organising, co-ordinating and managing interactions between individuals and social groups. Politics also performs the function of allocation of human and material resources, understanding and resolution of conflicts and mooting cooperation. This implies that politics involves influencing policies or decision making.
Education on the other hand has played a significant role in the upliftment of the standard of living of nations across the world. It has also contributed to all facets of development of these nations. Consequently, nations of the world recognise education as a tool for effective national development.
Education is therefore viewed as an effective tool that can be used to respond rapidly to the changing needs and aspirations of any nation. Education does not only serve as a custodian of the people’s culture’ expressed in the language of the people, their mode of dress, form of marriage, social organisations,’ political activities and technology but also serves as a process through which the society transmits its culture to the young ones.
University education in particular is the bedrock of human capital development in various sectors of the economy, be it in agriculture, health, social, energy, oil and gas, etc. The key role played by the university, be it conventional or specialised, owned by the federal, state or private organisations or individuals, is that of research, teaching and community service. University education provides opportunity for acquisition, development and inculcation of proper values and orientation for individual and social survival.
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Universities operate in a global environment that is characterised by rapid advances and are constantly evaluated and ranked on the basis of their contribution to research and scholarly work in the global context.
Nigeria’s independence in the 1960s ushered in an opportunity for the transformation of the Nigerian society through the development of locally responsive national policies and locally managed development programmes.
Today, recent political changes again provide Nigeria with the opportunity for a fundamental review of policies and social programmes that will prepare “ the country to meet the challenges of the 21st century.
Nigeria has been plagued by numerous political problems. These problems have affected the education system and other developmental issues, Although education had been in crisis for many years, the situation has recently been made worse by frequent strikes staged by both staff and students. Much of the difficulty lies in the fact that the sector is challenged financially. Inadequate funding of education has precipitated a number of problems such as shortages of material and human resources, brain drain and a host of other problems.
Education should be at the top of the priority list of successive governments, unfortunately this has not been so. This is why the challenges of developing our manpower to desired levels still persist. These issues are not peculiar to Nigeria. Most developing countries of the world are facing the same problem with their educational system.
The education needs of an emergent Nigeria are well articulated by Pai Obanya when he suggests that Nigerian education should be marked by a continuous search for excellence supported by the political will for good governance and transparency.
Nigeria’s “National Policy on Education,” published in 1977 was revised in 1981, 1990 and 2004. The policy document has been revised to address the perceived needs of the government in power and to try to ensure that the education sector is supportive of government development goals. Following recent political changes, which saw the reintroduction of democracy in the country, government acknowledged the need to revise and update the National Policy on Education once more to ensure that the education system meets the needs of contemporary Nigeria.
Trends In The Emergence And Growth Of The University Education In Nigeria
History has shown that following the Elliot Commission on’ Higher Education in West Africa, the University College, Ibadan, affiliated to the University of London, was established as far back as 1948 (Taiwo, 1980; Okebukola, 2006).
After independence in 1960, Nigeria set for herself a new philosophy and national aspirations based on building a free and democratic .society; a just and egalitarian society; a united, strong and self-reliant nation; a great and dynamic economy; and, a land full of bright opportunities for all citizens .
The attainment of these objectives requires efficient and skilled manpower which is rooted in university education. For Nigeria to produce the desired number of graduates to man key sectors of the economy, education must be placed on the front burner, while politics must be kept completely away from tampering with achieving the stated goals.
Goals and Mandate of Universities
The 1991 Longe Commission on the review of Higher Education in Nigeria defined the goals of Nigerian University as comprising the following:
i. Development of high level manpower to meet the needs of the economy
ii. Generation and dissemination of knowledge
iii. Undertaking Research relevant to’ the national and local developmental problems of the country
iv. The maintenance and transformation of the cultural heritage of the country through the preservation and adaptation of local traditions and values.
v. Public service
vi. Encouragement of leadership in diverse discipline
In view of the dynamic nature of the Nigerian environment, goals and objectives of Nigerian universities are changing in order to meet new demands. For instance now is the time for our universities to institute new courses to meet the peculiar needs of our nation. The emphasis of Nigerian universities now is placed on action oriented activities that relate to the people, government programmes and policies. The Nigerian policy makers have also equally realised that in the new knowledge-based society, universities are critical if the nation is to develop.
The instrument setting up the university system defines its mandate which essentially is, to provide higher education, undertake research, disseminate knowledge and foster relationships with other persons and bodies outside the university system.
Each university has its strategic mandate, vision, mission and core values contained in the University’s Strategic Plan. Ultimately, the core mandate revolves around the production of skilled human resources relevant to the type of the university and need for effecting development. The world today is driven by knowledge and universities have that unique task of producing that knowledge. Universities also have the unique characteristic of being the. greatest repository of intellectual knowledge.
University leaderships therefore must face the challenge of mobilising resources to achieve the mandate of their institutions with creative zeal. They do this by providing the right culture, values and best practices required to get the best out of their workforce in order to respond appropriately to national and global challenges, maintain a centre of excellence, remain relevant in the global context, operate as an effective learning organisation and provide good corporate governance.
In exploring the theme of “Politics and Funding of State Universities”, it is important to understand the standard or yardstick of measurement. Our discussion would therefore explore albeit briefly what a world-class university should be. What is a World Class University?
As many industrialising nations enter an age of prosperity through rapid economic growth, it is common for them to have significant societal and educational aspirations. Among these are the quests to raise their existing universities to “world class” stature or to establish “world class” universities. What does it mean to be a world class university? Is this simply a public relations claim or does it have substance? What are the criteria for world class status, and how would we know that a university has reached that lofty height?
Dr. Jamil Salmi a tertiary education expert with the World Bank in trying to explain the term ‘’World Class Universities” described it as research universities at the pinnacle of the tertiary education hierarchy.
This position was collaborated by the Centre for World Class Universities of Shanghai Jiao Tong that defined world class universities as “the most. prestigious research universities, essential in developing a nation’s competitiveness in the global knowledge, economy”. These universities play key roles in creating and disseminating knowledge, educating a highly skilled workforce for technological and intellectual leadership, and serving the needs of society. The leading country in university education delivery, according to the ranking, is the United States of America. Harvard University was ranked the best in the world, followed by Stanford University, also in the United States; University of Massachusetts was ranked fifth. The weakest among the top 500 universities is the University of Zhongshan in China. The criteria for determining world class ‘universities, according to report, they include: quality of education, quality of faculty, research output and per capita performance.
The report showed that only three Nigerian universities made the list of the ‘first 100’ tertiary institutions in Africa. They included the University of Benin, which was ranked first in the country but came a distant 1,639 in the world, and 18th in Africa, followed by the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, which came second in the country and 2, 266 in the world. The nation’s premier university, the University of Ibadan, reputed for many firsts in the past was third in the country and 53rd in Africa.
Other Universities, Which Were Poorly Rated By The Ranking Institution
Despite being seen as the cream of the country’s university system and well sought-after by candidates, they included the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Obafemi Awolowo University and the University of Lagos. They were ranked 3,228, 3,263 and 3,486 in the world respectively. The National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) was ranked 6, 576 in the world in the ranking where the small West African country, Mauritius produced the first in Africa, the Mauritius Institute of Education while three South African universities, the University of Cape Town,Rhodes University, the University of Witwatersrand and the University of Cairo were among the best five in the, continent.
The report recognised Auchi Polytechnic as the best polytechnic in the country although it came 254 in Africa. Polytechnics, by the way, have continued to attract little interest from Nigerians with the discrimination between, degree and Higher National Diploma (HND) holders being largely blamed for the development. This, is however a matter for discussion at another .forum in the future .
Webometrics focuses its rankings on the web presence of the institutions, “especially electronic .materials which accurately reflects their academic excellence, the quality of learning, academic prestige as well as non- academic variables. The ranking, which is done regularly by Webometrics, is ‘purely web-based and puts into consideration, research results, size ‘visibility, quality of-files and the number of scholars and their electronic’ publications which can be assessed on the Internet. It covers the activities of professors and researchers, including their formal’ scholarly publications such as e-journials and repositories, which they must maintain high standards of quality and peer review processes.
— Being a speech delivered by the Benue State governor and visitor to the Benue State University, Makurdi, Gabriel Suswam at the third biennial conference of the pro-chancellors of state-owned universities, on the theme, ‘’Towards Making State Universities World Class’’ at the Ibrahim Babangida University Lapai, Niger State, on February 25 and 26, 2014. (LEADERSHIP)