Continuation from yesterday

Our universities are just as much a reflection of our society. Rumors spring from very fertile and creative minds.

As Vice Chancellor, I recognized that the rumor mills were resources that should be channeled to some use, and so we launched a creative writing contest. The idea was simple: put these rumors organically and submit them as inputs to creative writing exercises.

Knowledgeable people were brought in to manage the process and in about three or four rounds prizes were awarded for poetry, short stories and drama. Nigerians are creative and it is not for nothing that we have created a whole thriving industry in cinema and our Nollywood.

It has become a very important sector of the Nigerian economy, creating many jobs, directly and indirectly. And from none other than our creative minds, in which a lot comes from, among other things, our stories, gossip and rumors.

Is it a comparative advantage? It is not a bad idea for a country to build its development around the resources that we have in abundance and not from what the colonialists taught us: development is supposed to be driven by the resources that we lack, while we consume other people’s food, wear other people’s clothes, use medicines imported from others, transported by means built by others, etc., and then complain of unemployment, poverty and insecurity. In the most serious parts of the world, the intellectual elite, universities and research institutes, liaise with the state and the private sector and guide society.

But our universities had from the beginning to train those who will be offered employment by others. This is called entrepreneurship. We have not been able to reinvent and adapt the idea and the culture of the university to lead our society on the path that has become imperative. The Nigerian university system, especially its public universities, is gradually mired in emerging irrelevance.

Now ask our academics to each suggest an entrepreneurial opportunity in their discipline that a fresh graduate can get into, without worrying about looking for someone to employ them. Maybe those in the anatomy program will get into the mortuary business, certainly a sector that is not doing badly in Nigeria. Kenyatta University in Nairobi Kenya provides excellent services in this area. Nigerian universities and even the private sector can learn from this.

What about others. So, do we teach entrepreneurship? What is taught? OK. Learn how to make beads, bracelets, cakes, etc. to all students. These skills were acquired in the vocational schools of old.

Why not challenge ourselves to think deeper and broader, and situate entrepreneurship in each of the disciplines? When a person obtains a bachelor’s degree in microbiology, biochemistry, zoology, botany, philosophy, English, Igbo, etc., what are the possible uses of the education obtained for entrepreneurial opportunities? Maybe some should buy an umbrella and a chair and sell phone top-up cards.

It’s common in Nigeria today that you wonder if it takes four years of college to end up selling top-up cards on street corners.

How to develop start-ups relevant to what we have studied? What indeed is a country without a thinking elite (really thinking and not imagining itself thinking)? Elite at all levels – Political, economic, intellectual, financial, religious elites, etc. ? Indeed, what is a country without a thinking elite?

Suppose we make them simpler

What other options than the strike? We can borrow a leaf from the 1996 ASUU strike during the Abacha era. The ASUU not only called off the strike, but decided not to go on strike while the government was then in power.

In the days after Abacha, ASUU improved in what she had hit.

Yet on the 2022 ASUU Strike
It seems that the politicians have moved on. The focus is on the 2023 elections, and governance may be a distraction for some. When you wink at a blind man, what are you trying to accomplish? You are in a world of your own. A sort of monologue.

Suppose the ASUU calls off the strike for the sake of our children, indeed, with a historic position for the records. For our children.

Suppose ASUU runs front-page ads in, say, 4-6 nationally circulated newspapers, showing its salaries as of 2015 versus today, converted to dollars, against the aspiration of a system comparable world-class university. Suppose ASUU presents this as front page ads.

Suppose ASUU makes a comparison with the salaries of Afe Babalola University or even Niger Delta University in Nigeria. Suppose ASUU publishes research grants available for faculty at Covenant University (a private university in Nigeria) and compares them to any federal university. Suppose ASUU sets up a comparison with salaries in some African countries like Ghana or Togo or…? Suppose ASUU presents the salaries of drivers and gatemen in NNPC, CBN, etc., relative to our teachers.

The other side of this, suppose ASUU looks at the start date of private vs. public universities each semester, faculty and student attendance in classrooms from the start of a semester to the end of the semester, the quality of questions and quality of scoring, availability of results as student rights and not a favor to students?

Suppose ASUU insists that its members access globally visible platforms with their research so that some basic statistics used to rank researchers and universities are made available to ranking bodies, and our universities are ranked higher . Suppose some suspect that many colleagues do not have much to offer on these global platforms.

Suppose the ASUU appeals to the conscience of the ruling class. Suppose the ASUU leaves out other issues beyond the welfare of its members for now. Suppose ASUU insists on other issues besides the welfare of its members and goes on to examine the use of everything it has achieved in the past by the political class and university management.

Suppose ASUU insists that every university respects the capacity and that our universities do not admit too many students, and therefore deal with this issue of overload? Suppose ASUU examines student population data submitted for accreditation and relates it to statistics submitted to claim excessive workloads.

Suppose the ASUU moderates its position and bears additional fees imposed by universities on students and parents?
Would this lead to a better university system comparable to that of our neighbors in West Africa, Africa and perhaps the South, before our oft-expressed yearning for world class? Suppose indeed?
Concluded

Professor Nwajiuba served as Vice-Chancellor of Federal University Alex Ekwueme Ndufu-Alike between February 2016 and February 2021 [email protected]