Some private varsities Are Better Than Public Ones — Okojie

February 27 19:41 2013 Print This Article

Mr. Julius Okogie

Why is it taking the NUC this long to resolve the accreditation crisis at the University of Abuja?

I am always amazed when people don’t know the working of the university; the name connotes universality. There is a level of autonomy in the university system. The engine room of the university is the senate. The university closes or reopens when you have a council. What programme they run as approved by NUC is the responsibility of that university. The students they admit based on the selection and approval of the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board is the responsibility of that university. What you are asking is like saying what are we doing about the Academic Staff Union of Universities or students that go on the streets in protest; government cannot stop them. You have a structure in the university system that has implications for consultation and superior judgment. When there is a problem, you go to senate and it is debated, you don’t just come to NUC.

What is happening in UNIABUJA is that you have a university with a vice-chancellor who started a programme in 2005 and he approached the NUC and we said the school cannot start four programmes such as engineering, medicine, veterinary medicine and agriculture because each of them is as big as a college. The school is still in a temporary site and has not even moved to its permanent site. We wrote JAMB not to give them students, but they went behind and took students from JAMB. We have no power to arrest anybody. They are supposed to be professors and they had a council.

What did you do when you observed that the school was running unapproved programmes?

We went further to write the then Minister of Education, Dr. Sam Egwu, that these programmes were not approved. The ministry of education has a member in the council of the university and they are supposed to be reporting to the minister. So, when you say what is NUC doing, we regulate. But do we determine what a council will do? No. In 2007, I undertook a programme audit to see what programmes are in the university system. We discovered it was not only UNIABUJA that was running unapproved programmes but their own were big faculties. Some other universities were running unapproved programmes, not faculties but these are big faculties, it’s like doubling the number of faculties they have before. When we did it, we discovered that students were already there, so what do we do? If I say we close the programmes, what do you do to the students?

What did you discover in UNIABUJA?

We did resource verification and engineering, medicine, veterinary medicine and agriculture failed.  We told them not to take more students; we used the process to ensure that they did not admit more students in order not to create more problems. They should have gone back to rectify the problems and afterwards invite us for accreditation. They never did, because they have to build structures and all that. The major problem those programmes have is because they are professional courses, you need the input of post-qualification regulatory bodies such as the Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria and the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria, until they do that, you can’t practice. But I was amazed that even those in engineering graduated students when they have professors in the system who should know that COREN  should have an input. Since then, we have been working. However, the programmes are now approved but not yet accredited.

What solutions do you propose to the crisis?

Abuja’s problem is more intricate than you see. The idea is that some people insist the vice-chancellor must go and I said you must go through the due process. There was a meeting we had with ASUU national leadership in the minister’s office after they wrote a petition to the President against the management of the institution and the President didn’t reply. They said they (ASUU) would go on strike unless a visitation panel was set up and my advice then was that we just had a visitation panel and the white paper was out in 2010; why don’t we implement that one and if there are differences in it, we know what to do?  They refused and government yielded its position and a visitation panel was constituted. During that 10 weeks that the panel worked, nobody could do anything about these four programmes and the belief the students had was that they might be transferred to other schools. There is a problem within that system, each time we want to make progress, the students go on strike. But we are working on the problems, we will resolve them. A vice-chancellor cannot think he has more powers than the regulatory agency, that is what happened in this case.

Does it mean the NUC has no power to sanction vice-chancellors who violate the law?

No, we cannot dismiss vice-chancellors, only council can do that. Before now, only the President can dismiss a VC but with the autonomy bill, only councils can appoint and dismiss them.

What is your commission doing to curb the running of illegal courses by private universities?

We have rules that guide programmes in universities but some institutions do violate the rule. When they do, we sanction them. We do more of counseling but the last thing we do is to suspend operational licence of an errant university. We also do forensic audit of universities. We are trying to review our law now, the Nigerian Education Minimum Act of 2004, so as to give us enough powers to address the system.

Are you satisfied with the quality of infrastructure and graduates being produced by private universities?

Yes, have you been to some state universities that are many years older than private universities? The oldest private university was started in 1999. But go and see some of these private universities, you will be amazed at the level of physical and academic development there. For instance, out of the 101 students that applied for the Presidential Scholarship for Innovation and Development, I think 11 came from one private university, Covenant University. Go to Landmark, Elizade and Afe Babalola universities to see their infrastructure. You will be amazed at the level of investment and many more are coming up. These universities are far better than many state and federal universities in terms of infrastructure.

As an educationist, what do you think should be done to restore values in the education system?

Recently, the report of the NEEDS Assessment in universities was presented to the National Economic Council. They have adopted it and said that we should do similar thing for primary and secondary education. The problem we have is because education is on the concurrent list and governors are even begging NUC to have special laws to help them regulate their own universities. We all know we have a general problem. We must all come together to address the decay in the quality of education.

Source: Sunday Punch

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