Thursday, July 13, 2017

USA Africa Dialogue Series - Fw: prof's column

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From: Ayo Olukotun <>
Sent: Thursday, 13 July 2017 11:38
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Subject: prof's column

           AYO OLUKOTUN
"Paucity of funds alone does not tell the full story of the non-performance of Nigerian universities. The governance system is as important, if not more important. A university that has all the funds it needs, but is deficient in governance capacity is almost certainly going to shipwreck" A Former Vice Chancellor of Adekunle Ajasin University, Prof.Olufemi Mimiko, July 10,2017.
This columnist spent the better part of Monday at a robust parley on higher education in Nigeria, organised by the Pan-African University Press, in conjunction with the Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy. Held at the Conference Centre of the University of Ibadan, the conversation paraded a distinguished roll call of University administrators, past and present, denizens of the Ivory Tower and professionals associated with the education industry.
The topical dialogue was structured around a 2017 book entitled 'Getting our Universities Back on Track: Reflections and Governance Paradigms from my Vice Chancellorship", authored by Professor Femi Mimiko, a former Vice Chancellor of Adekunle Ajasin University Akungba, who also gave a keynote address, from which the opening quote is sourced. Senior professors in attendance included, Oladipo Akinkugbe, Bolanle Awe, Adetoun Ogunseye, now in her 90's ,Ademola Oyejide, Gabriel Ogunmola, Bayo Okunade, Tola Badejo, Eghosa Osaghae, Ebun Oduwole, Segun Ogungbemi, Michael Adeyeye and Toyin Falola, who chaired the discussion. Ibadan, with its dense concentration of star academics has been described as the 'Boston of Nigeria', an intellectual epicentre that replicates, to an extent, the cultural effloresence of the North Eastern seabord of the United States. This much was in evidence in the quality of ideas on offer on Monday, as well as in the evident nostalgia for those years when Ibadan and other Nigerian Universities provided, in the words of Prof. Babs Fafunwa, as quoted by Mimiko, "educational qualifications comparable to the academic standard, culture and character of European Universities" .
Falola, the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities at the University of Texas, called for a shift away from the colonial paradigm of higher education, to a framework that is sensitive to changing contexts and technologies , globalisation as well the informal economy and demographics such as an exploding youth population. 
Put differently, we should stop trying to reproduce the classical western university but sustain institutions that tie up with African socio economic and cultural contexts. Ogunmola, Chancellor of Lead City University, Ibadan. makes the same point by asking the question, are our universities purpose built? He went on to suggest that our universities should explore multiple sources of funding and share resources instead of spreading themselves thin. Drawing on her background in information science, Ogunseye elaborates Ogunmola's point, by suggesting a network of information, data and resources among Nigerian Universities. Oyejide argues the need for evidence based policy that takes account of the linkages across policy areas. He mentioned the proposal of a National Skills Strategy, to more properly align university training with the employment market. He agreed with Akinkugbe on the need to close the widening gap between policy and implementation in the educational sector. 
The point requires some amplification, given that several conversations of this nature have been held across the country on the crisis in higher education.It is to be regretted that most of the recommendations from these talkshops had little or no impact on the policy arena . It is worth asking the question why there is such a disconnect between policy related conversations, and implementation of policies.Before developing the narrative further, this writer requests the reader to indulge an interlude of a short take.
It was a relief that the Supreme Court finally ended on Tuesday the long drawn tussle for leadership among rival factions of the Peoples' Democratic Party, by declaring the Senator Ahmed Makarfi faction as legitimate. By this landmark judgement, the apex court ended the slide of the party to irrelevance and self destructive bickering. For the PDP which ruled Nigeria for 16 unbroken years, it was a long night filled with activities of anti heroes, who made fortunes out of the crisis, fifth columnists, infamous judicial verdicts, daring double dealing, and unedifying dramas. For those of us who dread the prospect of one party rule, it is salutary that the PDP now has the leeway to reconstruct a ruined past, and become a genuine alternative to the ruling All Progressive Congress. If there is any lesson to be learnt, it is the folly and futility of power plays gone gaga and costly ego games.It says much of the standards of the political class that a major party had no qualms about staging a war of attrition among its component parts. For now, the PDP has a lot to live down:if it succeeds in getting its acts together, the chances are high that the politics of 2019, will rise above the familiar tale of voting without chosing at election time.    
 To get back to the discourse on higher education, Wale Babalakin made the interesting point that if Vice Chancellors and senior academics spoke truth to power more often, we will be rid of the charade whereby state governors who can barely afford to sustain existing universities defy rationality to set up even more universities for political or primordial reasons . The same pattern of the politicisation of higher education was lamented by prof. Bolanle Awe, who lamented that many of those appointed to university councils by the Federal and state governments are second rate politicians, who know next to nothing about university governance. Still on politicisation, Dr. Tunji Olaopa, Executive Vice Chairman of ISGPP argues that "the most evident problem of higher education in Nigeria, is majorly one of politicising every plank on which development rides". He went on to allude to 'policy irresponsibility that turns the establishment of universities into amenities for political compensation, thus littering the whole space with underfunded universities that government themselves know that are not viable'. Implicated in this dimension of the debate are such issues as the subversion of excellence and merit through Federal Character, the tendency for every state governor to establish a university in their home towns, the over centralisation of education through such bodies as the National University Commission, and of course, the impact of a poorly governed polity with huge infrastructural deficits on the educational system.
Mimiko, after providing a justification for writting his memoirs went on to advance what he called five theses on university governance. These centre around the need to professionalise university administration, to reimagine the running of universities by situating them in a governance paradigm based on excellence, moderating union activism on campus, redressing the persistent underfunding of universities as well as weaving into the policy matrix, the interlinkages between universities and national development. 
It is difficult to systematically discuss the issues in the course of a brief write up; it is nevertheless interesting that using this paradigm, Mimiko like his counterpart at the Olabisi Onabanjo University,Prof.Saburi Adesanya, maintained the calendar for five unbroken years without shutdown. It should be rewarding therefore for policy makers and university administrators to pay attention to his new book and the compelling suggestions that flowed from it at the Ibadan discourse on higher education.

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