THE CHANGING ROLES OF THE NATIONAL UNIVERSITIES COMMISSION (NUC)
PROF. PLACID C. NJOKU
PROJECTS & SERVICES
PAPER PRESENTED AT THE 4TH NATIONAL TRAINING PROGRAMME
FOR SENIOR UNIVERSITY MANAGERS (NATPSUMA) ORGANISED
BY THE NATIONAL UNIVERSITIES COMMISSION ABUJA,
10TH DECEMBER 2002
1.1 HISTORICAL DEVELOPMENT OF NUC
“Where there is more than one university in a country, the Government needs advice on the distribution of the limited funds available for higher education… The body which gives advice must have the confidence of the Government on one hand and of the universities on the other. It must have the interests of both at heart: to protect universities at all times from control from outside, and to protect the public against needless duplication or wastage of scarce resources. On all matters relating to universities both sides must be willing to listen to its advice with respect. It must be at the same time a counselor and a watchdog”
“We are strongly of (the) opinion that a body should be set up in Nigeria without delay which will play a vital part in securing money for universities and distributing it to them, in co-ordinating (without interfering with) their activities, and in providing cohesion for the whole system of higher education in Nigeria. …”
“We recommend that a body to be known as the National Universities Commission should be set up by an Act of the Federal Parliament. …”
Eric Ashby Commission Report, 1960
With the above words of foresight, courage and wisdom, the 8-man Commission on Higher Education chaired by Eric Ashby, in 1960 recommended without equivocation the establishment by Government of the National Universities Commission. Ashby and his team had been appointed in 1959 as a Commission “to conduct an investigation into Nigeria’s needs in the field of post-School Certificate and Higher Education over the next twenty years”. In a comprehensive report, the Commission reviewed the status of education at the time of its work (1959-1960). It noted the wide imbalances in western education among the Regions of Nigeria; took cognizance of the very limited opportunities for university education in the country; noted the contribution of the then University College, Ibadan and applauded its quality of programmes as “without reproach” though with insufficient places to match the bourgeoning demand as well as its tilt towards literary studies; and advocated greater diversity and flexibility in university education, if it is to be relevant to the needs of the Nigerian people. The Commission was of course aware of the opportunities provided by the Nigerian Colleges of Arts, Science and Technology in Ibadan, Enugu and Zaria and recommended respectively, their incorporation into the University College, Ibadan and the proposed University of Nigeria, as well as a base for a new university in Zaria.
The Ashby Commission noted the need to expand university places in Nigeria and was aware of the efforts being made to establish a new University of Nigeria at Nsukka. It canvassed that each Region should have a university in addition to the one it recommended to be located in Lagos. In regard to the Regional universities, the Report advocated that the Federal Government should provide them with block grants. In order to facilitate the urgent and orderly development of these universities (including the absorption of the Nigerian Colleges) and to ensure that the grant from Government was received and equitably distributed, the Commission recommended the establishment of the National Universities Commission. Ashby and his Team were cognisant that while Nigerian universities must be relevant to national needs and perspectives, they also must establish international currency for their degrees such that other universities will respect their degrees and be disposed to “opening their doors” to their students and staff. It was to guarantee the development of top quality universities that the Commission stated “of one thing we are convinced that incomparably more distinction and prestige are brought to a country by one strong university than by two weaker ones” and thus saw the need to recommend the establishment of a body that must be “... a counselor and a watchdog” to assure this.
1.2 THE ADMINISTRATIVE NUC (1962 – 1968)
In response to the Ashby Report, the Government of Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa in 1962 set up a 12 – member National Universities Commission (NUC) with Alhaji Muhammadu Tukur (Emir of Yauri) as the first Chairman and Dr. Okoi Arikpo as the first Secretary. Membership was essentially made up of government officials and no university representation was on it. The functions of the Commission were:
i) To inquire into and advise the government on the financial needs both recurrent and capital of university education in Nigeria.
ii) To assist in consultation with the Universities and other bodies concerned in planning the balanced and coordinated development of the universities in order to ensure that they are fully adequate to national needs.
iii) To receive annually a block grant from the federal government and to allocate it to universities with such conditions attached as the commission may think advisable.
iv) To act as an agency for channeling all external aid to the universities throughout the federation.
v) To take into account, in advising the federal government, such grants as may be made to the universities by regional governments, persons and institutions both at home and abroad.
vi) To collate, analyse and publish information relating to universities’ finance and university education both in Nigeria and abroad.
vii) To make, either by itself or through committees, such other investigations relating to higher education as the commission may consider necessary and, for the purpose of such investigations, have access to the records of universities seeking or receiving federal grants.
viii) To make such other recommendations to the federal government or to universities relating to higher education as the commission may consider to be in the national interest.
In practice however, the Commission was located in the Prime Minister’s Office because he was also the Minister responsible for Higher Education at the time. So the Commission was like an administrative department in the Cabinet Office set up to co-ordinate the activities of the universities – Federal and Regional. It constituted a channel for providing block funding to the Federal universities – Ibadan and Lagos. It must be recalled that the period of the establishment coincided with the period for the establishment of the Regional universities in Ile-Ife and Zaria and the attainment of full university status by the University College Ibadan. Later, with the creation of 12 States in 1967, the original ownership structure of some of the Regional universities at Nsukka, Zaria and Ile-Ife changed. Cognisant too, that the Federal Government had taken greater control of the resources of the nation, government had to accept a greater role in the funding of all the universities. This centralization of university funding was a major factor which brought the universities under the aegis of the NUC as the Commission funded programmes and projects approved by it. Also, the Commission became a source for providing external assistance to the universities.
1.3 THE INTERIM NUC (1968 – 1974)
In 1968, the membership of the Commission was reconstituted with Chief F. R. Williams (SAN) as Chairman. The new Commission included in its membership representation from the academic community and the private sector. The functions of the new Commission did not change markedly but it operated mainly in the period when States had replaced the Regions. At this time too (1972), the Mid-West Institute of Technology was converted to the University of Benin.
The Interim NUC has been credited with preparing the grounds for the Statutory NUC, having articulated the functions and exposed them to extensive discussion before final approval by the Supreme Military Council and the eventual promulgation of the National Universities Commission Decree No 1 of 1974 as the principal act of the Commission. It must also be stated that during the Interim NUC, the Commission had some difficulties with some of the Regional universities as the States where the universities were located tried to wield undue influence in the running of the universities. However, by 1971 and 1975, the Universities of Nigeria and Benin respectively, were handed over to the Federal Government due to the seeming inability of the owner States to adequately fund the institutions.
1.4 THE STATUTORY NUC
The Statutory NUC was established subsequent to the promulgation of National Universities Commission Decree N0. 1 in 1974. The first Commission (as the Board is known) of the statutory NUC was constituted with Chief Samuel O. Adebo as the Chairman of the 19-member Board and Professor (then Dr.) Jibril Aminu as the first Executive Secretary. Since then NUC has had 7 other Commissions. The 8th Commission, appointed recently with Alhaji (Dr.) Maitama Sule (Dan Masanin Kano) as Chairman and Professor Peter Okebukola as Executive Secretary, is co-incidentally scheduled to have its first business meeting later this week.
It must be appreciated that the period 1974 to date, has witnessed the centralization of university education in the country with the acquisition by the Federal Government of the then existing regional universities and the creation of seven more (2nd Generation) universities in 1975 distributed evenly across the country. The centralization and expansion reached its peak in the second Republic, 1979 – 83, with the creation of a federal university in each of the 19 States of the Federation. This development brought numerous problems and the NUC had to contend with developmental issues, which bordered on the astronomical expansion in number of the Universities over a short span of time and the effect of this on the quality of the products of the system.
In 1984, all existing private Universities were abolished and the establishment of new ones was prohibited. Subsequently, the Education (National Minimum Standards and Establishment of Institutions) Decree 16 of 1985, which empowers the NUC to lay down and enforce minimum standards for all academic programmes offered in Nigerian Universities came into being.
To meet the national manpower needs of the country, the then Federal Military Government on January, 1, 1988 established the two Universities of Agriculture at Makurdi, (Benue State) and Abeokuta, (Ogun State) and later a third at Umudike (Abia State) in 1993. Government promulgated Decree 48 of 1992 to legalize them. The philosophy of the universities (of agriculture) was to integrate teaching, research and extension responsibilities of universities into a balanced programme of production – oriented training, practical adaptive research and active involvement in agricultural extension to serve all ecological zones of the country.
In 1993, NUC had to accept an additional responsibility in regard to the proper development of private universities with the promulgation of Education (National Minimum Standards and Establishment of Institutions) (Amendment) Decree No. 9, which enabled not only Federal and State Governments but also individuals and corporate bodies to establish and run private Universities, subject to satisfying laid down guidelines. Since then, the number of State and Private Universities has continued to increase. So far there are 26 federal universities, including the Military University, Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA) Kaduna, and the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN), 19 state universities and seven private universities, bringing the total number of existing Universities in the country to 52.
The functions of the Commission have therefore derived from the principal act, Decree No. 1 of 1974 as well as the subsequent amendments and are currently as follows:
a) to advise the Head of the Federal Military Government, through the Commissioner, on the creation of new universities and other degree granting institutions in Nigeria;
b) to prepare, after consultation with all the State Governments, the universities, the National Manpower Board and such other bodies as it considers appropriate, periodic master plans for the balanced and coordinated development of universities in Nigeria and such plans shall include:-
(i) the general programmes to be pursued by the universities in order to ensure that they are fully adequate to national needs and objectives,
(ii) recommendations for the establishment and location of new universities as and when considered necessary, and
(iii) recommendations for the establishment of new faculties of post-graduate institutions in existing universities or the approval or disapproval of proposals to establish such faculties or institutions;
c) to make such other investigations relating to higher education that the Commission may consider necessary in the national interest;
d) to make such other recommendations to the Federal Military Government and State Governments or to the universities relating to higher education as the Commission may consider to be in the national interest;
e) to inquire into and advise the Federal Military Government on the financial needs, both recurrent and capital, of university education in Nigeria and, in particular, to investigate and study the financial needs of university research and to ensure that adequate provision is made for this in the universities;
f) to receive block grants from the Federal Military Government and allocate them to universities in accordance with such formula as may be laid down by the Federal Executive Council;
g) to take into account, in advising the Federal Military Government on university finances, such grants as may be made to the universities by State Governments and by persons and institutions in and outside Nigeria;
h) to collate, analyse and publish information relating to university education in Nigeria and from other sources where such information is relevant to the discharge of its functions under this Decree;
i) to undertake periodic reviews of the terms and conditions of service of personnel engaged in the universities and to make recommendations thereon to the Federal Military Government where appropriate;
j) to recommend to the visitor of a university that a visitation be made to such university as and when it considers it necessary;
k) to act as the agency for channeling all external aid to the universities in Nigeria;
l) to carry out such other activities as are conducive to the discharge of its functions under this Decree; and
m) to lay down minimum academic standards for all universities in the Federation and to accredit their degrees and other academic awards after obtaining prior approval therefrom through the Minister from the President, provided that the accreditation of degrees and other academic awards shall be in accordance with such guidelines as may be laid down and approved by the Commission from time to time.
2.0 ADMINISTRATIVE AND LEGAL INSTRUMENTS OF THE NUC
The Commission has been moderated in its functions by specific administrative and legal instruments. These include:
a) The administrative instrument setting up the Administrative NUC sequel to the Ashby Report on Higher Education. The instrument derived from the Report and prescribed the functions earlier indicated.
b) National Universities Commission Decree No. 1 of 1974 – the Principal Act of the Commission, which defines the exhaustive functions of the Commission as, also listed earlier.
c) Private Universities Abolition and Prohibition Decree No. 19 of 1984, which abolished and closed down all existing private universities prior to the Decree and prohibited the further establishment of private universities by individuals and corporate groups and organizations.
d) Education (National Minimum Standard and Establishment of Institutions) Decree No.16 of 1985. This law gave the NUC the additional responsibility to lay down minimum academic standards for all programmes taught in all Nigerian universities. This is an exclusive constitutional Federal responsibility to set and monitor standards of education in Nigeria. By this law therefore NUC is designated to act on behalf of the Federal Government for the university sector.
e) National Universities Commission (Amendment) Decree No. 49 of 1988. This Decree expanded the membership of the Commission by including seven new academic disciplines and made provision for the inclusion of representation for some restructured ministries.
f) Universities of Agriculture Decree No. 48 of 1992. This Decree set up the three universities of agriculture at Abeokuta, Makurdi and Umudike and invested their supervision on the Federal Ministry of Agriculture rather than the Ministry of Education and the National Universities Commission. The Decree also made provision for the setting up of the Agricultural Universities Co-ordinating Agency (AUCA), a body similar in concept to the NUC.
g) Education Tax Decree No. 7 of 1993. This Decree set up the Education Tax Fund, a body established to administer through a Board of Trustees the funds generated from 2% tax on all assessed profit of all Nigerian registered Companies. 50% of the fund was designated for higher education, 10% for secondary education and 40% for primary education. The funds appropriated to higher education were stipulated to be distributed in the ratio of 2:1:1 for universities, polytechnics and colleges of education, respectively. These funds have been critical to the development of infrastructure in the universities.
h) Education (National Minimum Standards and Establishment of Institutions) (Amendment) Decree No. 9 of 1993. This Decree repealed the Private Universities (Abolition and Prohibition) Decree No. 19 of 1984. It also defined criteria for the establishment of private institutions of higher education. The NUC was assigned the responsibility of processing and recommending to government the approval of private universities.
i) National Universities Commission (Amendment) Decree No. 10 of 1993. This Decree reconstituted the membership of the Commission from the original provision in the principal act, reducing the number from 33 to 21.
j) Universities (Miscellaneous Provisions) Decree No. 11 of 1993. This Decree of universal application to all Federal universities harmonized major provisions in all laws of such universities. Provision was made for the composition of Councils, tenure and procedures for the appointment of the Vice-Chancellor, and other principal officers, the extension of the age of retirement of academic to 65 years and the retention of terminal by professors of at least 15 years standing.
k) Universities (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Amendment) Decree No. 25 of 1996. The Decree repealed the Universities Provisions) (Amendment) Decree No. 55 of 1993 and amended Decree 11 of 1993 providing instead for an amendment in the procedure for the appointment of Vice-Chancellors and stipulating a single-term for Vice-Chancellors.
l) The Administrative Instrument transferring the Universities of Agriculture to the supervision of the Federal Ministry of Education and the National Universities Commission. This decision is in line with the recommendation of the Gray Longe Commission on the Review of Higher Education in Nigeria (1990-1991). While the decision has in practice been effected, the original act, Decree 48 of 1992 is yet to be repealed.
The university sector has for certainty been exposed to substantial buffeting by the several laws that have been churned out to harmonise its operations. In the same wise too the National Universities commission has had to adjust to the several laws ensuring like the ‘traffic warden’ that the rules of the game are kept while universities kept the freedom to define which routes and speeds to adopt.
In summary therefore, NUC at inception was essentially advisory to Government on the financial needs of the Universities and to ensure a balanced and coordinated development of University education in Nigeria. These functions were later expanded from 1974, when NUC became a statutory body. Such responsibilities as the collation, analyses and storage of data from Universities for advising government on planning and establishing new public universities, establishing new faculties or post-graduate schools in existing Universities, preparing periodic master plan for the balanced development of the Universities, establishment of academic standards and the enforcement of such standards, advising on the establishment of private universities and the setting up of visitation panels to Universities, etc. were included in the new mandate of the NUC.
3.0 STRUCTURE OF NUC
In the effort to perform the mandates ascribed to the Commission, NUC has maintained a slim structure and hired personnel only to ensure efficient performance of its functions. In recent times the Commission reviewed its structure in response to the decision of Government to grant greater autonomy to universities. In the exercise, the Departments in the Commission (excluding the Executive Secretary’s Office) were reduced from seven to five. The exercise recognised the fact that with autonomy, certain activities and functions would be yielded to the universities, thus the need to eliminate or shrink the structure that provided for such activities.
The Departments of the new NUC are:
a) The Executive Secretary’s Office;
b) Department of Information and Communications Technology;
c) Department of Academic Planning and Research;
d) Deportment of Finance and Administration;
e) Department of Physical Planning and Development; and
f) Department of Special Projects and Services
Each of the Department has a compact set of mandates, all geared to providing for and supporting the Nigerian university system.
4.0 ACTIVITIES OF THE NATIONAL UNIVERSITIES COMMISSION
In an attempt to realize the aforementioned targets set for the NUC, the NUC carries out the following activities:
4.1 APPROVAL OF NEW ACADEMIC PROGRAMMES
Following requests from the universities for the initiation of new academic programmes, NUC inspects and certifies that all laid down requirements are met in terms of human and material resources for the take-off of new academic programmes. The exercise also defines the student capacity of the programme and is used by the Commission to determine funding needs of the approved programmes. However, in the recent past, most Universities have increased their intakes far beyond the carrying capacity of the available resources. This has often led to the perceived degradation of quality of programmes and ultimately graduates.
In the same vein, many Universities started satellite campuses to generate funds rather than to deliver qualitative education. To ensure that university education in Nigeria is not mortgaged to financial interests, the NUC was challenged by Government to close down all the satellite campuses and unapproved study centers. This, the Commission did with the support of many stakeholders, though information available indicates that many Universities are still running these programmes clandestinely.
4.2 QUALITY ASSURANCE
With the promulgation of Decree 16 of 1985, NUC was empowered to lay down minimum academic standards and to accredit all degree programmes in all Nigeria universities. Pursuant to this, NUC in collaboration with experts from the universities and professional bodies produced minimum academic standards for all programmes taught in Nigerian universities. These have subsequently been used for the accreditation of these programmes in 1990, 1999 and 2002.
In recent times, there have been calls to allow Senates of universities to determine the standards of the programmes they offer and/or to allow professional bodies to conduct accreditation. While these are plausible suggestions, it must be realized that basically the constitutional responsibility to define and ensure educational standards belongs to the Federal Government. Government, through Decree No. 16 has delegated the responsibility to NUC, who must act on behalf of the Federal Government. The NUC is cognizant of the academic nature of the exercise and consequently works with the Universities and professional bodies to define the standards and conduct accreditation. Furthermore, in the light of the impending enhanced autonomy, NUC has accepted to work with experts from the universities and professional bodies to define benchmark statements for each programme. It is expected that these statements will be crucial measures of quality of academic programmes in Nigerian Universities. It is however important to understand the fact that, in order to effectively use the bench mark statement, there must be clear and unambiguously measurable indices which can consistently be applied by experts in these groups across similar programmes in all universities. In the final analysis, the NUC must coalesce its accreditation exercises with those of professional bodies such as the Nigerian Medical Council (NMDC), Council of Registered Engineers of Nigeria (COREN), Nigerian Institute of Quantity Surveyors (NIQS), etc. This will ensure that both the academic and professional evaluation of programmes can be achieved together in order to avoid any disparity in results.
4.3 EXTERNAL GRANTS TO UNIVERSITIES
NUC has done very well in facilitating donor assistance to the Universities. To ensure concurrence with national interest, NUC is designated as the channel for (i) Training Awards (ii) Short term and long-term projects (iii) Collaborative projects.
In the case of training awards, offers of training awards are channeled through the NUC.
As for short term and long-term projects, NUC essentially serves as a “Clearing House” for collaboration with development partners and governments. Some examples of development partners that have funded projects in Nigerian universities include the Ford Foundation, Mac Arthur Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, Winrock International, United States Agency for International Development and British Council/DFID.
On collaborative projects, the Commission facilitates linkages between Nigerian Universities and foreign Universities in the areas of research and exchange of scholars. NUC also processes proposals for such projects through the National Planning Commission for approval and also executes a programme of nationally co-ordinated research projects. In a case like the projects supported by the European Union (EU) under Lome III agreement, NUC collates all project proposals from all Nigerian Universities and ensures they receive due consideration by the appropriate national and international funding agencies.
4.4 ADVICE ON ESTABLISHMENT OF NEW UNIVERSITIES
One of the roles of NUC is to advice the government on the establishment of new Universities in the country. While NUC was not consulted over the establishment of some universities, the Commission organized workshops preparatory to the establishment of specialized Universities of Technology in 1980 and Universities of Agriculture in 1988.
As for State Universities, NUC expects State Governments to enact specific laws to establish the universities and to seek clarification and guidance from the Commission in respect of the development of academic programmes. The NUC then ensures that the minimum standards of academic quality are maintained. Furthermore, the Commission is represented on the Governing Councils of most State Universities.
Concerning private Universities, the NUC has a statutory responsibility to receive and process applications to ensure that the requisite guidelines for their establishment are met. To ensure that there is consistency and thoroughness in processing the requests, the Commission has a Special Committee of Management that receives and evaluates them and when satisfied recommends them to the Management of NUC for its consideration and final recommendation to Government through the Honourable Minister of Education. While 89 application forms have been collected and 49 returned by prospective proprietors, only seven have met the defined requirement and have been licensed by Government.
4.5 ADVISE ON VISITATION TO UNIVERSITIES
The National Universities Commission in executing this function, advises the Visitor to the Federal Universities to Institute visitations to Federal Universities when due. Such visitations have been undertaken in 1986, 1990 and 1999.
4.6 ANALYSIS AND PUBLICATION OF INFORMATION ON NIGERIAN UNIVERSITIES
Data on Universities’ enrolment, staffing and funding are collated processed and published by the NUC on annual basis. Such data are updated as more universities and programmes are established. These are done for effective planning of Universities, to advise government and to provide credible and consistent data for the information of stakeholders and the international community. For this purpose, a database on University education has been created by the NUC in the Department of Data Management and various publications are generated annually from this source. These include:
· Statistical Information on Nigerian Universities
· NUC Secretariat Statistical Information
· Library Bulletin: Nigerian University Library System
· NUC Annual Report
· Research Bulletin: Federal Universities’ Allocation
· Releases and Utilization of Research Grants
· Convocation Speeches
· Approved Minimum Academic Standards (MAS)
· Inaugural Lectures
4.7 SETTING UP OF Ad-Hoc COMMITTEES TO LOOK INTO UNIVERSITY EDUCATION MATTERS
The National Universities Commission sets up Ad-Hoc Committees to look into issues affecting university education that are of national interest. Some of such committees include the Ad-Hoc Committee on Non-Salary Conditions of service of University Staff (1990), Committee for the Review of Relevant Funding Parameter for Federally funded Universities and Inter-University Centres (1989 and 1995),
4.8 BUDGETING FOR FEDERAL UNIVERSITIES
National Universities Commission is responsible for articulating the budget of Federal Universities. In this regard the Commission works hard to determine the financial needs of the Universities, which it has consistently presented to and defended with government. Prior to the advent of the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP), Nigerian federal universities were relatively well funded by government. Since SAP however, there has been a significant down turn in the real value of funds allocated and released to Nigerian Universities.
However, the NUC after the 1991 accreditation exercise reviewed the cost implications of what was needed to remedy the deficiencies that were evident from the exercise and used these as basis to advice government on the funding needs at the time of Nigerian Universities. In response to this submission by NUC, which clearly showed the extent of the deficiencies between what Government approved as the minimum acceptable standards in the universities and what in fact was the actual situation in the universities, government increased the recurrent funding to Federal Universities from N855 million in 1992 to N2.25 billion in 1993. Subsequently, government has struggled to fund universities through the annual Appropriation Acts as well as from some special funding sources. Significant among the other sources utilized by government to fund universities include:
(i) The Education Tax Fund (ETF) following Decree No. 7 of 1993;
(ii) The Stabilization Fund in 1993 instituted sequel to the 1992 agreement with the university trade unions; and
(iii) The World Bank Sector Credit of USD 120 million for Federal Universities.
In the circumstance of limited funding from government sources, universities are challenged to generate more funds from internal sources. The National Universities Commission will continue to work to enhance their funding.
4.9 CO-ORDINATION OF STUDENTS INDUSTRIAL WORK EXPERIENCE SCHEME (SIWES)
The National Universities Commission in collaboration with the Industrial Training Fund (ITF) coordinates SIWES programmes in the Universities. NUC has ensured that all Nigerian universities have SIWES Units to organise the designation of students on the programme and approval of new SIWES programmes as well as drawing up of job specification for forty-six (46) approved programmes qualified for SIWES. This has helped to ensure standardization of students’ job placement and assessments during the industrial attachment period.
4.10 MANAGEMENT INFORMATION SYSTEM (MIS)
In its effort to facilitate the efficient management of universities, NUC established the Management Information System to:
a) collate, store, secure, analyse and disseminate information on universities and NUC;
b) ensure that data in the university are used as concrete basis for taking management decisions;
c) ensure that universities can respond quickly to the need for records;
d) facilitate exchange of data among universities; and
e) provide for the NUC quick and reliable data for advising government on issues related to universities.
The facility, which was essentially developed by experts from the Nigerian university system, has provided a backbone for the efficient collection, collation and analysis of university data. The project has produced a software, NUMIS, which has been recommended to universities for adoption to ensure a common base for data handling in Nigerian universities. Records on students, staff and finances have been the primary data expected to be captured using the software. At full development and adoption by universities, NUMIS would have been migrated to an Oracle platform and have the capacity to be a major input by the Nigerian university system to the world information order.
4.11 NIGERIAN UNIVERSITIES NETWORK (NUNET}
The National Universities Commission has promoted the development of the Nigerian Universities Network (NUNET) as a facility to enhance the adoption of the computerized electronic system in the conduct of local, national and international business by members of the university community. This project, with its hub in NUC, provides electronic mail facility for all federal universities and inter-university centers. At full development, the project envisages the local area networking (LAN) of all universities and NUC as well as wide area networking (WAN) to enable the members of the university community have access to the world wide web.
4.12 THE VIRTUAL LIBRARY
Following the 1999/2000-accreditation exercise, it was obvious that Nigerian universities had a serious dearth in stock sizes and currency of books and journals in their libraries. “Poor quality library resources have depressed the quality of teaching and research. Out-dated library books and journals beget lecture notes with stale contents. Research is hampered by lack of awareness of current state of knowledge in the field and the use of (up)dated research paradigms and methodologies” (Okebukola, 2002). In an ingenious effort to resolve this problem, NUC is promoting, on behalf of government, the development of a National Virtual Library with the objectives:
a) To fulfill the concepts of universal availability of publications through resource sharing ;
b) To make libraries and information centers effective for national planning and development;
c) To avail the nation access to global information; and
d) To provide information for national development.
The project, which is at an early stage of development, is expected to be realised in phases with the pilot phase involving 11 universities expected to take off soon. With adequate funding, it is expected that all universities will have access before the end of 2004.
5.0 NATIONAL UNIVERSITIES COMMISSION AND UNIVERSITY AUTONOMY
In recent times, at the instance of University unions, government is actively canvassing the adoption of enhanced autonomy in Nigerian Universities. According to Okebukola (2002) “university autonomy as envisaged by Government is a shift in the locus of certain aspects of control and decision making from Government and its agencies to the university campus – notably Governing Council, Senate and Management. Autonomy will thus involve the granting of Academic, Administrative and Financial “Freedom” to all Federal Universities under the general policy guidelines of government. Universities would thus be free to appoint all staff (Principal Officers, academic and non academic), determine their conditions of service including wage structure and allocate funds to various units of the institution”.
In a clear indication of its desire to promote the principle of enhanced autonomy, Government has sent three Executive Bills to the National Assembly. These Bills are:
a) The Universities Miscellaneous Provisions Bill, 2002
b) The National Universities Commission (Amendment) Bill 2002,
c) The Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (Amendment) Bill 2002.
Without doubt, the final outcome of the deliberations at the National Assembly and the eventual enactment will affect the mandates and operational modalities of the NUC. In deference to the rule of law, NUC has the competence and sensitivity to respond appropriately.
As the Bills go through the normal mill at the National Assembly, it is important to note here the three main shifts that have been suggested in the NUC Amendment Bill. These are that NUC will relinquish responsibilities
a) of serving as a channel for external grants to Universities
b) in the establishment of academic programmes in Universities; and
c) in staff welfare matters like staff salaries and condition of service, etc. Consequent upon this, Universities will now have capacity to moderate their reward systems, welfare of their staff and students as well as develop centres of excellence.
In its submission at the Public Hearings organised by the Senate and House of Representatives, NUC called attention to the fact while it was prepared to play only those roles legally assigned to it but called for caution in the removal of two of the three provisions in its Principal Act. NUC had noted that despite the fact that universities had eminently constituted Senates, many of them acquiesced the establishment of satellite campuses and rubber-stamped the valueless training going on in them by awarding the same certificates to students from such programmes as they awarded to students from their regular programmes. When NUC stood up to stop the inglorious practice, some university administrators and senates did in fact oppose it, finding an excuse in the need to generate funds.
Also, universities have had the latitude to source external grants. From experience however, it must be acknowledged that some universities have not been very sensitive to issues of national interest, and sometimes security, in accepting grants from donors and in critically reviewing the conditions under which such grants are given. It is for these purposes that NUC is relevant in these provisions to ensure that certificates from Nigerian universities have the value they portend, and that grants from external sources are thoroughly reviewed to ensure that actually add value to the Nigerian university system.
6.0 NUC OF THE FUTURE
The National Universities Commission has distinguished itself since inception in performing the roles that have been assigned to it. The Commission has also been sensitive to the developments in the global education environment and has had the courage to introduce these in the performance of its responsibilities as well as introduce futuristic measures. As the higher education environment changes, the Commission has a responsibility to its stakeholders to respond in kind to such changes. It is in this light therefore that I intend to call further attention to areas of:
6.1 QUALITY ASSURANCE
Nigerian universities have made an important head-start, with the coordination of NUC, in the definition of Minimum Academic Standards for all programmes taught in Nigeria universities and in conducting accreditation of such programmes in 1990 and in 1999/2000. Following the 1999/2000 accreditation, the NUC for the first time produced an academic quality ranking of programmes in the universities. Recently too, NUC has been promoting efforts to produce benchmark statements for the conduct of subsequent accreditation exercises.
It is without doubt that quality assurance is an important factor that can enhance or derange the credibility of employers and other universities across the globe on the certificates and graduates of our universities. NUC must therefore continue to fine tune procedures for conducting accreditation exercises. The Commission must incorporate other relevant factors in its assessment. Issues like employers assessment, assessment from post-graduate schools to which the graduates enroll for higher degrees, influence on local community, relation with industry, proportion of the graduates of a university that gain employment in their areas of training as well as length of time post graduation before employment, can add credibility to the quality assessments conducted in our universities.
It is important that the results of the exercise should be used to guide government in the provision of resources to the universities. Also, programmes that do not meet the expected levels of quality should be appropriately rationalized. NUC has the power to enforce this and its enforcement will ginger universities to work hard to ensure qualitative programmes as well as reduce the penchant to start new programmes for which appropriate resources are hardly available.
6.2 COMPETITIVE FUNDING OF UNIVERSITY PROGRAMMES/ACTIVITIES
Universities in Nigeria are principally funded by government. Indications are in fact that Government provides over 90% of the funds utilized by universities. As a consequence therefore, many universities coast and wait on government to continue to provide funds. The time is certainly here when universities must justify the resources that they receive. NUC must therefore challenge universities to diversify funding sources. NUC on its part should consider, in the light of impending enhanced autonomy and the provision for universities to initiate academic programmes without reference to the Commission, to review the modalities for generating the funding needs of a university and to base such on the quality and competence of programmes. Funding should therefore be guided by the competitive edge that each university programme is able to demonstrate and not by size of student population, not by quota and certainly not by sentiments. The more the competitive spirit the NUC can inculcate into the system, the more efficient the use of available resources will be.
6.4 PROMOTION OF THE ESTABLISHMENT OF MORE PRIVATE UNIVERSITIES
Of the current 52 universities in Nigeria, 44 are public universities established by the Federal and State governments. Consequently, after nine years since the promulgation of the enabling law, Decree No. 9 of 1993, only seven (7) Private universities have been established in Nigeria.
This is far from ideal cognizant that the current universities can admit only about 30% of qualified applicants or only about 12% of applicants to JAMB each year. In order to reduce the need for government to establish new universities, to enhance places for desirous and qualified applicants and cognisant of the recommendation of the Harmonised Reports of the Etsu Nupe and Vision 2010 Committees, private universities in particular should be established “to inject a sense of competition” into the university system.
NUC will do well in the future to double its efforts in promoting and guiding prospective proprietors to establish private universities. NUC should also drive for a review of some very limiting provisions in the enabling law, such as the requirement for 100 hactares of land, for non-agricultural universities.
6.4 PROMOTION OF INTERFACING OF UNIVERSITY CURRICULA WITH
6.5 COORDINATION OF DEVELOPMENT GRANTS
The National Universities Commission has done quite well with attracting support from international donors. This was a lot more so before the international community blacklisted the country for a number of ‘sins’. With the return to democratic rule, many governments and development partners are again available to provide support for veritable projects and programmes in the universities.
For the sustenance of national interest and to facilitate the establishment of a data base on support received by Nigerian universities and experts, NUC must be given the responsibility to co-ordinate such external grants. Consequently, while the universities shall not be restricted from sourcing grants, such successful efforts should be duly reported to NUC for clearance and documentation.
6.6 FURTHER INCULTURATION OF ICT IN THE UNIVERSITY SYSTEM
Information and communications technology is so important in the knowledge age as the most expedient form for accessing essential information. NUC needs to extend its involvement in providing Nigerian universities with the right platform to access and utilize ICT. In doing this, the Commission needs to ensure a dual directional pathway where the university community can receive and make input into the system. The NUNET and National Virtual Library projects shall be promoted to full development to provide the most comprehensive access to every member of the university community. In like manner, the MIS project shall be pursued to full realization to facilitate management and to provide important information on Nigerian universities to the international community
“In Nigeria our quest for institutional autonomy and academic freedom seems to be governed largely by the freedom to pursue our multidirectional and individualistic endeavours without let or hindrance and often without thought and consideration for the corporate health and progress of the Institution” Akinkugbe (2000).
The National Universities Commission must truly be visualized, as suggested by Professor Jibril Aminu, as a traffic warden with competence to direct any or the many cars that must pass the intersection, appropriately guiding them to relate but keep their distances/autonomy. The traffic warden will invariably have greater work to play in relation to the number of turns at the intersection and the number of cars approaching at the same time. Sometimes, the traffic warden performs with éclat while maintaining a firmness of purpose.
The NUC must do more than a post office or a traffic warden. It must be interested in the corporate health of the system that it guides. It must understand the system; it must be sensitive to the needs of the system and it must add value to the system. The Commission as constituted is responsive to the needs of the system, and has competence to effectively guide the system as the component universities maneuver for niches of destiny in the lives of those who patronize them, those they must prepare for challenges in a world driven by knowledge.
I thank you for your kind attention.
Akinkugbe, O. O. (2000). Autonomy, Responsibility and University Governance in Nigeria. Paper presented at the Orientation Workshop for New University Governing Councils, Hilton, Abuja 08 May 2002.
Ashby Commission Report (1960). Investment in Education.
Education (National Minimum Standards and Establishment of Institutions) Decree No. 16, 1985.
NUC, 1992. NUC at 30. “Agriculture 1962 – 1992: The Concept of Agricultural training in Nigerian Universities”. Pp 70-89. NUC, Abuja
National Universities Commission Decree No. 1, 1974.
National Universities Commission (Amendment) Decree No. 49, 1988.
NUC Executive Secretary’s Monday Memo of October 14, 2002.
Okebukola, p. (2002). The State of University Education in Nigeria. Report presented at the National Summit on Higher Education, organized by the Federal Ministry of Education, held at the ECOWAS Secretariat, Abuja 10 – 16, March 2002.
Kadiri, A. U., ed., 1987. 25 years of Centralised University Education in Nigeria. NUC, Abuja.