The university system in Nigeria is in dire straits. This much was confirmed by the report of the Federal Government on Needs Assessment of Nigerian Public Universities. The report underlines the fact that Nigerian universities have been unable to compete favourably with their counterparts across the globe owing to a combination of infrastructural and manpower challenges.
Apart from the steady decline in the quality of physical infrastructure such as lecture theatres, classrooms, laboratories, hostels and residential quarters for teaching and non-teaching staff, there is also the problem of deficit in lecturer to students radio, shortage of high quality lecturers like professors and doctorate degree holders. The result is that many of our universities now rely on visiting lecturers and have also resorted to inbreeding to shore up the number of lecturers in the system.
This is the unfortunate state of affairs in our universities. But the universities are not isolated in this state of decline. Their condition is a sad reflection of the general decadence in Nigeria. A country which started on a sound educational footing at independence with the establishment of universities that produced well-rounded graduates has seen itself plummet in a number of areas. The rat race in the society has eaten so deep into our social, political and educational fabric that every sector is squirming in discomfort. In the area of education, we abandoned merit for favoritism and nepotism.
We have come to the sorry stage where lecturers are freely compromised by students in the quest for unmerited grades. In a clime where there is a sense of decency and decorum, university teachers will see such a practice as a cankerworm that will destroy the essence of university education in the country. But our corrupt values encourage those who are steeped in it. It is ironical, however, that a country where holders of doctorate degrees are in short supply is still saddled with unemployed Ph.D holders.
Whereas the university system badly needs them, some are said to be roaming the streets in search of job placements. It is therefore little wonder that Nigerians were recently treated to a bizarre story which has it that Ph.D holders applied to be employed as truck drivers in a certain conglomerate. Such a story, whether true or false, is an embarrassment to government and the university system in Nigeria. It is a sad commentary on the level of decadence that the system has suffered.
If the story is true, then it is utterly lamentable. It goes to show that even some of the minds that are supposed to be tutored have lost the essence and value of university education. They are wanting in the area of learning as a requirement for the award of degrees. Such deficiency must have been bred by a system that is standing on its head. If the story was meant to embarrass the government and the university system, it hit the right target because the scenario betrays the sorry state of affairs in the country.
The way out of this quagmire is not to lament the decline. It entails a return to the ethos and mores upon which our society was originally founded. As a people, we know how we stepped unto the wrong arena. To return to the path of sanity, we have to begin to retrace our steps. In the area of higher education, the solution does not lie in setting up hundreds of universities. We should rather equip and fund the existing ones. It makes better sense to have a few well established universities than to have them spring up here and there. Proliferation is part of the problem university education in Nigeria is facing at moment.
The National Universities Commission (NUC) whose responsibility it is to regulate university education should take another look at this and act accordingly. Above all, it has to insist on standards in our universities. But it is even a shame that university administrators who ought to know the right thing to do are waiting to be guided by NUC. This laxity must stop if the rot in our university system will be taken care of.