Tope Adeboboye

A Nigerian scholar in the United States has dissected the perpetual rot in the Nigerian university system, describing the trend as a reflection of the decadence plaguing the nation. 

In his words, a dysfunctional economic and socio-political system would only produce a dysfunctional university system.

Professor Folarin Oguntoyinbo of the Department of Chemistry and Fermentation Sciences, Appalachian State University, Boone, North Carolina, identified a number of challenges afflicting the university system in Nigeria.

“The first one is lazy government policies. It seems the Nigerian government is not very interested in university education. Second is corruption, both policy and financial – for instance, starting a university without thinking of standards and funding. Third is the monumental mismanagement of the highest proportion. There is also the lack of interest by the stakeholders, especially the elite class. The last one is the reward system. Our universities in Nigeria cannot retain the best of Nigerians, not to talk of foreigners. No university in Nigeria can hire first-class professors from around the world.”

Oguntoyinbo was special guest at a recent edition of ‘Journey Thus Far,’ an online interactive programme of the Christ’s School Ado-Ekiti Alumni Association, Class of 87. At the interactive session, Oguntoyinbo responded to questions from a number of participants.

Some other scholars and experts in different fields, including Dr Bolarinwa Balogun of the African Regional Centre for Space Science and Technology Education, at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Morakinyo Bayode, an architect and Head of Reinvestment at Optivo, London, United Kingdom, Akin Elegbe, Joe Adeleye, Ope Obafemi, Korede Oni, a pharmacist, Dapo Akinwunmi, Abbey Ajayi, CEO, Optimum Homes, London, Taiwo Adedoja, a security consultant, Samson Olujobi Bamidele, Olumide Olaborede and a number of other quality professionals in Nigeria, Europe and the United States also participated in the engaging interaction.

Professor Oguntoyinbo joined the Appalachian State University in 2018 after teaching for 19 years at the Department of Microbiology, University of Lagos (UNILAG). The 48-year-old academic listed some conditions that must be met by all stakeholders for the university system to experience some positive turnaround.

Expatiating on some points earlier raised by Obafemi, Oguntoyinbo explained that government must set a new national educational policy that is clear and developmental in line with what other countries are doing. This, he noted, include funding plans. “Also, let the universities manage their affairs. Let them have the power to hire and fire as well as negotiate independent salaries for academic staff and non-academic staff. Let the universities have new standards and focus on few courses where they have strength.

“The universities must be opened up to best practices where professors are continuously evaluated by peers, students and challenged with problems. A professor that is not solving problem is a fraud. Such people don’t have business in the universities. Professors must be very well remunerated. Their salaries should be comparable to those being paid in other countries like South Africa. This will attract top-rated professors back to our universities.

“And also, parents and students must become strong stakeholders. There must be student loans, scholarships, grants and top class fellowships to bring international scholars to our universities to solve problems.”

Oguntoyinbo explained why many scholars are leaving Nigeria for American universities. “It’s a better rewarding university system here, a good place for excellent teaching and research too. Here students are the kings, because they are stakeholders. They pay tuition, so they can ask questions. They also evaluate the faculty too. So you must be on top of your game. Also, the university is always ready to support and provide for what you need to teach excellently as well as do to class research.”

He noted that to have an effective, top-rate university system, the Federal Government must desist from running universities. “The Federal Government cannot fund and run universities effectively,” he posited.

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Responding to a question on the standard of private universities in the country, Oguntoyinbo said Nigerians must not be carried away by the physical aesthetics of buildings or the number of first-class graduates being churned out by those institutions.

“What constitutes a good university is the quality of professors and not the buildings or number of first-class graduates. Some private universities are not doing badly. The problem with the private universities is staff. They can’t pay top class professors because of the limited resources they have. Public universities are still the best if you look at it from the fact that they have different departments and can retain some top professors,” he said.

Many have pooh-poohed members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) for embarking on a strike at a time the world, including Nigeria, is being pillaged by the Coronavirus. Dr Bola Balogun also sought to know Oguntoyinbo’s views on the issue.

Hear the professor: “Strikes are not bad, but I’m totally not in support of irresponsible strikes. I was a strong member of ASUU in UNILAG. ASUU is also a reflection of our dysfunctional system and I blame the government for its lack of policy and framework. Historically, ASUU is a product of the struggle against the military regime. After over 20 years of democracy, Nigerian government can’t come up with a truthful policy to have a functional university system, hence the rascality and insensitivity of ASUU. My alternative solution is for the government to stop playing politics with the university system. Government should tell Nigerians that it couldn’t fund the universities. Let the universities enjoy full autonomy and get grants for projects of national importance. Students and parents must become stakeholders too. Nigeria can’t run a tuition-free university. That’s the truth.”

Some have lamented that professors in Nigeria hardly have any inventions to their names. But the prof has an explanation for that.

“Nigeria lost her best brains a long time ago due to the very bad conditions of service, reward, and remuneration. Very few inventions can be made in a poorly funded university where salaries are not competitive, not commensurate to people’s skills and experience. As it is today, Nigerian professors are poorly funded and rewarded, so Nigerian universities are like glorified secondary schools with very poor infrastructure, facilities and equipment to do state of the art research. Some few professors make efforts to attract international grants to support their research, but many of them still face challenges of laboratory space, electricity and water problem.

“When I was in UNILAG, I had grants and equipment from the International Foundation for Science, Alexander von Humboldt and Society for Applied Microbiology. But all my efforts amounted to nothing due to lack of laboratory space, electricity and poor support system for research by the university. In fact, when you visit some of our universities, many of the facilities are totally dilapidated and too old for modern-day research. In this climate of gross underdevelopment, what you get is mediocrity. Therefore, many professors just get the title and turn their attention to campus and outside politics, because you are better rewarded as a campus politician than a researcher.

“Now, most universities produce poorly educated professors that cannot get any significant recognition beyond their local schools. Some can’t even understand current trends in their discipline, not to talk of making an impact on the global stage.

“Right now, there is COVID 19, yet ASUU is on strike. If you check PUBMED, a repository of medical academic journals, you can’t see an article published from any Nigerian university. This tells you that no sensible research is going on in Nigeria. That people say a professor of Mechanical Engineering can’t fix their car is to further ridicule a typical Nigerian professor. Ideally, fixing a car is too simple a problem for a professor. A Professor of Engineering should be solving more challenging national and international problems centred around new theories, mechanisms, innovations, and principles of engineering.”

He also adduced reasons for the continued fall in the quality of university teachers and their products. Hear him: “The rot in Nigerian universities is humongous! Many Nigerian professors are doing excellently well in different countries. Here in the US, professors from Nigeria are making very big impacts in teaching and research. There is no need to reinvent the wheel. Nigerian government should first answer fundamental questions of what type of university the country wants. Is it only teaching schools or teaching and research universities? What is the best model of funding that can support a modern-day university in Nigeria? What is the worth and quality of a Nigerian professor? Who should be made a professor? What is the minimum and benchmark that a professor must achieve annually? Why should a professor get paid without making an impact in teaching and research? Why is the university council made up of politicians without requisite experience about university management?  Why is the position of vice chancellor that of a political appointee and not on merit that can lead to the production of primus inter pares? If the government can answer these questions sincerely, then we shall start to make good progress.”

He also explained why the impact of the many first-class graduates being churned out by the universities annually is hardly felt in the society. His words: “The advent of proliferation of poorly regulated private universities led to the mass production of first-class graduates. These universities are in business, so they are fraudulently using mass production of first class to attract their customers. Who are the teachers of these graduates? A poorly educated teacher will also produce a poorly educated graduate and award first class. This trend portends another great danger for the university system and the country at large. In the future there will be too many first class graduates that will be highly deficient in the knowledge of their discipline with a lack of problem-solving skills.”

He also analysed the claims by some Nigerian professors that they had antidotes to Covid 19. Oguntoyinbo urged such professors to do the needful by publishing articles on their inventions in the relevant science journals for peer review.

“Professors should not behave like ‘babalawos’ or native doctors,” he averred.