Thursday, June 25, 2009

National Open University: A dream deferred

THE idea of an Open University in Nigeria was first mooted by the military in the 80s. However, due to lack of political will and the political crisis that characterised the military era, it was not until October 1, 1992 that the university was established. But since inception till now, the National Open University's mode of operation especially the timing of events and its ability to conduct or implement programmes according to time and calendar has been very embarrassing.

Among its main objectives are:

to provide ready access to university education for many young Nigerians who could not secure admission through JAMB and

to provide the working class with the opportunity to acquire university degrees.
It is very sad to note that after 10 years of its operation, the National Open University of Nigeria is yet to produce a graduate of its own. It should be made clear that graduating diploma and postgraduate students doesn't seem to be the major philosophy behind the establishment of the university. The first set of degree students of the university were admitted in 2004. It is tragic to state that five years later, they are still in the second semester of their second year. Not only this, despite heavy budgetary allocation in recent times, the university is still in rented apartments. What went wrong or should we ask, what is the problem.

Just of late, speculations were rife that money allocated to the university to buy its own property or to move to its own permanent site was misappropriated. Whether that is true or not, the fact remains clear that government does not starve the university of funds. Professor Olugbemiro Jegede, the current Vice Chancellor of the University took over the affairs of the school about eight years ago. As a scholar of high repute, hopes were high and expectations were raised.

But today, it is very sad that his appointment has failed to make a difference. First is the attitude of the staff. They look more confused than the students. None of them has any idea of when any programme is coming up. Each of the staff is either a god or a goddess. A student going to their Yaba office to either collect study materials or make enquiries remains on a queue for hours. Since most of the students are workers, the whole day is wasted.

The worst part is the instability of the university's academic calendar. The university admits every day and every month. I have never seen a university that does not have an admission quota and that does not have a time to commence or a time to close admission.

The course contents are of good quality and standard, but there are no structures on ground to guarantee that a student admitted into the school will graduate in his life-time. For instance, it is difficult to explain that the National Open University of Nigeria runs a semester in one year. The implication is that a student admitted into a four-year programme will eventually spend eight years.

The most pitiable story is that of the university's Law students. The first set of Law students was admitted in 2004 and since then, the students are still in the second semester of their second year, when their mates in other universities are on their way to the Law School. Every attempt to find out what is going on is arrogantly rebuffed.

This year's semester examination was billed to commence in April, but up till this moment, nothing has happened. Rumours are making the rounds that it may eventually hold in August. Must August be the only month for examination? When will the university be able to run two semesters in a year like its counterparts in India and the United Kingdom? Is there any invisible hand in all of this?

Frankly speaking, the university authorities have not shown any sign of seriousness. If the venue for semester examinations is the problem, the Senate of the school could have access to various Federal Government properties especially schools in Lagos. I have never heard of any university anywhere in the world that runs a semester a year.

We end this submission by asking the Federal Government (especially the Presidency), the Minister of Education and the National University Commission to step into this matter. The students' union of the university should also not continue to keep quiet. Discussions and negotiations with the university authorities should commence to chart a way forward.

If that cannot bring changes, the students' union can send a high-powered delegation to the Minister of Education or even the Presidency to secure an improvement. Finally, the university authorities can still salvage the situation by ensuring that this year's semester examinations are conducted. The postgraduate students do not necessarily have to write their own examinations simultaneously with their undergraduate counterparts. In every normal school, the two levels do not write semester examinations at the same time.

If a change of hand is required as this could be considered the best option in the circumstance, there is nothing wrong in raising a new team to pilot the affairs of the university. Before now, the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board was a nightmare. They could conduct examinations and it would take about three months to access the results with reports of monumental malpractices all over the country. Today, the story has changed. Who knew that JAMB could conduct examinations with minimal irregularities and results released after 10 days? By all standards, it may not be judgmental to say that the present crop of academics running the National Open University of Nigeria have proved that they are incapable of managing the university. The same logistic problems they complained of 10 years ago are still the same challenges they blame their inefficiency on.

Things cannot continue like this. I don't know why Nigerians are always held to ransom over things that would have been a source of joy. Most of the students who started the programme in 2004 have withdrawn out of frustration. Stakeholders in the education industry should step in and help. The university is obviously in weak hands and we cannot continue this way.