It seems that as Nigerians we are always after seeking world class infrastructure without the desire to make world class inputs. Nothing echoed this antithetical desire as much as this week’s petition – supposedly signed by students – calling for the sack of the Vice Chancellor of the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) Professor Vincent Tenebe and other top management of the institution. One has to say supposedly signed by students because the expectation is that genuine students should understand what the issues are and how their interplay affects the running of the system.
A statement signed by the Congress of NOUN Students accused the management of not responding to their claim that the institution has become a “den of endemic corruption”. Maybe one will also offer no response upon the realisation that the entity being described has no relationship with where one presides over. But again, the management should for the sake of reducing ignorance, educate the student leaders and perhaps their sponsors about the reality of the quality of education that NOUN is delivering despite the limited financing available to it. This explanation would be useful for several reasons.
First, there is that copycat tendency in some people. If could just be that the Congress of NOUN Students is out to replicate its own version of the #feesmustfall protest that recently crippled several South African universities over astronomical rise in school fees. From the Nigerians perspective, a simplistic view would be to conclude that #feesmustfall protest 10 – 15% hike in school fees for the 2016 academic year but the larger picture is to appreciate that the hike means an average of N700,000.00 for each student. Should the NOUN students be looking at replicating the protest going by their recent moves, it is best they also compare their overall fees with what obtains not just in South Africa but in other countries.
The second reason the management has to consider is the mere fact that the leadership of NOUN, since inception, has been superlative in the discharge of its duties. NOUN moved from being a concept, whose practicality and implementation was earlier doubted, to becoming a reliable institution. It even caught the attention of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who became a proud student, finished his degree and remained an ambassador of distance learning in Africa. The management has been able to place the institution among Nigeria’s top 25 universities. It has also secured Senate’s approval for its graduates to take part in the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) programme. These are achievements the management of NOUN, under Professor Tenebe has to celebrate more than it currently does so that Nigerians and their prospective students can appreciate the efforts they are making to provide quality manpower for the nation.
Furthermore, the university should create awareness on the relationship between the fees it charges and the quality it turns out. People often desire free education. The reality however is that education is never free. Someone or some entity is paying for or subsidizing education whenever students are able to get it for free. Another angle to this is that people should have realised by now that the word “cheap” and “quality” should not occur in the same sentence when they describe education. What the Congress of NOUN Students want, going by their statement and petition, is to either have “cheap” or “free” education. It is interesting to note that they made no reference to the quality of what they are getting out of distance learning, which affords many of them the opportunity to combine career growth with education.
One of the things the Congress of NOUN Students is not comfortable as indicated in their statement is the increase in the fees charged for research projects. Perhaps, a starting point would have been for the leaders of this congress to take a few minutes to do a Google search with the phrase “project research fees” or “research project fees” and then take a further few minutes to skim over the search results. They would then find that it is not a trend that is only associated with NOUN – other Nigerian universities charge the fee. If these students have the energy and patience to click on the links from the search query, they will further discover that project research fee averages N70,000.00 at institutions that charge them. A suggestion for these students would thus be that they should hold NOUN management accountable to ensure they get quality supervision for their projects upon the payment of the prescribed fees. Also, while at it, they should actively explore the possibility of getting businesses and companies interested in funding their projects by working on viable research problems that have industry applications.
On the issue of course materials, which the students said they do not get on time, a workable suggestion is for the student body to work with management to have all materials digitized and distributed through the institution’s portal or via mobile apps, since the era of hardcopy study materials has all but fizzled out anyway. Enterprising students should be happy to take up the creation of such platforms as a challenge.
On its part, the Professor Tenebe led management of NOUN must realise at this point that succumbing to erroneous demands from students is not an option here. If the management succumbs once then it will never stop giving in until the progress it has made in recent years becomes eroded. Yes, the students have threatened “peaceful protests” if the management of the school is not fired by President Muhammadu Buhari but the threat should not derail the school from delivering on its mandate. It should also not force the school to abandon the trajectory that has seen its profile rise to be the first choice for those who desire tertiary education through distance learning.
NOUN has proven to be the cornerstone of education and leadership. This progress must not be reversed on account of a few students’ leaders who want the universe to run according to their own whims. NOUN is not an alternative to university education and not a certificate factory where lazybones go to buy titles and certificates. Rather it is a pathway to higher learning. Students who are not ready to learn with the world class and highly sophisticated technology must opt for other vocation like pottery making, carpentry, tailoring and other skill acquisition ventures and not resort to this poor attempt at blackmail. It is obvious that the spread of the University and accreditation of courses carried out by the National Universities Commission (NUC) under this management team are clear understanding that these are clear cut academicians that mean well for our educational system.
*Ibekwe is an educationist and contributed this piece from No 25, Agbani Road, Enugu, Enugu State.