British/Nigerian universities, freedom and other stories

 Published in THE PUNCH on 11 February 2007

Casmir Igbokwe

The lecture was an interesting one. Midway into it, a female student of Middle East descent sauntered in with a young man. Hardly had they sat down when the man started playing with a computer. Looking surprised, the lecturer wondered if the strange man was a new student. “No, he is my boyfriend. He just came to see me from the United States,” the student answered. The lecturer smiled and continued her lecture while the man continued his browsing.

I am getting used to this type of freedom at the Cardiff University. The provocative and seductive dresses most girls wear mean nothing to me anymore. I now see it as normal to call such senior lecturers as Dr Howard Barrell and Prof. Duncan Bloy, by their first names. I once said hello sir to an old lecturer called Tor. The man, who comes to school on a bicycle, warned me to withdraw the sir.

From time to time, one of the lecturers, Gary Merrill, organises what he calls social night. We usually have this at a pub called Incognito. On such occasions, staff and students mingle, sharing jokes, drinks and cigarettes. We have also had quiz and games night with the staff. Later this month, we will celebrate Chinese New Year day with our colleagues from China.

These social outings are a way of cushioning the effects of serious academic work. On 29 January this year, we resumed for the second semester. We have been having serious lectures from that day. Already, I have a series of assignments to submit. And no lecturer has ever threatened to fail me for not buying his handout. Most of the tutors post their lecture materials to an online learning system called blackboard.  Students can easily go to this site and print the notes free of charge.

Of course, there are printers in most classrooms and study centres. If any of the printers runs out of ink, the administrative assistants will immediately replace it. If there are no papers, you only need to report to the admin office and they will give you a new pack.

All libraries and most classrooms have networked computers linked to the printers. Students can access the Internet, online journals and other information 24 hours a day. They are expected to master the basic use of computers because they must submit their assignments typed.

A certain Nigerian student (name withheld) contemplated going back home last semester because he could not type his assignments. And he could not see any business centre that offers such a service in
Cardiff. But the man, who appears to be in his late 50s, is learning gradually. The only snag now is that when he types A, it takes him almost two minutes to locate B on the keyboard.

Apart from excellent teaching and learning resources, there are other modern and well-equipped facilities. In students’ houses, for instance, kitchens are equipped with microwaves, ovens, electric cookers, deep freezers and refrigerators. There was a time the microwave and the freezer in my house were faulty. We made a complaint. Some two days after, the residences office of the university changed the faulty items with brand new ones.

Although I had earlier painted a picture of excessive freedom on campus, self-discipline guides people’s behaviour. If you commit any crime, the law will come after you. There are close circuit cameras monitoring people’s movements and actions. But there is no dress code. And you hardly hear of strikes, demonstrations and such other anomalies.

In Nigeria, universities have abandoned substance to pursue shadows. The University of Abuja, for instance, has a dress code for students. Last month, security men in the university allegedly disallowed female students who wore seductive dresses from entering the campus. They protested. And the authorities closed down the school.

The University of Nigeria, Nsukka, has its own peculiar problems. Forty-eight per cent of its programmes reportedly failed the National Universities Commission’s full accreditation test. This was in spite of the reported N6.3bn disbursement to the school in 2006. At the 36th convocation ceremony of the institution last month, President Olusegun Obasanjo was said to have expressed disappointment over this turn of events.

The NUC has reportedly denied accreditation status to 10 programmes in seven universities in the country. During the accreditation exercise in November 2006, a group called Tropical Watch alleged that the authorities of the Enugu State University of Science and Technology planned to rent fake lecturers to gain undue accreditation.

The rot in Nigerian universities weakens you more when you have cause to apply for your transcripts. If the school sends them in four months, then you are lucky. Sometimes, the transcripts may never get to their destination. You must tip off the staff in charge before he posts them. Many bright students have lost admission chances in foreign universities because of this problem.

About March 2006, I applied for my transcripts from my alma mater, the UNN. I paid the necessary fees. Two months after, the transcripts had not arrived their destination. On enquiry, I learnt they were still searching for my file. After some pressure from my friend and lecturer in the university, the concerned officials found the file. But it took almost another two months to prepare, sign and post the academic record.

By August 2006, the transcripts had still not been received. It was then I sent my younger brother to Nsukka to do everything possible to ensure that they send another copy by courier as soon as possible. He went, paid some more fees and pressurised them to send the materials. Within two days, my transcripts arrived. Up until now, the ones the school claimed to have earlier sent through the normal post have not arrived. Perhaps, they are missing in transit.

In saner universities abroad, this type of information can easily be obtained by the click of a mouse. Instead of thinking of how to computerise their systems, the Nigerian university authorities look more for their personal gains. Rather than teach and carry out quality research, some of our dons prefer to sell handouts and look for breasts to fondle. Some students, on their part, end up in cult groups to get some form of protection. Nobody seems to be bordered about standardising the method of teaching and learning.

This is why Nigerian universities score very low in world universities ranking. Last November, the Senate Committee on Education shed some tears about the low quality of graduates produced by Nigerian tertiary institutions. The Minister of Education, Mrs Oby Ezekwesili, has also expressed some concern about the drift in our ivory towers. What we are waiting for now is the day the tears of both the minister and the senate committee will form streams of life for our universities.              

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