If we’d really improve education here, we have to make our universities competitive. It starts with making them compete with one another.
Around the turn of the 20th century the West accelerated past the whole world. Mass access to education was a key factor in building the gap. Western governments forced their citizens to send their children to school and in many cases provided free access to education for such kids. However, and this is important, what they provided is what has to be examined: they provided free access to basic education. As the kids advanced in their educational careers, a streaming took place which categorised them based on ability and intelligence. Those who clearly had the ability, and could not pay, were granted scholarships to gain access to higher education. They were the A-stream and the state funded. Most of the others went to vocational schools or grammar schools, and then started apprenticeships aged 18. This is also very important.
Vocational schooling built the large numbers of technicians that any country requires in order to industrialise. Nigeria needs to build this. Nigeria CANNOT become a developed nation if we do not have welders or carpenters or stenographers. That, no matter how you cut it, is fact. For too long we’ve abandoned technical and vocational education in favour of sending everyone to universities, and we must accept this flaw. One of the reasons that our universities crumbled was because their populations expanded faster than they could expand, leading to a drop.
Another reason is our inability to handle competition within ourselves. Universities CANNOT be equal, stop this shit habit of subventions. Oxford competes with Cambridge, Harvard, Yale and Princeton are in competition. Unilag and Uniben should be competing to solve the power ish. One of the things that will spur competition, and attract the best talent is a sieve that makes the universities exclusive, not inclusive. If high school fees will make our universities exclusive, then so be it. The high fees will achieve two things – they will sieve off the jokers among those who are unable to afford it. Those who can afford it, but are still unserious about their studies will be sieved off by the examinations. The second thing that higher fees will achieve is to make the lecturers more competent. I won’t pay 250k and sit through crap. No one will.
My lecturers in the UK, Abu Lasabae, Glenford Mapp among others are VERY intelligent men. Of course they had to be I paid £12k for the privilege of listening to them, and I can vouch for the rigour they put me through, and I can vouch for the fact that they took their jobs with the utmost seriousness.
While I admit that the Lagos state government went about its school fees increase in the wrong way, I insist that higher education is not for all. Simple and short, let’s get real in Nigeria: we need to get our polytechnics in shape, that is the key to our future, not the universities.
Cheta Nwanze writes from Lagos
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