I try to avoid writing rejoinders for a simple reason; they don’t require original thought. All you have to do is show the ineptitude of another person’s work to look like a genius. My good man Feyi Fawehinmi posted this article http://aguntasolo.com/2013/09/25/we-have-an-asuu-problem/. Before I go into flaws in his argument, I must declare my bias. My father teaches Law in a Nigerian university (he’s done this for 35 years), and I’m immensely proud of him. Unlike Feyi, I also treasure the education I received at the University of Lagos, for this I’m eternally grateful.
1.90% of lecturers in Nigerian universities are useless – I didn’t get the logic of making a baseless statement, and following it up with an offer to be proved wrong. The more logical method will be to declare the result after the study, and like most of the article, the cart is put before the horse. I understand the need to making shocking statements, but at least have evidence to support it. The author offers a convoluted test for lecturers, which itself betrays a lack of thought. He will set a test based on questions the lecturers themselves set for their students, and also check how much personal development they have undertaken since they themselves qualified as lecturers and general knowledge on education and academics. The pass mark is 40%, but there’s no mention of how both sections of the ‘test’ are weighted. He then ends the paragraph by saying, “I am confident that I will win because it is simply impossible for me to lose.” Anyone who can make sense out of this sentence deserves to win the author’s prize money.
2.Unilag is not the Nigerian university system – By saying UNILAG is in Lagos, so the lecturers there can’t get away with murder, we should assume the same for LASU. Your guess is as good as mine on the result of this test. Location is not the biggest driver of quality; otherwise the Economics department at OAU won’t have constantly provided some of the brightest minds Nigeria has seen in this field. Instead of basing the argument on location, a more logical argument might have been to compare Federal universities with their state counterparts. I believe the sharp decline in University education started with the creation of many state universities without the human capital to fill the campuses; the result is the increase in poor quality tutors.
3.Nigerian universities have produced brilliant minds in the past – The author calls this a myth, again makes sweeping statements without evidence. Like most of the article, it is a case of his word against yours. He talks about the gap between private and public universities widening in 20 years but is ignorant that many of the same lecturers who won’t pass his test, retire from public universities to go and set up private university faculties. His post is on human capital in Nigerian universities, not the quality of facilities available. This is the reason why Babcock University might produce better computer scientists but struggle to replicate this in Law. The answer lies in the quality of facilities, clearly not human capital. Like most of his article, the premise is based on his experience at one of the worst universities in Nigeria. The ‘myth’ he talks about is not that “Nigerian universities produce brilliant lecturers” but “brilliant minds.” So it is confusing to see him use the example of nurturing a 5.00 CGPA first year student and co-opting him/her to become a lecturer to make this point. The point with quality assurance is clear; with demand outstripping supply, tertiary institutions cannot simply afford to select a more manageable number of intakes every year. The impact of overcrowded lecture theatres on the quality of intakes doesn’t need to be put through a linear regression model.
4.The Harvard Conundrum – The author suggests that poor lecturers are being subsidized by the good ones, and there is no way of weeding out really bad lecturers. The first part of the statement is false. The best lecturers usually end up as consultants, and sometimes decide to become involved in practice. This is not any different from the earning capacity of lecturers in more developed markets. For example, the some of the best law teachers are also SANs, and many of the best engineering lecturers have consulting practices to support their teaching income. So, the best teachers get the best briefs and/or speaking engagements. I know professors whose charge out rate for delivering a speech for one hour starts with six zeroes; that’s more what many of their colleagues earn in a month. The argument that the best guys don’t get special pay betrays ignorance of the reward system in academics. To support this point, the fees earned here are market based, not a result of collective bargaining that the author is very unahppy with.
5. Nigerian universities can function with half the lecturers it currently has – I’m confused about this point; at some point it sounds like the case is being about the quantity of lecturers, then later it deviates to the quality. I will focus on the title, which is blatantly false. While many universities have a teacher/student ratio of between 1/5 and 1/15, the average ratio in Nigerian universities is 1/40. The title suggests we can get away with doubling a ratio that is already 3x the capacity in developed countries. Unless there is something wrong with my arithmetic, this makes no sense. I must add here that doing a simple average of total students/total lecturers doesn’t show the true picture, because most of the Federal Universities operate above the national average.
6.The debate about education boils down to how much we pay our lecturers – This is blatantly false. I noticed throughout the post that the author never referred to the 2009 agreement between ASUU and the Federal Government, most likely because he has never seen it. The crux of this stand-off is that one party reneged on agreement it signed with another, and continues to operate with deceit and propaganda. It is disingenuous to reduce the quest for a better learning environment to a battle for better wages. Yes, there is a quest for better pay and rightly so. If a professor cannot afford to hire a research assistant from his current salary, how do you expect him to deliver the right quality and quantity of research work, combined with the duty of marking 500+ examination and test scripts. If he’s unable to pay for access to case clearing houses, how does he improve the teaching materials? The author agitates for better quality but forgets the adage, “good soup, na money kill am.”
I will do a follow up post to suggest solutions to improve tertiary education, but I’ll end this post with the words of the author’s favourite economist. “It takes considerable knowledge just to realize the extent of your own ignorance.” Thomas Sowell is a wise man.