Enhancing Employability of Nigerian Universities’ Graduates In a Competitive Global Economy (2), By Akpandem James

Nigeria’s education perspective and global employment market fit

In Nigeria, emphasis in the recent past seems to be placed on the number of institutions of higher learning established and the construction of physical infrastructure by a given administration rather than quality of facilities and content of instruction in such institutions. The infrastructural development, of course, is usually more political than altruistic. It is worse still at the foundation and secondary levels as these are treated just as any other business venture. Anybody who has enough money to set up a shop and has the right connections is given the license to run schools, even without meeting the barest minimum standards. This leaves the products either not good enough for employment in the vital sectors, even locally, or at best largely substandard. The former bolsters the unemployment ranks, while the later reduces the quality of service delivery; and sub-standard service delivery leads to substandard out-put – be it service or product. One of the most vital aspects of our educational development which would have helped in building graduates for global reckoning, but which has been treated with routine laxity and levity, is the curriculum status.

But more fundamentally is the attitude of government to education in the country. Niyi Akinnaso writing on the problems and solution of university education in Nigeria in The Punch of March 13, 2012, identified six major issues as hurdles to achieving quality education in Nigerian universities. Three of them, he said, are primary because they are largely responsible for the other three. He listed these as funding shortages, the negative influence of a corruptive and valueless political system, and planning and implementation problems.

These first three, according to him, have led to the weakening of university administration, eventually resulting in poor teaching and learning outcomes, diminishing research and consultancy traditions, and questionable service to the community. The last three, he noted, point to diminishing returns in the basic missions of universities.

Poor funding, as far as universities in Nigeria are concerned, is no longer news. Reference and agitation are as routine as annual budgets. The more the agitation for better funding, the more additional universities are established under same conditions.

The issue has suffered neglect for long. In 1990, Ogunu analysing trends in the development of university education in Nigeria noted that:

1. inexorable expansion has been one of the most remarkable features of university education in the country since 1948;
2. although the absolute amounts of grants to the universities have been rising, the shortfalls have been rising even faster; and that,
3. universities were becoming increasingly poorer off financially.

He therefore advised applying the brakes to university proliferation and recommended instead that going forward consolidation should be the key word, with focus on giving some brightness to the older universities and putting flesh on the frame of the newer ones. It is obvious, from the picture we are seeing today, that Ogunu’s recommendation fell on deaf ears. He also stressed the need for the universities themselves to professionally seek alternative means of financing their operations since government grants cannot be sustained at the desired level.

Of course, poor funding is a product of a corruptive and valueless political system which would rather give premium to those things that would enhance material and political gains than further intellectual and economic prosperity of the citizens and the nation. And, because the system is so patently corrupt, its structures and operators are inextricably corrupt too. The corruption of the system and its structures affect planning and logistics; and therefore diminish institutions within the polity.

The university system is a major casualty of the corruptive and valueless political system. Apart from poor funding, the policy framework emanating from the same debased political system seriously hampers the quality of activities in the university system and consequently affects the instructions and products of the system. Largely, because of the mentality of policy makers and regulators of the system, curriculum development and quality control have suffered terribly, and curriculum development, in particular, has become a routine contraption that neither takes into consideration the financial implications of its postulations nor the emerging trends in global transformation.

Over the years, school curricula at various levels have been subjected to constant tinkering by the various administrations in the country, not necessarily to improve current and requisite standards but much more to service political ideals and massage the ego of the groups in power. We have witnessed the almost routine merry-go-round with polytechnic and monotechnic policies in this country – at one point they are presented as producers of middle level technical man-power, at others they are given impetus to compete with degree awarding institutions; and subsequently reverting and reversing as political regimes come and go.

We have seen Colleges of Education converted overnight into universities without requisite amendment of enabling and operational laws; without appropriate realignment of curriculum and upgrading of instructors. We have seen university curriculum synchronised without any heed to rapid technological evolutions and global specialisations. We have also seen the proliferation of nursery/primary schools, secondary schools and tertiary institutions in very incredible locations, without the right calibre of instructors and without minimum standard learning aides. There is no way this kind of environment can turn out products capable of effectively competing with those in better regulated and facilitated environments.

It is disheartening to hear on a regular basis the NUC warning students against what they term “fake universities and degree awarding institutions”. The NUC, as the main accreditation and regulatory body, has a responsibility of ensuring and enforcing standards, as well as setting admission capacity for every university in Nigeria; so why should these contraptions exist in the first place! How many proprietors of such institutions have been effectively prosecuted to serve as deterrence? Why should unsuspecting students be subjected to this scam and then later warned when they have already fallen prey? Apart from the nuisance that they constitute within the system, the existence of such contraptions give a bad image to the education system in the country and expose graduates of regular schools to some kind of unnecessary scrutiny when seeking employment or admission for further studies in foreign lands.

If we must tell ourselves the home truth, the content of instruction in Nigerian schools is still largely primitive and limited. It does not painstakingly look at where the world is heading; it still looks at what is perceived as national planning and development needs. This may sound fundamental when looking at Nigeria’s education for Nigeria; but here we are looking at Nigerian education for the global marketplace. Nigeria today does not exist in isolation; it is part of the global community, a component which has to be relevant in the global arena by having the capacities and competences to compete favourably.

Unfortunately, our gaze has largely refused to recognise the fact that the world has since shrunk into a global village, where only those with global knowledge and skills function in multinational settings – locally and globally. Oddou and Mendehall (2013) while looking at global leadership development quoted a study by Black and Gregerson (2000) stating that training for the global employment market requires the “stretching of someone’s mind past narrow domestic borders and creating a mental map of the entire world”. Foundation is key in the quality and functionality of any structure; and preparing people for any form of endeavour is not an exception in any guise. We can easily relate with the point made in the Bible that if the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do? (Psalm 11:3).

Also, having the enabling competences is a cardinal requirement for appropriate transformation to take place in the skills’ set of those seeking to become players in the global market-place, because it is that transformation that would imbue in the person the appropriate character to fit into global competition and relevance. Apart from quite a few institutions in the country, the larger portion are daily engaged in producing routine graduates who are hardly properly transformed from what they were before gaining admission, and therefore hardly possess the relevant competences to fit into any dynamic employment situation.

Some of such universities pride themselves in being experts in some fields, but how relevant are such fields in the current global dispensation! To fit into the global situation, graduates must have dynamic competences, such character traits that swing with time, season and culture. Routine graduates with routine knowledge can only fit into routine situations. If we have to be honest to ourselves, that is the scenario in our educational firmament. These routine competences cannot be relevant in a competitive global economy.

Unfortunately, the advent of private universities which ordinarily should have added some fillip to effective man-power development, have become theatres of competition, where emphasis have shifted from producing quality man-power to churning out the highest number of best-graded graduates. As indicated earlier, only one of such schools is among the first 100 in the African continent; and none among the first 1000 in the world. As far as these are concerned, quality and relevance of graduates are no longer the issue, quantity is it! There are a few exceptions though, but most of the schools lack the very basic requirements to function as centres of knowledge development. The learning environment is anything but conducive. The character aspect of learning is absolutely non-existent in most of the contraptions called schools. Without character, effective learning becomes a huge challenge.

The regulatory authorities, like every other in our society, seem to be snoring over these short-comings. But again, it’s a fall-out of the evolving character of our society where quota placement and corruption have replaced competence and diligence. Those who run such bodies are either incompetent or highly compromised; so they only operate within their sphere of knowledge or look the other way as the grungy train wobbles past our educational institutions.

The Ministry of Education and its affiliate bodies like the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE) and the National Universities Commission (NUC) keep revising schools’ curricula not necessarily to meet current global trends but to accord with the thinking and understanding of those who run the Nigerian political system; or sometimes just to fulfil all righteousness. They are often mundane in their ideas of what the school curriculum should be, hardly considering the diversity of the global systems and technology-induced specialisations. As aptly observed severally by Des Wilson (2015, p.5) the NUC has been “making the mistake of whipping all programmes into a nomenclatural synchronisation in an imperial fashion”.

Except for the very gifted, and those who put in extra personal efforts, products of such a dispensation are hardly competitive in vital employment markets. It would shock those without the experience to learn that the major problem (even within the country) is not so much of lack of employment opportunities as that of competence and fit. Recently, while commissioning the Specialist Hospital in Uyo, former governor of Akwa Ibom State, Obong Godswill Akpabio, lamented the dearth of required indigenous manpower to run the facility. He said: “I believe that the medical training institutions in our country should upgrade their curricular to accommodate (the) modern trends in Medicare.”

He pointed out that it will be counterproductive to run such an advanced hospital purely on the skills of expatriates. The facility kicked off with about 150 expatriates, and the ex-governor hoped that a technology transfer would take place so that at some point the hospital will be run mostly by Nigerians who can be relevant anywhere in the world. And come to think of it, there are at least 12 universities in the country with “standard” medical schools and teaching hospitals, producing thousands of medical personnel annually.

Nigerians often complain of abuse of expatriate quota by multinational companies. True as that may be, the fact remains that most of the graduates churned out of a number of Nigerian universities are not employable in certain modern settings, even locally. Not too long ago in this country, multinational companies and some banks preferred only graduates from foreign universities for managerial positions, simply because those from outside do not only have the required academic exposure with dynamic competences, they also have both global acumen and cultural intelligence to interact and function in a multi-national environment. The fundamental question we should ask, and address immediately is: In fashioning out our schools’ curriculum, do we bother to look at the direction the world is moving, the focus of the global economy, and most importantly trends in the global village? Once these are addressed positively, we are in the ball-park for global economic competiveness.

Curriculum aside, most schools in this country lack the manpower with the requisite knowledge to interpret even the school curricula. From the pre-primary to the tertiary levels of learning, the quality of instructors in quite a sizeable number of schools, particularly privately-owned institutions, are a sorry statement. Since the focus of most school proprietors is to make as much money from the venture as possible, they recruit instructors that fit into their budget and care less about the quality of instructions passed on to the students. Since emphasis here is more on the paper certificate rather than the quality of knowledge imbibed, the students get the required certification and move on. Even in the established schools, training and retraining of instructors have become a huge problem owing to the challenge of funding. Refresher courses and Sabbaticals that should give teachers more exposure and bring them up to speed with modern trends and current realities are hardly in view, for the same reason. Self-development have become the lot of teachers and this is done within the limits of their individual resources. These unhealthy developments paint a picture of some monumental disaster in the days ahead.

With the observed inadequacies, a major factor that could give the Nigerian graduate a feel of what is happening outside his academic environment, how fast the world is moving away from the routine academic curriculum, is a purposeful intercourse between the schools and the experts outside – the Town and Gown relationship. This is so because experts in the ‘town’ are exposed to the global market-place and have garnered additional ideas and experiences that would not only excite the academic community but bolster its knowledge of modern trends in the global community.

The university, for instance is a community; not just an intellectual community, but a micro-universal entity where the intellect, professions and vocations are moulded and show-cased from a point of an idea to the stage of reality. It is a community that facilitates, encourages and rewards innovation. It is a community-of-practice where ideas, knowledge and wisdom have uninhibited intercourse. It is a free society for knowledge interaction; it is an abode where freedom and ideas are in luxuriant courtship, leading to the conception and delivery of intellectual and beneficial brands. Such courtship usually gives birth to empirical creations that metamorphose into relief materials for society.

While the ‘gown’ can be said to largely cover the realms of ideas and knowledge, the ‘town’ similarly can be seen to harbour experiences and realities. Experience and Reality are fodders for more ideas and knowledge because they inherently have the capacity to generate issues, throw up challenges, create resources and evaluate competences that set both the town and gown in a constant reflective mood. The town is most likely not going to grow larger than its knowledge intensity, so also is the gown not likely going to fit better than the physical environment that wears it; but collaborative efforts by both can enliven the town and beautify the gown, making the society more colourful and progressive; giving the beneficiaries wider perspectives and better opportunities.

Also, it has been proven severally that international engagements are the longest type of exposure to global business and culture. To fit into this environment, Oddou and Mendehall (2013) noted that an individual requires “tremendous amount of interaction and integration into all aspects of the culture which imbues him with a better mental picture of the world and in the process enables the achievement of greater effectiveness and efficiency.” Although the perception and orientation of our society seem to place some hurdles on the pathway of this globally beneficial concept, a cordial relationship as well as an effective interaction between universities and experts outside of it, could produce some effect on such an exposure, even if not on an equal scale.

Of course, a number of studies have confirmed that one of the best strategies of understanding how professional studies can help in maintaining a nation’s leadership in a wide range of cutting-edge engagements, in most developed countries, is allowing students, and in fact faculties, to be exposed to real world situations.

Cultural/societal influences are also distracting factors in this direction. Our society has become one that celebrates mediocrity, a society which scorns scholarship and expertise; which celebrates the scum and relegates diligence. It therefore brims with those I would like to describe as arrested experts; seized and cocooned by their limited knowledge; a society where material accomplishments are regarded more than scholarship; where physical wealth is valued much more than intellectual property. Even though the structures cannot be said to have been laid with global perspectives in mind, students themselves are not so much sold to intellectual endeavours. For them, if a quick dash in the political arena yields so much, why then embark on an academic marathon that eventually fetches peanuts!

The orientation of a typical Nigerian society swims in the maxim: “what you are looking for in Sokoto is right there in your sokoto”. What are you doing in the global arena when you can get all you want by chasing after the political wagon in your neighbourhood? Mind-set is critical in adventure and growth attainment. The Bible says that As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he, (Proverbs 27:3 (KJV). Mind-set is both an enhancing and limiting factor, depending on how it is deployed. Those with a global mind-set are likely to have global focus and thus global orientation. They are easily given to global intelligence much more than those without. And global intelligence is the primary success factor in global competition. However, in spite of the state of our education system, some Nigerian graduates still show class locally and globally, principally because of their initial mind-set and the desire to forge ahead and conquer.

A major set-back in the level of global competitiveness is our trained focus on certificate-based education. Here, the major instrument for employability is the certificate; and so students also focus on any means possible to obtain the targeted certification instead of acquisition of relevant and beneficial knowledge. Corrupt Instructors also capitalise on the craze and consequent frustrations to make hay; while the regulators look the other way as the beat goes on. At the end of the day, you have a horde of certificate-wielding graduates who are unemployable. It must be pointed out here that it is not the certificate that excels in workplace situations but the amount of expert knowledge and innovative ideas brought to play by individuals. Most of the world-class inventors and entrepreneurs do not possess more than high school grades. Some are high school dropouts, but they inhabit innovative spirits imbued in them by nature and translated by their environment and orientation. Such environments and orientation are lacking in our clime. Our orientation is that of making so much money within the shortest possible time; a virtue the society recognises and applauds.

The way forward

Enhancing employability of Nigerian universities’ graduates in a competitive global economy will (therefore) require the Nigerian government and proprietors of institutions of learning in the country giving the required attention to these institutions by appropriately funding them. Peanuts no longer attract competence and commitment.

Handlers and regulators of our educational structures must have a global mind-set and tailor the contents of our educational instructions to meet current global realities. The rampaging nature of technology and the pervasive pressure of culture have made self-admiration no longer a beneficial pastime. Focusing on the global picture is no longer optional, it is mandatory if our graduates must play in the global arena. It means school curricula at all levels must take into consideration the direction technology and universal culture are dictating; the handling of contents of instruction must evolve beyond the routine, and must focus on critical perspectives to produce dynamic competences capable of innovative thinking and cultural integration. It must be capable of producing graduates that can compete in other parts of the world, not just locally. We must not lose sight of the fact that we are operating in a globalised environment.

Irrespective of discipline, and as much as possible, instructions with cultural perspectives, innovation and change strategies, trends in communication technology and global leadership orientation should be injected into the study packages of our universities to give students, not just the knowledge of their immediate course of study, but a deeper appreciation of trends in the global environment, cultural intelligence and leadership acumen. There must be a deliberate commitment to scholarship and innovation rather than ordinary pursuit of certificates.

The regulatory authorities should not only license educational institutions, they must insist on standards capable of producing the kind of graduates that are not just qualified but relevant to themselves and society. The opposite will certainly result if otherwise is the case; and the scenario today is a pointer.

Quality control mechanisms should be fashioned out particularly for institutions that pride themselves in producing high number of top-graded graduates, to stem the unnecessary competition among private educational institutions in the country. Particular attention should be paid to the quality of academic staff in institutions of learning. This should not be allowed to the dictates of proprietors of schools. A situation where private schools recruit ‘spare hands’ and desperate job seekers as teachers/lecturers is not helping the furtherance of education, the future of graduates and the good progress of society.

Institutions of higher learning in particular must look outside the academic environment for additional knowledge and funding. University managements should use the facilities and knowledge available within to attract extra funding from outside. They can collaborate with foundations that can aid research and further exposure for the institutions, staff and students. There must be a deliberate interaction between the academic world and the outside world; an intercourse between Town and Gown that would expose lecturers and students to practical realities in the outside world.

Conclusion

Since the world today lays emphasis on a knowledge-based environment, it becomes imperative for the formulators, regulators and implementers of our educational policies to look at the prescriptions of Cheung and Chan (2009) in respect of what students need, to be relevant in a globalised economy. It means students must have as much relevant information that will enable them make good use of knowledge. As much as possible, they should be imbued with cultural intelligence to enable them fit into and play crucial roles in the global economy in future. Firm knowledge of technological trends has become imperative since technology and cultural intelligence have become the change agents in today’s world and therefore major pre-requisites for purposeful employment and engagements.

Finally, students should be trained in such a way that when they graduate, they should able to work and interact with others within and outside their immediate workplace. This is necessary because as the world has shrunk into a global community, contact with people outside our cultural orientation has become commonplace and sometimes unavoidable.

Mr. Chairman, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, I really appreciate your attention. Thank you very much for the privilege.

About the Author: Akpandem James is a fellow of the Nigerian Guild of Editors.

This was delivered as the University of Uyo Distinguished Alumni Lecture at the joint University and Alumni Convocation Dinner on Friday October 30, 2015.

Source: Premium Times

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