Is University Education For Everyone?, By Bámidélé Adémólá-Olátéjú
The race to the bottom in education started with lack of planning for a bugeoning population and the unrestrained pillaging of the nation’s resources. In addition, the state and federal governments made vocational studies unattractive, laid emphasis on university education by focusing on the quantity and not the quality of education.
For a person to be considered educated, his intellectual character, performance character, moral character, civic character and the collective character of the schools he attended should reflect in his education. It is the reason why university certificates are issued as a testament to character and learning, instead of knowledge. That is why it is a shame that Nigeria plays fast and lose with education from primary school to the university level. With the university being the worst of all in learning, infrastructure and ambience. Nothing illustrates the decay in our universities better than the picture of students sleeping on their spine-hostile mattresses strewn all over the balcony of Fajuyi Hall in Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife. That picture is not only shameful, it is as scandalous as it is demeaning.
A nation that does not cater to the future of its young population cannot achieve real progress. The same goes for a nation that refuses to breed men and women of character, because character is the bedrock of education. It is impossible for a country to achieve greatness without having men and women of character running its affairs. Nigeria’s unreasoned approach has to stop! Facts and formulas alone cannot do the trick. We must prioritise beneficial and prosocial dispositions over facts and formulas within the walls of our universities. Real education must propose and focus on achieving overlapping goals for developing multiple dimensions of character. It is unreasonable to expect a nation of competent, ethical, engaged, and effective citizenry without having developed satisfactorily their intellectual character, moral character, civic character and performance character.
No doubt, education in Nigeria nosedived because the national policy focused on acquiring knowledge without character development as an accompaniment. How can students learn properly when they live in overcrowded rooms, sleep on balconies, use dirty bathrooms with dry or broken faucets, clogged toilets and generally unsanitary conditions? The four dimensions of character is predicated on personal dispositions and patterns of interaction with other people. How a person learns, constructs and derives meaning and acts throughout life is determined by the dimensions of character that is formed. If university students live and learn under indecent and dehumanising conditions, how can they form good character and learn to seek and use knowledge in effective and ethical ways? Some things cannot be willed into existence. They have to be created consciously and nurtured. Knowledge and learning are examples and cannot be sustained through time and circumstance without character. The school experience develops patterns of thinking, styles of interaction, and modes of engagement that are carried forward. Long after graduation, a person’s character determines how a person interacts with ideas, people, social organisations, and institutions. With the Fajuyi hall picture, it is hard not to come out of a Nigerian university more damaged.
It is counterproductive to the people and the economy to push people or pressure them into getting a degree, when it is evident that it is not everyone that has the temperament, the drive or the interest to make good use of a university education. We need a country that has and values an assortment of work and skills.
The race to the bottom in education started with lack of planning for a bugeoning population and the unrestrained pillaging of the nation’s resources. In addition, the state and federal governments made vocational studies unattractive, laid emphasis on university education by focusing on the quantity and not the quality of education. Within a generation, the result is lack of social mobility and a disillusioned youth because other alternatives to earning a living are derided. I believe the experience of work and affordability for both industry and government should make apprenticeships and vocational training an appealing way of channelling a young person’s skill set to the career they wish to pursue. Unfortunately, everyone conspires to project and align vocations with a lower social status. The government will only truly invest in young people and the economy when they equip and increase funding for technical schools and apprenticeships.
Unless we are bent on deceiving ourselves, our federal and state universities are unsustainable with the current model of subventions they operate. It is about time we face the reality and take the hard decisions and follow through with action. The room and board facilities in Nigerian tertiary institutions are the worst in the world. The quality of teaching and reseach is archaic and unproductive. University education is not for everyone and it should not be. The cost of university education should be realistic and rational. What government ownned universities charge cannot sustain development and maintain quality of living on campus. While I do not believe students or their parents should be saddled with debt, I firmly believe there should be tuition fees in universities with opportunities for bright but poor students to obtain financial aid.
Who should go to the university? Is it everyone, or just enough people to fill skilled jobs? Many may argue that getting a university degree is the only path to upward mobility in terms of economic prosperity. It is a big lie! Many plumbers, masons, mechanics, tailors, make a lot more than graduates who work in the banks, and they live less stressful lives. University education is not for everyone and it has nothing to do with intellect or class. Nigeria’s fixation on higher education is misplaced on two fronts – the universities cannot be funded optimally by government and, two, there is no use adopting a policy that elevates getting a degree as the ultimate achievement. It is counterproductive to the people and the economy to push people or pressure them into getting a degree, when it is evident that it is not everyone that has the temperament, the drive or the interest to make good use of a university education. We need a country that has and values an assortment of work and skills.
Bámidélé Adémólá-Olátéjú a farmer, youth advocate and political analyst writes this weekly column, “Bamidele Upfront” for the PREMIUM TIMES. Follow me on Twitter @olufunmilayo