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Archive for January 24th, 2012

I recently read ‘Why Are You Here’ by award winning writer, Chimamada Adichie, in Guernica. The brilliantly written article on branding, charity, and class in Nigeria’s schools brought once again to the fore the sorry state of public education in Nigeria; and the widening disparity between the fates of children trained in public schools and their more fortunate counterparts who were lucky to have been born to rich parents who can afford private schools here at home and abroad.

The fact that activities at federal universities all over the country had been grounded for over a month due to a strike action by the Academic Staff of Nigerian Universities (ASUU) makes this sad reality even more jarring. ASUU has gained notoriety over the years for elongating the years of study of many students of government owned universities through its endless industrial actions. The association claims it is fighting to for increased funding for universities and better conditions of service. In many ways, the fight is more of the latter than the former. One of the demands for which they are currently on strike is for an extension of the retirement age of academic staff from 65 years to 70.

 

In response to this demand, the Nigeria Senate last week passed a bill amending the retirement age as demanded. The bill states in part that “The compulsory retiring age of academics in the professional cadre in the universities shall be 70 years. The law requiring a person to retire from the public service after serving 35 years shall not apply to academic staff of tertiary institutions”.

While thousands of anxious students and their parents wait to see if the new law is enough to get the lecturers to return to class, I find it apt to share some thought on the new law and what impacts (or not) this will have on the standards of education in our nations tertiary institutions.

While it is not in question that mentally and physically sound professors can still be productive and very beneficial to the system at 70 and beyond, there remains an incontrovertible fact that once academics in Nigeria attain the exulted position of a professor, they relapse into declining productivity. I have not read the full details of the new law but I would hope that the lawmakers had the sense to include a clause that attaches the enjoyment of the longer period of service to measurable productivity, research advancement and successful supervision of postgraduate supervision.

Being someone who passed through this system as a student, I am well aware of the politics, rivalry and bickering that associates the award of professorship. The quest to attain the position and enjoy the pecks thereof has led to a situation where staff members go to every length (even circumventing ethics and acceptable decent principles) to publish and accumulate academic papers – some of which contribute nothing whatsoever to existing knowledge – while constituting themselves into factions all of which does not necessarily have any positive impact on their students.

With standards declining on a daily basis and with this new law in place, one can only expect that it would now be an even fiercer fight to finish in the race to become a professor going forward.

More so, some commentators have argued that the only reason why professors wish to stay longer in the schools is simply to have more years to sell their poorly authored reading materials and coerce more female students into bed with them. This group argues that currently the professors were not adding so much value as some of them still exist in the past, teaching outdated ideas to 21st century students and thus there was no need to keep them on beyond 65 by law.

Increased years of service do not translate into extended period of productivity. It is important therefore that while we continue to demand for increased funding of education by government, its regulators such as the NUC must come up with precise criteria for measuring performance among academics as well as the triggers for the reward process.  Academics should and must focus on teaching and research and make the best of their productive years contributing to knowledge and advancing their fields of learning. This is the only way we can get to change the sorry state of education in the country.

Published in Daily Times Nigeria Jan 24, 2012

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