NIGERIA: Open University produces first graduates

After three decades of controversy and debate the state-supported National Open University of Nigeria admitted its first students in 2002. Now its first graduates have been capped at a colourful ceremony in Lagos. Despite initial remarkable progress, the institution faces a range of problems although they are surmountable if the government and private sector show greater commitment.

Among the university's first graduates was former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who obtained a postgraduate diploma in Christian theology. Also at the graduation ceremony was Koichiro Matsuura, Director General of Unesco, who was given an honorary degree.

Professor Olugbemiro Jegede, Vice-chancellor of the National Open University of Nigeria, outlined challenges confronting the institution. One, he said, was the failure of the country's elite to embrace the idea of an open university: "Many people in this country still don't understand the concept of open and distance learning, even at the highest level. Apart from the fact that people have a wrong notion of NOUN, some still hold old and jaded ideas about this concept."

Jegede revealed that at the inception of the university seven years ago, about 30,000 students were offered admission. But only a fraction have been able to complete their studies.

"The readiness and the distribution of our course materials continue to be a major hindrance, just as the presence of poor communication systems constitutes an obstacle in reaching our students who mostly live in rural areas," Jegede said.

Inadequate funding by government of most education programmes is true for the Open University. The university asked for an initial grant of US$31.5 million and received only US$14 million.

"Consequently, we have not been able to provide all the course materials necessary for our students," said Jegede, adding that had also been difficult to set up all study centres and satellite links.

Despite its meagre resources, the university has managed to make strides. It fast-tracked establishment of some basic infrastructures and teaching aids for students are scattered across Nigeria. Study centres were initially created in most state capitals of the federation and recently more centres have been established in other cities and towns.

There has been an increase in the student population to about 100,000 while more than 140 courses have been developed as e-learning materials and uploaded to the internet for direct access by students. This represents 45% of all course materials currently offered. Deployment of the e-learning materials follows rapid development of the university's information and technology system. Fourteen study centres have been linked via satellite, with the possibility of using video conferencing methods to deliver instructional materials.

Admitting students to the university is specific and original because of limited infrastructure and not all applicants are admitted. Since 2008, the university has had what the vice-chancellor called a "seamless admission system" with no semesters.

"In conventional universities you have two semesters or a maximum of three semesters, if you convert the summer holidays into a semester," Jegede explained. "The very day you come to our university and complete your form that is when your semester commences. It means that theoretically, for 365 days in a year we can have 365 semesters. Internally, our own semester runs for 17 weeks."

The modest achievements recorded by NOUN have won it international recognition. The Commonwealth established, at NOUN's headquarters in Lagos, a Regional Training and Development Institute for Open and Distance Learning and has organised workshops on e-learning for Ghana, Kenya and Tanzania. The university also hosted the African Council for Distance Learning with a view to consolidating the achievements recorded by some African countries in this area of tertiary education.


I think the govt of Nigeria shld pay more attention to NOUN because it is the only way to reduce the high level of illiteracy in the country ....

Stats has it that over 1,000,000 students apply for university admision via JAMB, while only a fraction gets admission. It's so bad. YARADUA Pls do sumtin..

Hayor Adetoyi