Universities oppose scrapping of diploma courses

The new executive secretary of Nigeria’s National Universities Commission or NUC, a regulatory agency mandated by law to promote quality assurance in higher education, has unilaterally ordered vice-chancellors to scrap all non-degree courses forthwith.

During a session with vice-chancellors last month, NUC boss Professor Abubakar Adamu Rasheed accused universities of mounting “irrelevant” non-degree courses, including for diplomas, only to boost their internally generated revenue.

In other words, university education was being commercialised – a practice contrary to the law creating universities.

Vice-chancellors reportedly countered that diploma courses were put in place because they were also needed for some core courses at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels.

While the battle ensued, the Academic Staff Union of Universities accused the NUC of trampling on university autonomy. Only senate – the highest academic body of universities – was mandated by law to decide on academic matters, the union insisted. The NUC could make proposals and recommendations to senates via the Committee of Vice-Chancellors of Nigerian Universities.

The matter is yet to be settled. A drawn-out battle is on the horizon, and it may disrupt the coming academic year.

Heated debate

The first hint of the intentions of Rasheed, former vice-chancellor of Bayero University Kano, was a visit from Dr Masa'udu Kazaure, executive secretary of the National Board for Technical Education or NBTE.

According to reliable sources, Kazaure pleaded passionately with Rasheed to end diploma programmes in universities in order to achieve one objective – attract more students to diploma courses in polytechnics.

The NBTE boss informed Rasheed that over the years, for reasons of prestige, more students had drifted to universities for diploma courses, at the cost of polytechnics.

Rasheed reportedly promised to accede to Kazaure’s request, and afterwards he told journalists invited to cover part of the visit that only polytechnics had the statutory right to run diploma programmes. He added: “We are going to formally put a deadline on this.”

Within seven days, Rasheed summoned all of the vice-chancellors of Nigeria’s 143 public and private universities to NUC headquarters in the capital Abuja.

He announced the end of diploma programmes in universities, gave deadlines and called for suggestions on how his order could be implemented. Many vice-chancellors reportedly pleaded for a detailed template so that university senates could make input.

“I advise you all present here to galvanise your energies towards universities’ primary function of producing high-level manpower for the economy by strengthening degree programmes,” he declared, warning that the order was not subject to review.

Various reactions

There were positive reactions from many polytechnics.

In the words of Dr Isah Mohammed, rector of Kogi State Polytechnic in Lokoja: “I commend the NUC for wielding the big stick in streamlining the education system, and correcting oddities. As a regulatory body, the NUC is carrying out its mandate,” he enthused.

Mohammed stressed the frustrations of university diploma holders in obtaining jobs, as employers do not recognise the certificates. Another problem for people with the diplomas was their inability to use the qualifications for further studies.

He said many graduates of university diploma courses wanted to study further in polytechnics, which would not accept them as universities were not mandated to award national diplomas. “Incidentally, the universities that produced them never allow them to register for higher degrees in their universities.”

But the responses from universities were, unsurprisingly, more negative.

Professor Debo Adeyewa, vice-chancellor of Redeemer's University in Ede, is sympathetic to the concerns of the NUC – but said in implementing the directive, stakeholders must respect the laws establishing the universities which empower them, among other things, to hold exams and grant qualifications.

He advocates quality control to check excesses and abuses of power among those who run courses. “Rather than scrap sub-degree programmes and diplomas in universities, emphasis should be on ensuring quality control in the area of teaching and learning.”

Dr Austin Orisakwe, registrar of Gregory University in Uturu, is of the opinion that diploma projects require urgent reforms. But he is against the idea of scrapping diploma courses, as many are relevant to or required for admission into undergraduate or postgraduate courses.

For instance: “If one has a lower degree and wants to register for a masters degree, the candidate must undertake a postgraduate diploma which is a compulsory prerequisite for the higher degree programme.”

Some lecturers have wondered why Rasheed, a former vice-chancellor, would act arrogantly and mistreat his colleagues by avoiding consultations with them.

“You only know the worth of an individual when he has absolute control and access to the yam, the knife to peel the yam and the palm oil to eat the cooked yam,” remarked a former federal university vice-chancellor, who did not want to be named.

Further, Rasheed’s order was illegal because it flouted the law establishing universities, which were protected by the philosophy of autonomy. If Rasheed insisted on having his way, this could generate a crisis that might disrupt the university. “What a pity,” he said.

Foundation programmes

Professor Oyewusi Ibidapo Obe, former vice-chancellor of the University of Lagos, advised the NUC to tread cautiously and undertake a detailed analysis of the creation of diploma courses.

He gave the example of foundation programmes, which were created to provide access to people who previously could not enter higher education without writing the common entrance exam. “It is like A-levels.” Such programmes helped to widen access and were especially crucial for communities in which illiteracy was high.

“What NUC should do is to monitor these foundation programmes with a view to ensuring that standards are adhered to. NUC should not throw away the baby with the bathwater,” he said.

Ngozi Osarenren, a professor of counselling in the education faculty at the University of Lagos, is a member of the Joint Universities Preliminary Examination Board or JUPEB, which is certified by the NUC and approved by the federal ministry of education.

There are 15 universities subscribed to JUPEB and more have signaled an intention to join the programme, which offers an alternative examination and route into university as a way to widen access. “NUC should explain further what it means by sub-degree programmes.”

The revenue issue

The fundamental reason for vehemence against sub-degree courses is that they are a source of additional university revenue. Opinions are sharply divided on this aspect of the controversy.

The NUC boss does not hide his feeling that these courses are mounted so universities can “exploit and fleece” candidates.

This view is supported by Gregory University’s Orisakwe, who argued that universities are not by nature money-making ventures. “Revenue generation by universities should emanate from the areas of research and sale of patents. They would add value to society and generate funds for the universities,” he argued.

Danjuma Gambo, a professor of development communication at the University of Maiduguri, provided an intelligent answer: “If NUC scraps sub-degree and diploma programmes, it should also encourage the federal government to increase funding for universities so that the proscription will not affect the smooth running of universities.”