The Executive Secretary, National Universities Commission (NUC), Professor Abubakar A. Rasheed, recently received a two-man delegation from the Mexican Embassy in Nigeria, led by the Mexican Ambassador, His Excellency, Alejandro Garcia Moreno, who came on a familiarisation visit to the Commission.
Welcoming the visitors, Professor Rasheed gave a brief account of the activities of the NUC. He informed them that the Commission was the only government agency created, specifically, to advise the government on issues relating to university education, one of which was making recommendations on the establishment of private universities.
Professor Rasheed informed the delegation that the Nigerian University System (NUS) had 163 universities, which cut across three types of proprietorship, namely Federal, State and Private ownership. Of this number, private universities had the largest distribution, with 74 institutions.
He informed the Ambassador that every state of the federation had a federal university, which were not mandated to charge fees, while almost every state had a state university. The private universities were scattered across the federation, he said, in no particular order. The Executive Secretary stated that the NUS had a number of specialised universities, such as the Police Academy, Nigerian Army University of Technology and Environmental Studies as well as the Nigerian Maritime University, Okerenkoko. He expressed optimism that the system could glean from the experiences of Mexico, with its vast resources in oceanography.
The Executive Secretary informed the delegation that the Commission was currently engaged in the process of reforming the NUS as part of efforts to improve on quality of education.
To this end, a blueprint had been developed, with a focus on expanding access, without compromising quality of education. The NUC was, therefore, collaborating with relevant stakeholders from industry, for the actualisation of this goal and to ensure focus on programmes particularly relevant to national development. Cognisant of the role of research in national development, the NUC was re-inventing curricula in the system, to ensure the production of graduates who would compete favourably with their counterparts, globally, and turn the fortunes of the nation around.
Expressing pleasure at the visit, Professor Rasheed acknowledged the cordial relationship that existed between his predecessor and the Mexican Embassy and expressed optimism at a continued warm relationship between both organisations.
In his remarks, Mr Garcia Moreno stated that the Mexican education system was a lot similar to Nigeria’s, with educational institutions split into two broad categories, public and private. He informed the Executive Secretary that the government placed a high premium on education, with the resultant effect that 35 percent of the federal budget mostly allocated to education.
He acknowledged that education was expensive and added that, as a means of providing support to citizens, education was free at both elementary level and high school. He noted that, in Mexico, public universities had a higher capacity to conduct research than their private counterparts.
With over 10,000km of coastline and 2,000,000sq m of oceanography, Mexico has vast huge maritime resources, the Ambassador said, and expressed delight at the prospects of partnering with the Commission in strengthening the capacity of the Nigerian Maritime University.
He acknowledged the role of education in shaping a people’s thinking and way of life. The Ambassador noted that Mexico was a country with a landmass twice the size of Nigeria and a population of about 125 million. In recent times, the country’s demographics had changed, resulting in fewer children of school age. This meant that the country would not need to build new schools.
Like Nigeria, he said, Mexico had an education system for the army, which demanded that for anyone to be an officer, (s)he must have successfully completed the basic education level. The country, he said, is currently running exchange programmes with other countries in this regard and, as such, it had officers from other countries studying in Mexico and vice versa. He expressed optimism about a partnership with the NUC for an exchange of staff and students.
In his response, Professor Rasheed expressed delight at the prospects of partnership with the Mexican government. He demonstrated willingness to introduce the Ambassador to the Committee of Vice-Chancellors (CVC) and, possibly, secure an invitation for him to address students in some of the nation’s universities, to expose students to new possibilities.
Responding to a question about which Nigerian university had the highest research output, the Executive Secretary observed that the University of Ibadan had the most impressive research profile in the NUS.
However, many other universities were recording breakthroughs in research. As part of efforts to stimulate research, 10 Centres had been established in 10 Nigerian universities, under the World Bank-supported Africa Centres of Excellence (ACE) project. These 10 ACEs had emerged, on merit, through a rigorous selection process and were conducting research in three major subject areas, namely; Science and Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), Health and Agriculture.
The Executive Secretary informed the delegation that calls had recently been made for proposals from Nigerian universities, for another round of ACEs, in the third phase of the Project, which targets the emergence of 10 new Centres.
To this end, the World Bank had approved the release of 70 million USD for the 10 successful ACEs. He informed the Ambassador that the Commission was also establishing linkages with relevant stakeholders from industry, such as the National Economic Summit Group (NESG) to ensure, among other things, the production of graduates who would meet national manpower needs.
Professor Rasheed noted that Spanish had been one of the five major languages of the world and one of the official languages of the United Nations and noted the need to resuscitate Spanish studies in universities with language programmes.
In his remarks, Cultural Attache and Head, Consular Affairs, Mr Francesco Martinez, informed the Executive Secretary that Mexico had many things in common with Nigeria. He said Mexican government had similar challenges of access and quality. Mr Martinez briefed the meeting that his country was in the process of reforming its education system to address the issues. He therefore noted the need for both countries to share and learn from each other’s experiences.
Also at the meeting were NUC Directors of Research, Innovation and ICT, Dr Suleiman B. Ramon-Yusuf; Management Support Services, Barr. Victor Onuoha; International Cooperation and Liaison Services, Mrs Constance Goddy-Nnadi; Inspection and Monitoring, Mrs Essien Usendiah, Establishment of Private Universities, Mr. Hamza Abdullahi and Ag. Director, Student Support Services, Dr. Maryam Sali. Others were the Deputy Directors, ICT, Mr Musa Zamuna, Information, Mr Haruna L. Ajo and Corporate Services, Mr John A. Mairafi.