The Executive Secretary, National Universities Commission (NUC), Professor Abubakar A. Rasheed, mni, MFR, FNAL, has challenged participants at the workshop on the proposed Higher Education Reform and Africa Centres of Excellence (ACE) to proffer solutions to the lingering crises confronting higher education in Nigeria.

Addressing the participants last Tuesday at the Idris Abdulkadir Auditorium, NUC, Abuja, he noted that the participants were not strangers to these challenges, stressing that ignoring them for too long had negatively affected the quality of higher education in Nigeria.

According to him, some of these challenges included poor performance, unstable academic calendar, curricula that were inadequate to meet  the needs of industry, inadequate deployment of ICT in teaching, learning and research. Other challenges include lack of attention to Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET), corruption and plagiarism by some students and  academics, among others.

In his words “Our higher education system is in dire need of reforms. The challenges confronting the higher education system in Nigeria are alarming and these challenges have over time, watered down the quality of our Higher Education.”

The NUC Scribe noted that it was in the light of these problems that the National Universities Commission constituted a Strategy Advisory Committee on the revitalisation of the NUS,  headed by Professor Peter Okebukola, with the mandate to assist in repositioning the Commission and indeed the Nigerian Universities System (NUS) to meet national needs and aspirations for global relevance and competitiveness.

He disclosed that the World Bank-supported higher education project, also known as the Africa Centres of Excellence (ACE) was initiated in 2013, to promote regional specialisation amongst universities in the participating countries within the West and Central African sub-region. The idea was to address common regional developmental challenges and strengthen their capacities to deliver high quality training and applied research.

He noted that among the 10 centres in Nigeria, three of them are research centres for Agriculture, three for Medicine and four for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). He expressed delight in the achievements the centres had recorded over the years and stressed the need to replicate same in the entire NUS.

Professor Rasheed stressed that since his assumption of duty as the Executive Secretary of the Commission a lot had been done to reposition the NUC better to meet up with the challenges of regulating the NUS. Among these reforms, he said, were the merger of some Departments of the Commission and the creation of new ones.  The staff were also manned according to areas of relevance and specialisation.

He added that plans were ongoing to embark on aggressive staff development programme to better equip the staff to meet the aspirations of the Commission towards repositioning the NUS. The Commission, he said, had been talking with and engaging several stakeholders in preparation for the proposed Higher Education Reforms.

He added that the Commission through the Federal Ministries of Education and Finance approached the World Bank to seek funding support to address the identified challenges and holistically reform the system for effective and efficient delivery of higher education services.

The Executive Secretary cautioned that Nigeria’s population would double in the nearest future, saying that the onus is on the academics to discuss how this population growth would impact on the educational system and advice the government accordingly. He added that Higher Education was germane to the development of any society and that the recommendations of the participants at the workshop would also help to fast-track the development of Nigeria from an oil producing nation to a knowledge-based economy. He thanked the participants for honouring the clarion call to serve their father land and wished them a successful deliberation.

In her welcome remarks, the World Bank Education Specialist, Abuja office, Mrs. Aisha Garba Mohammed, informed the participants that the objective of the workshop organised by the Bank in Collaboration with the NUC was into two sections. The first was to discuss the Higher Education Reform Agenda under the NUC leadership as well as consultation on the establishment of the new ACE Project in Nigeria. The two programmes, she said, were benefiting from the World Bank Support Scheme.

The event later dissolved into a technical discussion segment where the World Bank representative in Nigeria, Mr. Andre Blom highlighted the criteria for a competitive bidding of further support from the Bank based on performance among the ACE participating Universities.

The NUC ACE Project Coordinator also gave a rundown of the Journey So Far of the ACE project and what the universities would gain by working in synergy so as to achieve the objectives outlined and in order to further benefit from the World Bank.

Present at the workshop were some Vice Chancellors and Directors of Academic Planning of the ACE Project participating Universities, Directors of the Nigerian 10 Centres of ACE, some members of the NUC Management as well as ACE support staff of the NUC.