The Executive Secretary, National Universities Commission (NUC), Professor Abubakar Adamu Rasheed, mni, MFR, FNAL, has said that the Commission’s strategic reform policies aimed at strengthening its regulatory functions and revitalising the Nigerian University System (NUS) to be more relevant for national development and global competiveness was yielding dividends.

In his New Year Message, the NUC scribe expressed profound appreciation especially to His Excellency, the President, Federal Republic of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR, the Hon. Minister of Education Malam Adamu Adamu, the NUC Board under the chairmanship of Prof. (Emeritus) Ayo Banjo, the entire NUS and all other stakeholders in the education sector for the achievements recorded by the Commission in 2018.

Professor Rasheed said that he was ushering in the year 2019 with so much hope and expectations following the successful repositioning of the NUS for greater performance in 2018.

He pledged the Commission’s renewed commitment to the development of the NUS and consolidation of achievements recorded so far, especially in the areas of Access and Quality.

He said that Nigerian universities were doing well based on empirical evidence from the Africa Centres of Excellence (ACE) project of the World Bank and the outcomes of the accreditation exercises conducted on various programmes and other monitoring visits and inspections to universities as well as visits to private universities to assess their compliance with the terms of their licences.

He revealed that under the ACE project, additional six universities won the World Bank grant bringing the number to 16 Nigerian universities under the project.

Professor Rasheed commended the private sector for continued participation and support in university education especially with additional one new university in 2018, bringing the number of private universities to 75.

The Executive Secretary revealed  that three Nigerian Universities namely Covenant University (CU) Ota, University of Ibadan (UI) and University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), were ranked among the top 1000 universities in the world and 7th, 8th and 23rd best in Africa respectively in the 2017/2018 Times Higher Education (THE) report.

In the same year, two additional federal universities were also established bringing the number to be 43 and one state university came on board increasing the number to 47 and a total number of 165 universities in the NUS which he said would increase the regulatory activities of the Commission and  expressed optimism that with the outcome of his interaction with Vice-Chancellors of Nigerian universities during their Conference in August 2018 at Redeemer’s University Ede, Osun State and their pledge to form greater synergy with the Commission, 2019 gives a renewed hope for greater reforms in the NUS, he said.

On the reforms in the NUS, he said that they were necessary in order to meet up with  trends in globalisation by producing graduates who could impact on Nigeria’s knowledge Economic Index; address major challenges of access, quality and relevance; tackle demographic challenges in the universities and Nigeria by 2050 and the implementation of the Ministerial Action Plan.

Prof. Rasheed added that in formulating the reform strategies, the Commission had been engaging in some activities including management retreats, constitution of a Strategy Advisory Committee (STRADVCOM), headed by former NUC Executive Secretary, Professor Peter Okebukola.

Explaining some of the deliverables by STRADVCOM, Professor Rasheed said that they included publication of the Blueprint on the Rapid Revitalisation of University Education (2018-2023); Directory of full professors in Nigerian University System (2017) which was presented in 2018, some Monographs on different subjects in university education and 2017 Statistical Digest for Nigerian universities.

He said that the Blueprint covered some specific areas such as inadequacies in facilities for teaching, learning and research; deficits in teacher quality and quantity including quality of professors; governance deficits including stemming the tide of industrial actions; inadequate funding; depressed quality of graduates and inadequacies in access to university education.

The Executive Secretary assured that as a quality assurance agency, quality would continue to occupy the front burner in the operations of the Commission, urging that universities should strengthen their internal quality assurance mechanisms by establishing  Directorates of Quality Assurance as stand-alone or alternatively, as Quality Assurance Unit in the Directorate of Academic Planning.

The Executive Secretary highlighted some of theachievements recorded in 2018 to include, accreditation of undergraduate and postgraduate programmes in Nigerian universities to ensure that standards were maintained, and access expanded. The Commission undertook resource verification exercises to newly approved programmes in universities to ensure that the requisite manpower and material resources were in line with laid down academic standards.

The NUC scribe said that, as part of its reforms, the Commission also tried in addressing the deficiencies in research and postgraduate training; academic corruption and other social vices; restructuring the regulatory function of NUC and the role of professional bodies; promoting ICT-driven universities; fostering skills development and entrepreneurship as well as gender issues.

He specified that NUC undertook some drastic action plans towards repositioning the NUS including pedagogical training to bridge the gap between intended and achieved curriculum in the system, such as the NUC-University of Sussex (US) pedagogy course for Nigerian faculty; partnership between the Commission and University of London (UoL) on capacity building in.

Open and Distance Learning (ODL) for the NUS; establishment of new programmes and changes in nomenclature; Curriculum development, review and re-engineering; Research and innovation; monitoring relationships between universities and affiliate institutions as well as ensuring community development and engagement by universities.

Professor Rasheed stated that the Commission would, in the New Year, accelerate   the comprehensive review of the entire university curricula (the Benchmark Minimum Academic Standards (BMAS) and ranking of Nigerian Universities. The other two cardinal activities of NUC, Accreditation of Programmes and Resource Verification, would also be regularly conducted in universities.

Speaking on the strategic goals of the Commission, Professor Rasheed disclosed that “By end of 2019, the curriculum of Nigerian universities should be rated among the best three in Africa in terms of its relevance to producing nationally and regionally-relevant graduates who are high level human resources for delivering on Africa’s Vision 2063 and addressing global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)”.

He further clarified that by 2019, NUC would have been restructured and empowered for better delivery and being able to introduce enforceable minimum standards in governance that would ensure at least 10% efficiency in the NUS and by the same year, the incidence of academic corruption in Nigerian universities would have been reduced by at least 10% and remain on the decline up to 2025 and beyond. While by 2020, there should have been a sustainable funding model being approved at all levels and implemented through appropriate instruments of federal and state governments.

On research, Professor Rasheed said that in 2019, NUC would strengthen its Research Directorate to work with those of the universities to coordinate research activities in universities and ensure relevance of their outputs. The Commission would also intensify efforts by challenging universities to develop and implement Institutional Research Policy and as matter of urgency, establish a Research Administration Directorate, to be headed by an academic not below the rank of a Professor, with appropriate human and material resources to run the Office of Intellectual Property and Technology Transfer (OIPTT) or Office of Technology Commercialisation and Industry Relations (OTCIR).

In recognition of the importance of data for proper planning and administration, the Commission had resolved that the University System Annual Review Meeting (USARM), which was suspended in 2012, would resume in 2019, The Commission would also revamp institutional accreditation and commence accreditation of part-time programmes.

On delivery mode, the Executive Secretary stated that the Commission would continue to leverage on the use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) to facilitate teaching, learning and research, while focusing more on student support services to ensure that university products were globally competitive. With the development of postgraduate BMAS, he said that NUC would also continue to carry out postgraduate accreditation exercises in line with the new timelines.

In late 2018, the Commission convened an Industry-University stakeholders meeting which took cognisance of the need for collaborations and synergies so as to produce cutting-edge research outputs that would be relevant to the needs of the industry for ‘commercialisation and patents’.

As part of its regulatory function of forging collaborations and international partnerships between Nigerian universities and foreign institutions, the Commission also organised a retreat on ‘Internationalisation of University Education in Nigeria for Directors of Offices of Internationalisation and Development in Nigerian universities. It aimed at sensitising participants on contemporary and innovative tools for forging and sustaining international partnerships and linkages in higher education towards encouraging, promoting and strengthening higher education administration in Nigeria.

Professor Rasheed, who expressed satisfaction with the Commission’s performance in the year under review, attributed the successes to the unparalleled support from the federal government, the Commission’s workforce and the cooperation of Nigerian universities. He was optimistic expressed that the Commission would achieve more in the current year, enjoining all stakeholders to continue to contribute meaningfully to the development of the NUS to take it to enviable heights.

He charged university managers to be more proactive in the discharge of their duties in ensuring that programmes and institutions continue to live up to expectation which would lead to evolution of world-class institutions and quality graduates. He wished the NUS a successful 2019 academic year.