The Management of the National Universities Commission (NUC), led by the Executive Secretary, Professor Abubakar Adamu Rasheed, mni, MFR, FNAL, last Tuesday,  received in audience a three-man delegation from the UNICAF University, Cyprus, which came to seek approval of the Commission to establish a Branch Campus of the University in Nigeria  solely dedicated to online degree programmes.

Receiving the delegation, Professor Rasheed informed the team that NUC was the only regulatory agency responsible for university education in Nigeria and presently overseeing 153 universities with 40 Federal, 45 States and 68 private universities. He said that despite these numbers, the nation with 180 million population was still grappling with the challenge of access, stressing that only half a million candidates can be admitted in the nation’s universities out of about 2 million applicants in the current admission year. The country, he however said was a critical stakeholder globally on Open and Distance Education (ODE), with its National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN), having the largest number of students studying through the ODE mode.

The Executive Secretary told the team that the Commission was currently developing a proper policy guideline to regulate ODE and had also assembled experts to develop Benchmark Minimum Academic Standards (BMAS) for the programmes. He disclosed that NUC was about to formalise a Cross Border Education (CBE) arrangement with institutions across the world with a test-run of the mode between the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN) and an Israeli University.

In his remarks, the leader of the delegation and the University’s Operations Manager in Africa, Mr. Savva Constentina, noted that he was particularly aware of the situation in Africa, having spent most of his life travelling across African countries. He explained that a company named CPC Group, owned by the British under which he worked assisted Malawi, Rwanda, Mozambique, Zambia and Mauritius in their education system through UNICAF.

During this period, he said he discovered that over 6 billion dollars went out of Nigeria alone which the citizens spend to study abroad. According to him, UNICAF came to Nigeria to invest rather than siphone so as to develop a robust and sound ODE to stem the tide of the populace running across the borders to seek university education.

The Operations Manager told the Executive Secretary that the University had been running a Call Centre in Lagos where Nigerians seeking assistance with admission abroad were counseled and employing about 70 local people presently. The university, he said, possessed the technology and would need the infrastructure in Abuja, Port-Harcourt and or Lagos to support them to employ and run a good and viable University in the country.  He stressed that the funds were available as well as the capacity to deliver on its undergraduate, Masters and PhD programmes, with the presence of UNICAF presently felt in nine African countries.

Arguing further on the relevance of setting up a branch of the university in Nigeria, Mr. Constentia stated that investment in the project would be tremendous, where about 10,000 local people would be employed.  The group solicited for support and wished that the NUC would give UNICAF licence to operate a university so as to create and give back to the country, having done business with it for a long time. Part of the intention of the University he emphasised, was to give about 10 million Naira worth of scholarships to Nigerians discovered to have high acumen and also to expose Nigerian applicants to other UNICAF’s   partnering  universities in South wales, UK and University of California, USA.

Responding, Professor Rasheed noted that the idea of establishing a University was a welcome idea, but that the University had to define whether it intended to run a Specialised programme or  to be a conventional institution. He said that since the interaction was only to open up avenue for disclosure of intent, the NUC had to wait until the formal letter of intent had been received. He further said that UNICAF University must state clearly its preferred mode of programmes and of operation UNICAF as NUC does not wish to encourage an absolute online universities in Nigeria for obvious reasons of Cyber Security challenges and so on.

The Executive Secretary observed that even the prestigious University of London that started its ODE mode of learning in 1889 was still cautious and conservative in awarding its degrees, with its registration formalities and examinations held till date at the British Council Offices in every region where the programme operates. He said that Nigeria itself cannot afford to be complacent knowing the peculiarities of its own society. He said that no matter how good it may sound, reading books online alone without physical interaction at some level would be counter-productive. This, he said, cannot replace structured learning as analytical work was required, adding that interaction and examination should not be made virtual.

On the scholarship proposal, he inquired about the kinds being offered, who to benefit from it, as well as what the NUC was expected to do. He said that all these issues must be addressed so that the type of degree programmes envisaged would be clear from the onset.

At the end of the interaction, both parties agreed that UNICAF needed to pursue the establishment of  a conventional university, while it should articulate a letter of intent which would form the basis for  invitation of the team for further interaction on the desirability or otherwise at a later date.

In the delegation were UNICAF’s Director of International Affairs, Mr. Yiannaris Zyngas and the Chief Executive Officer, OASIS Education Services Nigeria, Professor Abiola Awosika.