The Executive Secretary, National Universities Commission (NUC), Professor Abubakar Adamu Rasheed, mni, MFR, FNAL, has said that higher education in Nigeria would only have a better future if Nigerian universities begin to explore ways of diversifying international collaborations.

He made the remarks when he received the Country Officer, Agence Française de Development (AFD), Mr. Vincent Larrouze and Deputy Country Director, Mr. Andre Hue in his office last Friday.

The delegation was in the Commission to strengthen existing relationship and seek further cooperation on higher education between the two Agencies.

Professor Rasheed pointed out that the Commission valued its relationship with AFD, especially for its commitment and support to Africa Centres of Excellence (ACE) Impact Projects. He expressed the Commission’s appreciation to the Agency for its interest and contribution to ACE, which had significantly increased funding of the project.

He said that the intervention of AFD in ACE Impact and strategic support for Higher Education (HE) with a wider scope in education through scholarships and other remarkable interventions had made the Agency popular in the Nigerian University System (NUS).

The NUC Scribe also stated that with the collaboration of AFD, preparations were underway for quality assurance assessment of ACE Health programmes in University of Jos (UNIJOS) and Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria and subsequent assessment of Agriculture in Bayero University (BUK), Kano, Federal University of Agriculture Abeokuta (FUNAAB), and Benue State University (BSU), Makurdi.

He stressed that all ACEs would go through accreditation by Higher Council for Evaluation of Research and Higher Education (Hecres), which was the French accreditation agency to assure quality and ensure common standards  in all the Centres.

The Executive Secretary informed Country Director that the Commission had considered reviewing the guidelines on Open and Distance Learning (ODL) and trans-border education through direct interaction, establishment of campuses and involvement of some agencies in e-learning to further open up space and provide access to quality university education in Nigeria.

He said that the Commission had identified AFD as one of the key partners to deliberate on those issues, stressing that the future of Nigerian universities did not only rely on research and teaching, but also, on their willingness to open doors to diverse international partnerships.

He stated that the Commission was reviewing the curriculum of the NUS and when funds were made available, it would work on the blueprint on the strategic plans on university education in Nigeria. He, therefore, solicited the input of AFD on the draft documents.

Professor Rasheed further stated that the Commission had signed Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) with Francophone universities on Quality Assurance mechanisms, mobility, scholarship and language promotion especially French in Nigeria. He noted that most people from francophone countries understood a little bit of English, while on the other hand, those in Anglophone could hardly speak French.

He attributed the language barrier as impediment to effective collaborations and partnerships among universities within the West African region. He proffered that through exchange programmes, some students could study in France which could encourage diverse perspectives and worldview.  He elaborated that encouraging foreign studies in France and provision of scholarship opportunities would also improve research network and knowledge-economy which had been globally identified as key to national development.

The Executive Secretary also said that during the upcoming meeting between the two agencies between October and November 2019, the Commission would exploit the opportunity and make arrangement for public lecture in select fields to be delivered by AFD for interested Nigerian universities. He explained that the proposed forum would provide the opportunity to address some issues and deepen students’ understanding of those issues. He said that Vice-Chancellors would also be contacted on strategic areas that needed AFD interventions with bias to Physical facilities.

He said that NUC would liaise with National Higher Education Regulatory Agencies to engage and agree on key areas that needed intervention in Higher education. He noted that the area that needed urgent intervention in Nigerian universities was provision of standard accommodation as most students stayed off-campus and were exposed to all forms of insecurity which had become worrisome. He emphasised that the more the issue of accommodation was addressed, the better the quality of learning in the NUS.

Professor Rasheed disclosed that as part of its commitment towards provision of standard facilities for conducive learning environment by students, the Commission through its Directorate of Student Support would soon embark on assessment of students’ facilities in selected universities that would serve as pilot models as currently there was no empirical data to that effect.

In line with that, the Commission had constituted 39 visitation panels to 78 to inspect and assess the facilities including classes, accommodation, libraries, power supply, security gadgets and general sanitation as well as survey on teaching and learning, among others.

He, therefore, solicited AFD’s support and partnership in providing standard accommodation in some universities. He reiterated that it should be under strict guidance of NUC in accordance with the master plans of the select universities.

The Executive Secretary also assured that the Commission would work in synergy with the Federal Ministries of Education and Finance to facilitate the approval of requests by AFD on contributions towards education in Nigeria. He also reassured that the Commission would be committed towards getting the support of the new 9th National Assembly on higher education agenda.

Speaking on their mission, the Country Officer, Mr. Larrouze said that it was to discuss possible areas of AFD intervention in the NUS and how to interface through NUC Blueprint on higher education.

He stated that French influence in the NUS was becoming more visible and pronounced through the intervention of AFD in education sector. He said that the Agency was already into strong partnership with NUC and the NUS, which was a very important aspect of the cooperation between Nigeria and France.

The Country Officer said that in line with President Emmanuel Macron’s policy on education, AFD was determined to be active partner in Higher Education not only in funding but also through technical support. On partnership with the NUS through e-learning, Mr. Larrouze said that AFD would only be able to contribute in that aspect when it had seen the guidelines provided by NUC to that effect.

In his contribution, the Deputy Country Director, Mr. Hue explained that Nigeria-France cooperation had been an impressive partnership in all spheres and French government was trying to expand its portfolio in French cooperation and financing French programmes in the NUS.

Mr. Hue said that AFD had new mandate which entailed working in line with Higher education blueprint and also active participation in ACE Impact in partnership with World Bank, towards better financing of the project through NUC’s guidance.

He said that towards the end of the year in November, AFD would hold a stakeholders’ forum on its activities especially in ACE and the role of Hecres in quality assurance as well as other projects in education sector. He also disclosed that by July, AFD was expected to send progress report on its activities to French government, requesting that NUC should assist in forwarding a report on ACE Impact which would form part of the report to be sent to the home government.

AFD, the socio-economic development agency of French government which funds, supports and encourages transition to a better world towards Sustainable Development Goals.

Also present were NUC’s Directors of Executive Secretary’s Office, Mr. Chris Maiyaki; Accreditation, Dr Noel Salihu; International Cooperation and Liaison Services, Mrs Constance Goddy-Nnadi; Inspection and Monitoring; Mr. Boniface Odum as well as Ag. Director, Management Support Services, Mallam Abdullahi Kabiru. Others were Deputy Director, Corporate Services, Mr. John Mairafi; representative of Director, Establishment of Private Universities, Mr. Mustapha Rasheed and representative of Director, ICT, Mr. Obi.