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    Friday, November 24, 2023

    Obafemi on Nigerian University Education in Constant Transition

    By Tony Afejuku 

    I was on the verge of reflecting on our university education (based on what the new Federal Government of APC is currently doing and saying to our universities) when Professor Olu Obafemi’s text of the convocation lecture which he delivered at the Federal University, Lokoja, Kogi State found me.

    He delivered the lecture on October 19 this year. Of course, Professor Olu Obafemi, FANA, FESAN, FNAL, NNOM is a big name in Nigeria’s literary firmament, as every constant and regular reader of this column knows.

    He thus does not need more than necessary introduction today. In fact, only last Friday he received a welcome focus here for reasons that were obviously obvious – which my writing now tries to re-set forth with a peculiar sensibility in his own very words in his convocation text already alluded to above.

    I don’t want to say that his contemplation on our university education in constant transition is similar to my intended reflection – which I hereby jettison temporarily for his text I am re-titling and releasing in a near quasi-abridged form or so.

    He, as an artist, begins with two pertinent quotes, actually two epigrams, the first by ABBA, the universally-famous musical group, and the second by himself, as follows:

    Thank you for the music, the song we are singing

    Thanks for all the joy they are bringing.

    Who can be without it, I ask in all honesty

    What will life be, without a song?

    And: Life without a story and storyteller will be lifeless.

    Now follow our singer and story-teller, the very distinguished Professor Olu Obafemi, the eminently eminent, in his own uniquely unique way.

    Education in changing societies

    The increase (I am going to allude to here pertaining to our higher education) is incidentally a fait accompli, with the vigour on display, and especially in tandem with the ongoing increases in the world around us – a world in a state of flux, in palpable transition, where tomorrow is in today because the future beckons faster than we anticipate. This continuity imperative of time is best captured in the oft-quoted statement of the British/American poet, T.S. Eliot:

    Time present and time past

    Are both perhaps present in the future,

    And time future is contained in time past

    If all time is eternally present

    All time is unredeemable. (T.S. Eliot. Four Quartets)

    Implicit in this cyclical nature of time, it is perceivable that we are in a world where there seems to be no distinction between tomorrow and today as yesterday is being quickly thrown into years past, wrapping up itself as a premonition of the future. It is a world where technology, ideas and innovations are shaping our being and our becoming, in ways we never imagined.

    We are in a world where motion is not just in the tangibles but evidently in the intangibles. Just as the physical and technological elements are constantly changing, the soft, virtual institutional variants are also in shifting states. Knowledge creation, the sharing and impartation process is specifically in motion, challenging us to examine the contexts, and especially leading to our discussion today, on the role of university education in a society in constant transition.

    Examining this subject is an invitation to reflect on university education, its relationship with society and the question of transition. While university education is a variant of the educational process, systems and societies rely on it, for its ability to chart new paths.

    In charting new paths, universities refine and define our understandings, in manners that constantly give us fresh beginnings. This is the hallmark of a society in transition, a system in motion, where trends are regularly requiring adaptation.

    The centrality of the university in the envisioning evolvement of society is captured in the apt statement of the late renowned economist and university administrator, Professor Ojetunji Aboyade.

    He argued that a nation has the right to look up to its universities as “the highest intellectual, aesthetic, ethical, cultural and skills development” (and he) asserts that “the growth of nations and the wisdom of peoples’ are therefore bound up with the flourishing of their universities” (such that) “the future character of a nation’s development some two decades away is mirrored by the present quality of its universities.”

    The subject matters of university, society and transition are no doubt interwoven. This, therefore, allows us to imagine, not just causes and effects, but also the many issues within. We cannot dispute the place of the university, for instance, in the creation of social and cultural awareness. The questions of lifelong learning, management of change, skills development, and most importantly research and innovation are crucial.

    Universities are essential for research and knowledge generation, for triggering progress, by needs. The needs are resolved through investigations by students and faculty, using available resources. Universities are centres of thought, for compliant skills, and are helpful for the navigation of contemporary issues, through collaborations, partnerships, and real-life practices.

    Universities expose people to differences, letting them appreciate otherness, and allowing an open mind for the appreciation of discrepancy. If we add workforce development and valuable development of skills for economic production and progress, we will then have a better picture of the role of the university.

    The role of education in the fertilisation of the mind is also closely linked to this discourse, given the all-important significance of the university as the ivory tower of learning. Unfortunately, today, in Nigerian governance thinking, attitude and action, education, especially in the tertiary sub-sector, does not earn that regard and consideration in material terms.

    If it were not so, why would it be that the direct appropriation to education in the past decade has been far less than ten per cent of the nation’s annual budget and less than 4% in the current budget? Why would the plea that university teachers be paid their debt owed in salaries remain an unheeded, otherwise needless nudge to a government which promises to keep our ‘universities dead to strikes?’

    I was privileged to be a member of the latest Re-negotiating team (on the government side) between Federal Universities-based unions and the Federal Government. Why was it not possible or not all right for the immediate past Federal Government to finalize the agreement reached between government and the Unions, in spite of extra-bargaining pleas and end the strikes peacefully?

    The present Government reaffirmed its belief in a tertiary educational system that is run without strikes. This was an excitable expression. One way of actualising that is the removal of all causes of discontent between government and the industrial labour organisations. The other is to ensure the inviolability of the University Act and university autonomy. The dissolution of university Councils is clearly against the spirit and ethos of university autonomy.

    Two things are required to be ascertained through an act of political will by government. One is the payment, through one means or the other, of the eight months’ salaries owed the academic staff and a few months less owed to the non-academic staff; and then conclude the bargaining engagement set up by government.

    The second is the immediate lifting of the unwarranted dissolution of the Governing Councils of Federal tertiary institutions in order to return the tertiary institutions to expedient normalcy and terminate the comatose state and the present stormy waters of the Federal Universities.

    “Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today,” says Malcolm X, while Elin Nordegren agrees, when he noted that education ‘is one thing no one can take away from you.’ We have all heard of the saying “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” This was initially said by Maimonides and it goes a long way to demonstrate the point (we are making) in a lifetime.

    To be sure, education can be liberating. It impacts the mind, which Malcolm Forbes sees as a process of replacing “an empty mind with an open one.” This process leads to increased understanding, and greater confidence, in addition to shaping the world view of a beneficiary. Education is exposing, providing pathways for the navigation of life, and the dissection of its complexities.

    The benefits flow from a didactic boost of human (and experiential) psychology, creating an epistemic evolution of the individual, rendering it eventually useful for the world around, given the resulting assets that the human is imbued with.

    By extension, as the individual becomes fulfilled through an educational process, society also benefits, through harnessing the skills of the individual.

    In benefits, therefore, it could lead to the growth and development of society, leveraging the resultant human resource element. A grown society is a progressive society where happiness and well-being might be assured.

    When sustained, a seamless advancement evolves rendering education into a priceless, civilising, and stunning gift to society.

    To be continued.

    Afejuku can be reached via 08055213059.

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