Nigeria’s Open University And Matters Arising

Many Nigerians have been skeptical about the status of the National Open University of Nigeria and this can be said to have stemmed from the fact that it is not operated like the typical traditional university.

The criticism cannot be far-fetched as critics have postulated that it has bitten more than it can chew in terms of studying courses which have been approved by the National Universities Commission but not accredited. In this brief chat with the executive secretary of the National Universities Commission, Prof Julius Okojie, the dark sides as well as the misconceptions that have gathered so much moss form the public is explained in simple language.

Concerning the establishment of the university, Prof Okojie has this to say: ‘The purpose of establishing it is very obvious and it is to solve the problem of access and quality. I keep telling people that the issue of access and quality are two sides of a coin. When you improve access, quality drops a little bit, but you cannot deny access from expanding because of quality.

When asked what makes NOUN different from other universities, he says, ‘Mode of subject delivery in terms of lecturing and teaching is quite different. You will recall that there is no country in the world that has made it in respect to the improvement of access that has not relied on the Open University.’

He further explains that the institution is in place So that people who do not have a place in the traditional university setting can work and go to school since there is the need to ensure that the quality of graduates produced by both are the same.

To further shed more light, he continues ‘you will find out that most of those who register in distance learning and open university are people who are mature in the system and the level at which they are operating shows that they have long years of experience in their work places and are different from a sixteen year old child who just left secondary school.

You will find out that the older ones are able to manage time and resources which is very important. At that middle age they will want to get things done because there are no idiosyncrasies at all. There is the opportunity of mid-carrier change which is a very big setting.

To prove that he is part of Nigerian society and has his ears on ground, the NUC helms man revealed that ‘We had the quarrel about the state of the National Open University and many people are saying that after several years that government registered it, what is its true status? It is one of the 122 universities in this country.

The programmes in the National Open University are approved but there is a difference between an approved programme and an accredited programme.

An approved programme is one that has been approved by the National Universities Commission and meets the minimum academic standard for the programme in the setting while an accredited programme is one that is visited after the programme has been approved in order to guarantee its quality and that students can graduate from it and be accepted in the job market.

This is what we have not been able to do in the past and for more than five to six years in the National Open University.’

He disclosed that some of the challenges had to do with the issue of study centres and cost materials to the extent that ‘you will find out that people have registered for the programmes and no one has graduated from that setting.

Yet they will tell you that Open University has no time limit. If ordinarily a student chooses to reach some number of years on his own, then there is no problem. But if a student is ready and willing to finish in good time and the system delays it, then that’s where we have the problem.’

To further douse the rumour and to win back the confidence of Nigerians who might be interested in furthering their education in the Open University, Prof Okojie revealed that ‘Now we have a brand new management setting in the National Open University.

The ministry of education is giving its support and enabling the NUC to provide the entire wherewithal. What we have done is to do the programme audit. We want to know the number of programmes in the system and the number that has been approved.

We want to see facilities available and how mature they are, as well as the cost of materials that are required and what is available for students in a learning environment. There are about 32 programmes in five schools which are ready for accreditation.

He went ahead to mention the programmes which include: School of Science, BSc Nursing and Mathematics, BSc Computer Science, School of Business and Human Resource Management, Co-operative Management as well as Catering Management and we are trying to develop the tourism industry just like we have Tinapa in Cross-River State and the Argungu Fishing Festival in Kebbi State.

For the most controversial of them all which is the study of law, he says, ‘We are still looking at it from the point of view that not too long ago, the Council for Legal Education decided that law cannot be done through the part-time programme any more.

But we are looking at those who have registered for it longer than that period of time. We have the School of Education and then the School of Arts and Social Sciences. Those are the settings.

What happens to programmes denied accreditation? His answer was ‘The implication is that they cannot take new students into those programmes but those already there will graduate and if they come for any reason the second time and they are denied accreditation, we will close down the school completely.’

On why it took NUC so long to address the burning issues of the institution, he noted that they are matters the commission was set to resolve. ‘However, we will go ahead and do our own accreditation and keep the report because these are matters that are outstanding and we will be discussing with the Council of Legal Education on this issue.’

Furthermore, they are internal matters which will be discussed in the boardroom. The management had a problem and that was where the problem was. They had by now not known that the NUC has a level of responsibility towards them. So the leadership has its own problems.

He opined that certain modalities cannot be sacrificed on the altar of compromise just as is witnessed in some institutions that have no business offering some courses. An example is the Nigerian Defence Academy. He was optimistic that a change is needed and the time is now.