by Kunle Rotimi

When the Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission announced a few days ago that all part-time programmes being run in Nigerian universities had been suspended, those affected by the decisions expressed great disappointment at the university system. They claimed that the decision caught them unawares and also affected their career plans! Some have pointed out that the decision smacks of policy inconsistency in Nigeria’s education sector.

It is important to underscore the position of the NUC, on why such a drastic decision must be taken. According to reports, Okojie claimed that “the suspension of the part-time programmes is to enable the regulatory body to streamline the courses”.

He also reportedly stressed further that, “the work of the universities” regulatory body is becoming more difficult because of the products of the system! He solicited the cooperation of all the affected institutions “to enable the NUC to evolve a more focused and credible system”. The Commission hinted that, “all-part time programmes have been suspended”, directing that “no university should have more than 20 per cent of their students’ population on part-time with excess capacity to teach; all part-time programmes must be located on campus, as it does not want satellite campuses anymore”.

It must be made abundantly clear that the Commission has statutory powers to determine quality of universities’ programmes and ensure that they meet the required international standards. I guess this is in national interest, if our education system must be worthwhile for meaningful development.

It is important to streamline the part-time courses on offer, and as the number of universities running part-time courses increases, there will be corresponding pressure on the full-time equivalent in respect of teaching faculty available to handle those courses. There will also be higher workload on the Commission to effectively monitor the operations in the universities under its watch.

The Commission in the throes of difficulty has disclosed that its decision is informed by the need to have “a more focused and credible system”. As laudable as the reasons given are, the decision is too sudden, callous and very arbitrary. It is one thing to have good intention or plan, it is another thing to make such intention plausible and be considerate in the overall interest of the direct beneficiaries.

With due respect, NUC management ought to have put in place long before now salient parameters of global best practices in running part-time programmes, with calibrated eligibility criteria that every university must meet before beginning the programmes and subsequently.

If therefore any university violates the standard requirements set for running such programmes and the Commission is proactive enough to assure quality through proper monitoring, there will be minimal damage to the academic aspirations of the students who are undertaking ongoing part-time courses. As it is now, the blanket suspension of part-time courses in all the universities has put avoidable blame on the limited capacities of the Commission to regulate effectively and take proactive measures in the university system.

Most students, whose employers or parents have given specific time and support to undertake part-time courses in order to improve their skills and knowledge acquisition, are now in quandary by the sudden decision of the NUC! The suspension has far-reaching negative effects on career development of the existing beneficiaries across the country. The universities are not affected because those students whose courses have been suspended have paid huge fees already and there is no refund; they will now have to spend longer time to complete their respective courses at additional costs! This is unwarranted hardship on the toiling students doing part-time courses at different levels!

I guess that, it would have been more reasonable if the NUC had given the universities specific period, within which they were to fix the deficiencies identified in running the part-time programmes, so that considerable time would be given to those students who have paid for their courses already. The official ultimatum that the NUC could have given, would have allowed the desired streamlining of courses to go on simultaneously with the running programmes, without prejudice to the contractual obligations of the universities to their part-time students.

As the session for full-time courses runs out, and long vacations are fast approaching, with opportunities for part-time students to attend courses, the Commission could have allowed the ongoing programmes to be concluded, while making sure that the next semester or session will not start until all the requirements are met satisfactorily.

Most of the part-time students are self-sponsored and their desires might be to complete the courses to be able to get higher status in the public service or private sector within certain periods. I am aware that most personnel in the police, military, paramilitary, colleges, the media, teaching and other essential services undertake part-time courses, with very limited time to complete their programmes before being transferred, promoted or relocated as their assignments dictate.

Such category of people now might end up, not completing their courses and also losing their funds with efforts already put in doing their NUC-suspended programmes! More so that there are no more satellite campuses which may permit them to do such courses off-shore! The high risks may then be on the students, who may have to be travelling longer distance after the goddess of suspension of their courses is appeased, in case they have been relocated!

In taking any decision that has palpable impact on individual life and career development, I think a responsible Commission like NUC should have looked critically at the grave consequences of taking such steps from more reasonable perspectives. The suspension of the part-time courses may be for very good reasons, but the implications on the beneficiaries have made the decision obnoxious, untenable and narrow in concept at this time, in view of the possibilities aforementioned.

Yes, the system must be more focused and credible as being adduced by NUC, but suspending the courses without sufficient prior notice to the affected students, is inimical to their career plan and development; the decision is also detrimental to corporate staff training and development strategies.

My humble suggestion to the management of the NUC is to immediately lift the suspension on the part-time programmes and give the universities reasonable time within which to meet the standard requirements expected of them to run qualitative part-time courses; providing technical guides. The universities must also be mandated not to begin a new part-time studies’ session until the criteria are fully met, with sanctions against those that violate the rules.

Part-time programmes are universal; they are being run by universities and polytechnics all over the world. In global best practice, if any courses are to be delisted or suspended, enough notice will have been given, not that some officials will just wake up one morning to find that the courses they run are cancelled or suspended via media announcement! The span of undertaking academic part-time courses is often spelt out clearly in the prospectus of the institutions running the programmes.

If therefore the course-session is to be truncated as the NUC management has just done, I think it should not be as sudden and arbitrary as it appears. The affected students will feel short-changed unduly, for no fault of theirs.

The NUC decision is as if the Central Bank of Nigeria should suddenly decide that banks should suspend paying money to all holders of savings’ accounts in all the Nigerian deposit banks, pending when the regulator would streamline better mode of running such accounts!

Finally, in order to forestall a future recurrence of this arbitrariness, the NUC should live up to its billings and responsibilities much more, by nipping excesses of every university in the bud. NUC needs to be more proactive to avoid policy somersault of this nature! This flat suspension of part-time programmes in all Nigerian universities suggests gross negligence on the part of the Commission, in closely marking-up the performance indicators of each university that runs the courses! It means that the regulatory body went to deep-sleep after being aware or negligent that such courses are being run in the universities, only to wake up and find abuses!

If the NUC had properly monitored the erring universities from the time they placed advertisements for their part-time courses, their preparedness and capacities to meet the requirements to run the programmes would have been determined, not after the students have been admitted and made to pay huge fees for their time-bound courses.

*This piece was first published in The Punch

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