The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, has reiterated the need for the repositioning of tertiary education in Nigeria.
He spoke in Abuja on Tuesday during the National Summit on Tertiary Education Reform organised by his office.
This was as critical stakeholders in the nation’s tertiary education sector urged Nigerians and the Federal Government to consider alternative means of funding tertiary education in the country
According to Gbajabiamila, the current state of tertiary education in the country calls for drastic action to be taken if the future of the country is of any concern for Nigerians.
Critical stakeholders in the tertiary education sector, including former President Olusegun Obasanjo, top government functionaries, academia and the private sector were represented at the summit
Noting that Nigeria’s greatest resource is neither her oil nor other abundant mineral deposits across the country, but the Nigerian people, Gbajabiamila said events of the last few months have called for a rethink about how to adequately equip and empower the Nigerian child in a globalising world.
He said: “Our cause is more than to seek solutions to the challenges of tertiary education in Nigeria.
“In fact, we are here today on a mission to save Nigeria.
“A just society cannot guarantee its citizens equal outcomes any more than a doctor can promise eternal good health.
“What we can, and must do, is ensure all our citizens are afforded equal opportunities to succeed or fail on their own.
“For Nigeria to reach its potential and achieve the greatness we are capable of, we must invest in our people.
“In this generation, social, economic and political development is, and will continue to be powered by advancements in information and communication technologies.
“We must provide the resources to modernise and improve our education infrastructure and provide the right training for young people from primary through tertiary education.
“This goes to the heart of our survival as a nation and as a people.
“Allow me this morning to speak the truth as I see it so that together we can agree on what we need to do to overcome.
“Time was when the tertiary institutions in our country were centres of excellence, comparable to the best institutions elsewhere in the world.
“There was a time when our brothers and sisters from across Africa and even farther away sought out our institutions, and we welcomed them in droves.
“That time is no more.
“It used to be that a student admitted to the university knew the date of their graduation and graduated on that day.
“And it once was that a career in academia guaranteed stable employment and an honourable quality of life.
“For the most part, all of these now exist as memories of a distant past.
“But it really wasn’t so long ago.”
According to Gbajabiamila, the summit hopes to offer enduring solutions to the perennial challenges confronting Nigeria’s tertiary institutions.
He added: “This National Summit on Tertiary Education Reform is the manifestation of our commitment in the 9th House of Representatives to engender a national conversation to consider bold ideas and radical innovations to restructure and reform public tertiary education in Nigeria.
“How do we ensure that every child born in Nigeria in this generation and hereafter can compete favourably in an ever-changing world?
“This is the defining issue of our age.
“And the answer is simple, we do it by providing a quality education that empowers the mind to ask hard questions and accept complicated solutions.
“We do it by training our people to revel in the inquiry, embrace complexity and not be afraid of knotty problems.
“Education is the silver bullet that eliminates poverty and lack; it presents hope and confidence and reduces violence and strife.
“Therefore, the central public policy challenge is the conflict between the competing objectives of access and quality.
“How do we fund a quality tertiary education without imposing costs that make access to quality education impossible for most people?
“I don’t have the answer to that question.
“I have my own ideas, and I have, as a legislator, sought to advance those ideas through the legislative policy process.
“In 2019, I sponsored, and the House of Representatives passed the Students Loan (Access to Higher Education) Bill to provide access to education financing for students who qualify.
“That Bill is in the Senate, awaiting concurrence.
“We hope it will get to the President before the expiration of this administration.
“But a framework of student loans is only one idea.
“I believe there are many more.
“This summit aims to provide an opportunity for all Nigerians and friends of Nigeria to present those ideas for consideration, examination, debate and, eventually, action.”
Gbajabiamila however assured that the summit will not be an exercise in futility while urging the participants to be bold and truthful in their submission.
He said: “The conversations we hold at this Summit and the submissions we have received will form the basis of a policy action plan and implementation framework we will unveil shortly after the conclusion of the summit.
“Additionally, a journal of all the submissions will be published as a guide and reference for the future.”
Panellists at the summit were in unison that the prevailing realities have made it expedient for the government and academics to review their positions if tertiary education in the country must be rescued from going into extinction.
Former President Obasanjo said it is incumbent on society to ensure that no child is denied basic education due to lack of means and must be kept in school till the conclusion of secondary education.
He said as part of the solution, the over 20 million Nigerian out-of-school children must be returned to school as a starting point if Nigeria is hoping to avoid a future catastrophe occasioned by the over 20 million denied education.
He however emphasised that tertiary education must be paid for.
He commended the Speaker for the initiative of Gbajabiamila’s Student Loan Bill as its passage into law would ensure indigent students are given an opportunity.
The former president also expressed skepticism over corruption issues that may thwart access to the loan by those who genuinely need it, thereby defeating the essence of the law.
Obasanjo’s position was backed by Prof. Hillary Edoaga, former Vice Chancellor of Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, and Prof. Tukur Sa’ad, former Vice Chancellor of the University of Technology, Minna.
Prof. Edoaga noted that the government should provide the basic funding for the maintenance of the institutions, while adding that Nigerians should be ready to pay for tertiary education.
Prof. Sa’ad, who said the government should hands off the running of the universities, noted that the government must understand that Universities have laws governing them and act accordingly.
He urged the government to make the composition of the Governing Councils of the institutions truly representative of what it should be and not dominated by government representatives.
He also urged the institutions to be innovative and creative in the generation of internal revenue to mitigate their spending.
On his part, Prof. Oluwatoyin Ogundipe, in addition to the need for the payment of obligatory fees for tertiary education, the immediate past Vice Chancellor of the University of Lagos said universities should explore a comprehensive partnership with the private sector for investment in tertiary education.
He also submitted that the government should hands off accommodation issues to allow universities to take total administrative control of accommodation.
Saying that such a move would free up government funds for other pressing demands, Ogundipe noted that as it currently stands, accommodation fees charged by the government pale into insignificance when compared with the expenses and funds accruing to the institutions from the government.
The summit continues on Wednesday (today).