By CHARLES IKEDIKWA SOEZE
The basic problems, as I see it having spent over 3-decades in the administration of a tertiary institution, I can boldly say without reservation that the problems are under-funding, the negative influence of a corruptive and valueless political system, planning and implementation problems. As a result, it led to the weakening of universities and other tertiary institutions administration, poor teaching and learning outcomes, diminishing research and consultancy traditions, and questionable service to the universities. A cursory look reveals at a glance that the last problems point to diminishing returns in the basic missions of universities. It seems that throwing money at the universities will not in itself solve the endemic problems within the universities system. Inadequate funding, poor planning, policy summersault and inconsistency as well as erosion of values have produced a culture of under-achievements that will take decades to change
The roles of alumni associations in the reformation agenda are as follows:
• How do you feel as an alumnus or alumna when you engage with or hear that a member of your alumni association has bagged a degree from your alma mater but cannot string together as articulate and coherent sentence? Without mincing words, alumni associations are critical stakeholders in this whole process. Alumni associations support is critical to the conceptualization as well as effective implementation of these reforms. This is because alumni associations represent a significant and vocal constituency. Alumni associations are openly exhibiting the ethereal affiliation between themselves and the institution that molded or built them. They are strong and powerful voice which could exert a considerable amount of influence on the policy direction of education reforms.
• As a member of an alumni association, your contributions in this association are an overt expression of concern and regard for the future of the institution and its survival.
• Members of an alumni association are to collectively facilitate or intervene to ensure development and progress in the reformation of the education sector. Those who graduated currently are expected to be well equipped than products of yester years in view of the introduction of some courses as General Studies (GST) that made them versatile. In other words, they should be more competitive and better prepared for active participation than previous graduates in the knowledge of the economy. However, can we really frankly say that in the current situation? The general tendency is for the alumni associations to abandon their responsibilities to government expecting it to handle all the burdens. Let me point out categorically that as we grow in our democracy, it becomes clear that democracy is a partnership between the government and the people. What it implies here is that collaborative efforts between the two parties are going to become increasingly common place especially for the provision of public goods such as an educated workforce. It is on record that strong alumni associations have been seen to decide and influence the education policy as well as curriculum of their alma mater. In doing these, they endeavour as much as practicable to provide moral support and financial assistance for the sake of change and development.
• As members of alumni associations, we have a special and critical role to show. We are the bridge between the past, the present and the future. Your participation in the affairs of the association of these institutions brings in a wealth of experience from the academic, the tertiary institutions gaining from wealthy benefactors who happened to be an alumnus or alumna of such institutions. Whatever the case may be, our support need not be financial only. Such supports can include the provision of infrastructures, stocking of libraries with relevant books and laboratories with important items of equipment. GREAT DELSU, I am aware that the Delta State University Alumni Association Worldwide recently launched a =N=100million alumni centre to be cited at Abraka, the main campus. This is a right step in the right direction. They were encouraged by all members as well as the authorities of the university. Kudos to the alumni association let us put our hands together for them.
• Members of alumni associations can render professional services to their institutions pro bono, that is, free of charge.
• The alumni members as individuals who have passed through these universities and colleges are best placed to offer advice on the relevance of the curriculum to the demand of the professional workplace. They can volunteer their services for seminars and workshops. The alumni members are expected to play a significant role in the evaluation of the reforms outcome. They can assist in monitoring and evaluating of educational reforms. In doing this, the public relations planning circles can be applied as adapted from Danny Moss (1990) lecture notes at the University of Sterling, Scotland as quoted by Ajala 2001:47.
In addition and by the nature of public relations practice, assessment of programme activities naturally leads to the beginning again. If programme was successful and objectives met, that may not necessarily mean the end. Other problems may surface or re-occur thereby needing another set of situation.
According to Nelson Mandela, one-time South African President that fought against apartheid in that country, “Education is the great engine of personal development. It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor, that a son of a mine worker can become the head of the mine, that a son of a farm worker can become the president of a great nation. It is what we make out of what we have, not what we are given, that separates one person from another”. Also, education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he learned at school, according to Albert Einstein. If I may add, it is the surest way of survival at old age.
For education to be meaningful in this country, we must rise from our slumber and decisively address the cries of the students, the anguish of the teachers, the dilemma of the administrators and the agony of parents among others. Again, we must avoid perpetuating and perpetrating public service illegalities and absurdities into the education sector. It is therefore appropriate to say that was why Mahatma Ghandi said that real education consists of drawing the best out of yourself. In the words of the late immortal sage, Chief Jeremiah Obafemi Awolowo (an astute politician) the best president Nigeria never had according to Chief Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu (the Ikemba on Nnewi) and ex-Biafran warlord, (of blessed memory) “any person that is deprived of books, especially the right type of books, will suffer intellectual malnutrition atrophy and stagnation”. In other words, communication incommunicado (this is mine). However, one of the sad realities of Nigerian society today is the non-availability of good books in virtually all disciplines and this has led to flip-flop in education.
Mr. Chairman Sir, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, GREAT DELSU, I think that was why Professor Benjamin Maurice of the Temple University, Philadelphia, while coordinating the postgraduate programme in education at the College of Education, Abraka in 1978 (now Delta State University, DELSU, Abraka) presented a paper titled “Books and their place in the process of education in developing countries”. He maintained that the falling standard of education in Nigeria, is the decline in the culture of reading and by extension, the churning-out of deficient workforce from our institutions of learning are partly due to the absence of current and relevant books at affordable prices. It is quite evident that functional knowledge and skills acquisitions are hardly possible through the handouts and lecture centred learning process prevalent in our schools and training centres.
I am of the view that Nigeria should pay vigorous attention to education, research and development (R. & D.) meshed in high standards and vigorous curriculum to overcome years of low educational quality in the country. In order to promote equal opportunity and rid the country of poverty, quality education should be at the heart of such effort. Perhaps more indicative of the economic value of education is the high productivity and earning power of workers with quality education.
It is necessary to say that the appalling state of education in Nigeria could be ameliorated if consistent and sustainable corrective measures are taken with long-term planning and monitoring immediately by the Federal Ministry of Education. In addition, I still very much believe James A. Garfield’s power avowal when he said “Next in importance to freedom, justice, is popular education, without which, neither freedom nor justice can be maintained”.
Soeze is President of the University of Nigeria, Alumni Association (UNAA), Warri Branch.