Many Nigerians are, increasingly, reviewing their choice of universities for their children in line with the economic realities of the time. A number of those whose children were studying abroad are now bringing them back while some other parents who ordinarily would have loved to send their children to some of the leading universities abroad may have also begun to shelve such idea, preferring instead to look inwards. These realities were disclosed to BDSUNDAY Monday in Yola, Adamawa State, by some parents during the Fall 2017 Convocation & Pledge Ceremony of the American University of Nigeria (AUN).
Some of these parents said they saw no reason going through the stress of sourcing foreign exchange to pay school fees and other services associated with their children’s education when they can easily do so here in Nigeria in local currency, and still achieve the same quality of education.
At the induction ceremony of over 200 freshmen into the various programmes of the AUN, held inside the expansive Lamido Aliyu Musdafa Commencement Hall, Dawn Dekle, who was performing the role for the first time in her capacity as the president of the institution, as she joined the university on July 1, tasked the students on the need to avail themselves of the limitless opportunities that the university offers.
“Today’s Fall Convocation and Pledge Ceremony is the first in two ways: Our first gathering together as a community as we begin a new academic session, and my very first event with all of you as a community, after my assumption seven weeks ago to lead this great university as the president,” said Ms. Dekle, who was appointed in July.
“It has been said that the purpose of education is to replace an empty mind with an open mind. It has also been said that your mind should not be so open that your brains fall out.
“As we begin this 13th academic session, I encourage every one of you to be tolerant and have respect for one another. Remember that in the past you have always taken the AUN Community Pledge of Integrity. Today, our newest class will join in taking the pledge, I implore you to live it and demand it from your colleagues.”
Dr. Alex Egbona, chairman, Gbagolo Integrated Farms Limited, Calabar, Cross River State, in this chat expresses concern over quality of education in Nigeria. He was in Yola for the matriculation of his son, Stanley Egbona, who is studying Business Administration at AUN.
What really motivated you to bring your son to the AUN of all the schools in the country?
I have heard a lot about AUN and incidentally, I have a class mate who works here who has told me much about the institution. Moreover, I saw most of their activities on the internet, so I decided to bring my son here.
How concerned are you with the quality of education in the country?
Well, as someone who attended a public school, the quality of education in the country is dropping every day and again the proliferation of universities. I graduated in 1990, between that time and now, the quality of education has fallen so much. What I saw when I did my masters in one of the federal universities in the country was lamentable; we were standing up all through the lectures, because there were no seats. Almost half of us were standing; there were no chairs, no where to place your books to write, and everywhere was very dirty. This is the time government should look into that sector. You see, I am not happy with ASUU over the ongoing strike. Why did they wait till 2017 when some of their grievances date back to 2009? Why didn’t they insist that government must meet their needs at that time? They are the part of the problem in the sector. If they waited for six months or one year and government did not meet the conditions, why did they not go on strike, why did they wait up till now? The standard of education in Nigeria has fallen so much. In the past, if you hear of private universities, they were meant for students who were not doing well; who could not pass JAMB, but now private universities is the order of the day. But today, nobody is doing anything about the public universities because the public office holders who should do that, incidentally, their children are not even there. So, who cares? So, as a person, I am even thinking that we should stop building more universities. Let’s put the existing ones in order. Even some states have three universities that are not viable. The states are not helping matters. In some states, for instance in Edo, there is the University of Benin; there’s the Ambrose Alli University, and now a former governor is building another university there. Why? It is becoming almost like a secondary school. I am seriously calling on government to look into that sector urgently.
Some people may be scared to send their children to Yola as a result of the insurgency in the North East; where did you draw you confidence from?
I didn’t give a thought to that actually. I never considered it. I told you earlier that a class mate of mine is here. One woman from my local government, who is a professor of English, is here. They assured me that everything is peaceful here and because of that I decided to come. Since I came, everything has been peaceful; the environment is also peaceful.
Millicent Omunakwe, SAP training coordinator, Shell Petroleum Company of Nigeria Limited, who accompanied her son, Progress Elijah (Petroleum Chemistry) to the AUN for his matriculation, shared her thoughts.
Why did you decide to bring your son to the AUN in the midst of the insurgency in the North East?
To be honest with you, it did not cross my mind; I mean the insurgency or security challenges they have here. I was looking for a one-stop-shop school that will give my boy what it takes to be a complete developed person that will add value to the society. So, it was when I had concluded arrangements and all that that I started telling my friends and colleagues that they started saying, ‘hey, why are you going to that place’? I said, Okay, I didn’t even realise it; it did not cross my mind. When I came here I actually began to ask questions about the security situation and the presentations were enough to give me the courage and assurance that my boy is in a safe place. By the way, I am a child of God, I am not afraid of anything.
You could have as well sent the boy to London, America or even to Ghana, why Yola?
First I believe in Nigeria. I believe it is high time we began to encourage our own. Then the other reason is that I see what some of my friends go through trying to raise money for their children’s school fees, dollar rate and all that. So, I did not want to go through all that hassles and these kinds of challenges, so I am comfortable doing my naira thing here.
Years back, there was trust in public schools; nowadays it appears the reverse is the case, people tend to believe more in private universities than the public ones. What do you think is responsible for this?
It is unfortunate though. I believe the reason is the quality. I went to a public school- University of Calabar. The quality we had that time was second to none; you could compare it with any foreign university. These days you don’t get that. Secondly, these days they make it very difficult for people to get admission into the universities. Some candidates have their O’Level results and passed JAMB entrance examination with good points, yet they find it very difficult to gain admission. The parents now go through a lot to get their children into available slots in the universities. That’s why you see that the option now is the private universities, even though they are expensive, you get value for the money. Two things are the driving factors- one, the quality is no longer there in the public schools; two, they make it difficult for people to get admission. Nobody wants to go through hassles. From my own background, water will always move from a region of higher to lower water potential. So everybody would want to go where it is easy to go in.
What is your advice to government on how to revamp the ailing sector; at least to take us back to where we were if it cannot be improved?
The first thing to do is to go back to the vision of the founding fathers, for education. There was a vision. There is the need for re-orientation. We need to begin to think differently. And ask ourselves, ‘where do we want this country to be?’ If we have that mindset, it will help us to think and act differently. The JAMB thing I don’t know if it is really helping us. You did JAMB exam and you come and do another exam with the university you are seeking admission into. It is making life difficult. I think that government should begin to see how to scrap JAMB and then allow individual universities to conduct their entrance examinations. I think that will help to lessen the hassles people go through nowadays in seeking admissions into the university.
Alaye Eremie, father of Gabriel, 6-foot 6-inch boy that emerged the tallest new student, said people said he had the heart of 10 people by deciding to take his son to AUN.
I feel good, despite the stories in newspaper, social media and the rest of them over the security challenges in this part of the country. Permit me to say that the media have not help very well in propagating news and information across. What I read in the news papers and social media is totally different from what I see since I came to Yola. The first day I came, I was like asking, ‘where is the American school? Before we came here, we did quite a lot of research; we read everything we could see on the net about the American university and we found out that the one in Nigeria is a franchise. We asked a lot of questions from those who know the university; those who passed through it. We found out that their testimonies are the same. The stories are the same from those who finished five years ago; three years ago; two years ago, one year ago or even some months ago. They have the same testimonies. So, we had this confidence that we can bring our son; after all, Yola is a part of Nigeria. So, since we are not doing anything outside the country now, Yola is a good option. The way some people were talking when they heard we were bringing our son here, they make it look as if it is a war zone, it is not. I don’t know whether when we leave they’ll start the war.
Why are convinced that your son would have a good education at AUN and as a result you did not consider sending him abroad?
Thank you for that question (you can see my wife smiling- the woman sitting next to him); she had wanted him to go outside; and at a point I myself had also wanted him out, but I do quite a lot with youths across the country. I do quite a lot of talking and counseling to the youth. I just realised that majority of those children sent abroad, it is the parents that are destroying their lives not the children. This is because I speak with them; I can feel their pulse, what they are going through. Sending them out at that tender age, I don’t encourage that. I schooled in Nigeria. A lot of people say it is the dollar exchange rate that made them to bring their children to AUN; but for me it is not, because the school fees here is not too different from what you are going to pay outside and visa is not like it is a do-or-die thing, you’ll get it. I want him to stay close to me, but after his masters degree he can go to wherever he wants. For me, I just feel that, for my children, they will be in Nigeria, except otherwise. My children, I have three, will go through this system.
What are your expectations from your son after four years?
Number one, I expect him to be far better than me. Number two, I want to see the God-given gifts being made manifest in his life because I found something about our country; we don’t work according to one’s passion but anything that give them money. They work because they are looking for money. There’s no passion for work; everybody is doing it because ‘I have to survive’. And when they start working, survival becomes difficult. But if there is that passion in whatever you are doing, even when it seems difficult, you’ll keep on doing it because it is your passion. So I want to see that passion of life in what he wants to become out of him. Like I always say, school is a springboard- he is studying Software Engineering now, but he may not live on it tomorrow, I expect to see something better than I am seeing right now.
Nowadays, many people are struggling to send their children to private schools; what is your regret about the public school system in the country?
It is not funny. We had been in Yola for a week before the matriculation. When we were leaving Abuja, we heard about the ASUU strike, I said to myself, ‘so if my son was going to any public university in Nigeria, he would have been at home now. It is a shame I must say it. In our days when we went to school, how many were private schools, I could count them, very few of them. Then, going into a federal university was great, it was a prestigious thing, but right now, many people find it difficult to go there. If the education system in this country is fixed, it would be good; I won’t lie to you, it doesn’t seem to be a reality. And I want to say in a hurry that it is not just a matter of leadership it is a matter of our perspective of life. When I was in the university, I suffered ASUU strike; it didn’t start today, so it appears to me that it is a never-ending problem. I feel pained by what is happening. There are many Nigerians out there that may not afford the fees for private universities, what do we want them to do? It is a shame I must say.