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Stay focused -The Nation Editorial

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Nigeria’s specialised universities must heed government’s directive on their specialties

THE directive given by President Muhammadu Buhari telling the country’s specialised universities to return to their core mandate is a sensible one and must be obeyed as quickly as possible.

The order was in fact only the latest in a series of measures designed to correct an anomaly that should never have been allowed to exist in the first place. In January 2017, the Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, ordered the immediate closure of programmes run by specialised universities which were supposedly not in accordance with the original mandate that set them up.

The Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) was ordered to delete all such courses on its portal, and prospective candidates were warned not to apply for such programmes in the 2017 United Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME).

The number of specialised universities straying into general programmes is surprisingly large. They include the University of Agriculture, Makurdi; Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike; the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta; the Federal University of Technology, Akure; the Federal University of Technology, Owerri; Madibbo Adama University of Technology, Yola; Ladoke Akintola University of Technology, Ogbomoso; Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University of Technology, Bauchi, and Bells University of Technology, Ota.

In spite of their explicit focus on agriculture and technology, these schools run programmes in courses like Accounting, Business Administration, Law, Arabic/Christian Religious Studies, Home Economics, Marketing and Law. Some universities have disingenuously attempted to justify their actions by calling their courses “Banking Technology” and “Accounting Engineering.”

There can be no justification for what these institutions have done. The decrees establishing universities of agriculture and technology are very specific. The Federal Universities of Agriculture Act (2010), for example, explicitly states that they are to offer qualifications “which emphasise planning, adaptive, technical, maintenance, developmental and productive skills in agriculture, agricultural engineering and allied professional disciplines.” Accounting and Law cannot be regarded as allied disciplines to agriculture by any stretch of the imagination.

It is not as if these institutions have become irrelevant. As Nigerian society becomes more sophisticated, increased specialisation has become a vital necessity. The tertiary institutions entrusted with the production of agriculture and technology professionals should devote themselves to this critically important task.

The claim that offering general courses is an attempt to shore up internally-generated revenue by launching in-demand courses that would attract students is not tenable. Increased revenues should be sought by enhancing the quality and range of the programmes specialised universities are legitimately entitled to offer, instead of creating courses of study which contradict their very existence.

The universities of technology could have gone into data analytics, coding, cloud computing and the many other exciting new technologies that have sprung up in the wake of the IT revolution. Their agriculture counterparts have ecologically-sustainable farming, agricultural automation, and other cutting-edge fields to explore. Both types of university have consultancy arms which could facilitate the establishment of start-ups that would put new ideas into profitable practice.

In rectifying the situation, the Federal Government must probe how the country’s universities of agriculture and technology were able to stray into general courses with such apparent ease. How were the respective senates able to approve such programmes in spite of extant regulations prescribing otherwise? Why did the National Universities Commission (NUC), JAMB and the various professional bodies lend credibility to illegality by accrediting such programmes and offering them as viable courses for admission? If procedures were truncated and laws broken, the offending institutions should be held responsible.

However, a viable transition period should be worked out to enable affected lecturers and students to transfer to more appropriate universities. The universities should be formally written to desist from offering general courses, and their senates should be encouraged to explore viable programmes which could attract students without diluting disciplinary focus.

The Nation

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