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Thursday, June 8, 2017

Opinion: Is Supremacy War Any Imminent Between Open and Conventional Universities in Nigeria?

When in 2002, the Open University was revived by the Federal Government of Nigeria after being in the doldrums for 19 years, it was definitely a long overdue move meant to address two key grey arrears in our educational system.

First, it was primarily meant to widen the options available to growing population of students now seeking higher education in the country in view of the perceptibly endemic infrastructural deficiencies in the existing conventional environment.

Second, it was aimed also at achieving a long overdue paradigm shift in the delivery of tertiary based education in line with global best templates.

Global best templates in the sense that educational experts world-over have unanimously agreed that Open University is the way to go if countries of the world are to significantly cut down on the number of students who currently are unable to gain admission into conventional universities.

Close to 15 years on, it’s however surprising to note a lot of misconceptions still surround its activities which has led some people including those who should know into wrongfully imagine it a platform where nothing good can come from.   

But in what ways do Open University really differs from the conventional University, the curious readers might want to ask?

And I’ll say it differs in so many respects.

Let’s look at a few before continuing.

Number one, just as the name denotes, it is an Open, Flexible and Long Distance mode of delivering qualitative university education to all who seek it with special emphasis on greater use of the IT.

Two, instead of classroom lectures, the Open University delivers its instructional materials in module formats and they come in both soft and hard copies.

The student on the other hand is expected to follow through by scheduling his or her time accordingly to be able to derive maximum benefits from them preparatory for the examination.

Three, degree programs in the Open University run for a minimum of four years and a maximum of eight years.

This is so because those conceived the system took into consideration the undeniably varied academic capacities of the students; and by extension the financial wherewithal of their parents or sponsors as the case may be.

Like this, the student is under no strict compulsion to carry more credit load than he or she could possibly carry.

Where a student is financially constrained, as it sometimes happens, the system permits that he or she adds or removes courses to the limits of available financial resources.

In total, however, maximum of twenty four credit unit is allowed to every student per semester.

Four, even if a student registered courses and for unforeseen reasons could not take some in the exam, the system will not unjustly penalised the student.

Instead, it allows him or her to retake the papers in subsequent semester or when it is deemed convenient to the student.

The only conditionality the concerned student must meet is retaking the quiz's based Tutor Marked Assignment {TMA].

Failure to do this, the student stands a risk of missing out on the 30 marks which assignment constitutes. 

Fifth, exams in year one and two at the school are computer based while subsequent ones are written or Pen-On-Paper.
Sixth, while you have lecturers at the conventional University, at the Open University what you have are tutors and facilitators.

It is this high level of unparallelled openness, flexibility and barrier breaking reach that stands the system out and help sell it to anyone aspiring for university education.

The next question should be has the school been able to meet its high-end mandate?

Available evidence as at today indicates that the school has very functional study centres across the thirty six states of the federation and the FCT.

Thereby bringing the school into close proximity of the people it intends to serve.

It is also on record that National Open University of Nigeria graduated it first set of students in 2009; and in the roll call of graduating students was Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, the former president of Nigeria who bagged a post graduate diploma in Christian Theology.

Ever since, both its success story and popularity has been on the upward rise.

And today, it has become a destination of choice for both young and old who seek arguably affordable but dependably qualitative university education that’s relatively free of systemic abuse and officials’ high-handedness known with conventional universities in Nigeria.

History and experience has it that conventional universities in Nigeria are a mad house of academic sadism, cultism, 
protracted industrial disputes, sexual abuse of vulnerable students by randy lecturers and other forms of intolerable excesses that shouldn’t be found in the Ivory Towers of all places.

Presently, its student population is over one hundred thousand and second only to University of South Africa which is the biggest Open, Flexible and Long distance citadel of higher learning on the continent of Africa.

Next are the discriminatory narratives and other matters arising?

It is on record that that which challenges established order, Status Quo, and norm in Nigeria will not go without opposition in one way or the other.

So, the first true test of institutional character for the National Open University of Nigeria came from the Nigeria Council of Legal Education which refused admission to its law graduates on various grounds.

The two which particularly sticks out were what the council called non-availability of lecture or lecturers and deficiencies in the course materials.

As we speak, negotiations are on-going between the management of the school and the council to iron out what the issues are and a lasting solution proffered.

More of recent, the feelers we’re getting are that of discrimination towards undergraduates of the school who go out for their IT/SIWES as it were.

Narratives abound of incidents of discrimination and deliberate exclusion from industrial activities where the students were duly admitted to undertake their IT.

Student after student who came for the mandatory oral defence of their IT intern-ship recently at the Lagos office of the 
Open University gave disturbing insights into how they were treated like intellectual pariahs by workers who obviously were graduates of conventional universities.

The students equally recalled how they put it upon themselves to do anything to prove these doubters wrong. 

In most cases, afterwards, they take solace seeing amazement come to the doubters’ faces after doing what was thought they weren’t equipped to do initially.

They cast doubts over the quality of their learning simply because they did not go through conventional university system like them.

These set of people wrongfully believe going to the Open University is both a waste of precious time and monies on the part of students and their parents.

And nothing in this jet age can be more laughable.

While there’s nothing wrong with people having a near violent affections or esteem for their so called prestigious Alma Mata, a lot is however wrong with anyone holding graduates of other universities in contempt for reasons of surmise academic inferiority.

Every university in Nigeria no matter how poorly funded certainly has its fair share of geniuses or academic greats.

So, it amounts to sheer ignorance on the part of anyone to suggest that only their Alma Mata produces the best.   

By acting in this manner, clearly, many of them are still living in the past in an era where boundaries of not only learning are being aggressively pushed in search of excellence and in many cases too barriers broken.

This is coming also at a time the country is yet to fully overcome the problem of Bsc/HND dichotomy in both private and public workplaces.

Though Open University ideas might look novel or something out of the blues even to the educated; for the record, it is universal and comes with rich history and examples.

Today, societies of the west and the east proudly boast Open Universities without any discriminatory insinuations or talks of superiority of conventional university whatsoever.

Lest some mischief makers think Nigeria is walking an uncharted course, some of the notable Open University models 
Nigeria and Nigerians can look forward to match are The Indira Gandhi National Open University of India, The Open 
University of Singapore and The Open University of England to mention a few.

I think it would be of interest to the readers to know that the founding V.C of National Open University of Nigeria was poached from the Open University of Singapore in the person of Prof.  Olugbemiro Jegede.         

It is my belief that when people take time to inform themselves on new concept such as this, it helps in eliminating possible incidents of unwarranted hostility, ignorance and contemptuous overlook.

The Open University from all indications is a quickened step into the future for Nigeria education system; and urgent steps must be taken to consolidate on its many gains.

And it clearly has its fair share of academic geniuses and growing just as any of the so called prestigious conventional universities whether in Nigeria or overseas.

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