Hope Eghagha, professor of English and Delta State Commissioner for Higher Education, says the state is determined to produce graduates that can stand out anywhere in the world. In this interview with Adekunbi Ero, executive editor, Tony Manuaka, senior associate editor, and Folashade Adebayo, senior writer, he explains that the government decided to establish more polytechnics because “technical education is crucial to development” and guarantees self-employment.
We have gone round to see development in the education sector in Delta State. How has your ministry contributed to the actualisation of the human capital development programme of this administration?
The Ministry of Higher Education is charged with the responsibility of coordinating the relationship between the state government and the tertiary institutions in the state. It also discharges the responsibility of interpreting policies with a view to ensuring that these policies are well implemented. One of these, in the last six, seven years, is human capital development as enunciated by His Excellency, governor of the state. The major capital needs of the state are met through the institutions of higher learning. We have as you know three polytechnics, two colleges of education, one college of physical of education and the university that has three campuses in Abraka, Asaba and Oleh. All of these institutions are charged with producing manpower both for the state and the country. So we serve as a bridge.
Let us look at how this has impacted the quality of education in the state.
Let me start by addressing the number of higher educational institutions. In 2009, shortly after I came into office, we had a higher education summit and one of the issues that came up was every year 25,000 young people apply for positions in the polytechnics and out of these, we were able to accommodate about 9,000. What happens to the rest? So it is part of these polytechnics that will absorb them. We can’t say we have fully met the needs. There is an argument that we should expand the existing ones. As we speak, some of the institutions and departments are facing accreditation. To add to that, if you go around, you find that Delta State students attend over 160 tertiary institutions. We get the details when we do the bursary scheme. You find Deltans in Sokoto, Adamawa, Rivers – everywhere. What it means is that the space is not enough. What it means is that if we had greater opportunities here, that most parents wouldn’t like to send their kids from Warri, Sapele, Asaba all the way to Yola to get an education, a degree which they can easily get here or in Edo State. Because when the school is very close to the home, what it means is that you can easily wake up in the morning and go for your lectures, you don’t think about cost of transportation when school resumes. That is accessibility. Now, you talked about the quality of education. How do you assess quality in Nigeria? One, through accreditation, response and reaction of students when they are in school, and their job opportunities when they graduate.
If you look at all of these items, you will see our students doing very well and you find Delta State students in responsible positions across the country. Some have gone abroad to authenticate the first degree they got here. Those who made first class that we have given scholarships are around the world, and there was one who did Accounting at London School of Economics, and she revalidated her first class there because within a year, she was through with the Masters. She is also chartered with the British Institute of Accountants. Generally, in the country, we are all worried about the quality of graduates that we produce at all levels. We are worried about the quality of students at the secondary school level, primary school level and higher institutions of learning. It is beginning to seep into post-graduate programmes where students cannot accurately express themselves. It is a source of worry. They say garbage in garbage out. It is across the country. I don’t think it has to do with the number of students in school; I think it has to do with one, the attitude of students themselves to studies and then the attitude of teachers themselves. People don’t bother how much you know but they want to look at the certificates. Students don’t bother how much they know but they just want to get the certificates.
ASUU went on strike for six months and ASUP too is currently on another one, and much of the grouse of both bodies has to do with decaying infrastructure. What is the quality of infrastructure in your university and polytechnics?
There is massive intervention from the state government in terms of infrastructure in the polytechnics and colleges of education. There is room for improvement; we haven’t achieved 100 per cent but as the Chinese say, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. We have taken more than one step. We faithfully pay salaries, which comes to about half a billion every month, to the university alone. We have capital grants to the institutions. We also have direct interventions in a lot of projects; lecture halls, theatres have been built by the state government. DESOPADEC has also intervened. ASUU went on strike, this is sad that in the twenty first century, unions have to go on strike in order to draw attention to some of these challenges in the university system.
What are the reforms that this administration has introduced into higher education?
What we are trying to do in higher education is to create more access for everybody. We also believe in accreditation of our courses. It was under this administration that our medical school was granted full medical school status. We achieved that by 2010. So we have produced two or three sets of medical doctors. Like I said before, we have ensured that most of our academic programmes are accredited by NUC (National Universities Commission). All the new salary, welfare packages the federal government signed with the unions have been implemented here. We also give grants to the institutions to facilitate training abroad. For DELSU, last year, the state government parted with N150 million for car loan for staff. So all of those are what we are doing, by creating access, ensuring that we keep standards, ensuring that our programmes are accredited, that we have enough teachers. Talking about accommodation for students now, it is horrible; but I am talking generally. You go to where some students sleep, they are squatters; and where you live often affects how you reason and how you think.
With seven polytechnics, there seems to be a special interest in that area of education. Is this meant to address the problem of access or you have a special need for that?
There is special need for polytechnics. The educational policy that stresses 6-3-3-4 made it compulsory for students to stress their areas of strength. In other words, six years of primary, common three years for everybody, which is the Junior Secondary School, JSS. Then for senior, we went into technical. But in terms of implementation, we failed and we created many more systems. If we had stuck to it, because that is one of the challenges we have in education, these policy somersaults. So, once you graduate, there are jobs for you, you don’t have to wait for government. But everybody wants to put on a tie and go to the office.
So we need these polytechnic graduates to drive development and these are specialised areas. For instance, we already have fabrication engineering. We want to produce graduates that can stand anywhere in the world. The ambience itself will be attractive; that is our dream. Technical education is crucial to national development. You get Togolese to come and do POP, to come and lay tiles, these are things that we could do. If you train in tiles, laying your POP, your painting, your whatever, welding and fabrication, you don’t need the government to employ you. So we are going in that direction; we need to stress polytechnic education. We are responding to the needs of the environment indeed.
What about discipline?
Yes, you see in the area of discipline, the school management authorities have tried. Sometimes, we have had to intervene by drawing their attention to certain reports. Some teachers have been disciplined, some have been sacked, dismissed. Sometimes, they do these things quietly. Students are routinely disciplined for cultism, violence or some stuff. But I do know that at the college of education, a lecturer was sacked because he attempted to rape a student in his office. He wrote and apologised, asking to be reinstated. Of course, we did not do that. If a teacher can degenerate into raping a student, he is not fit to be in that environment. There is currently a non-academic staff who is in the custody of security agencies. He was sending threat text messages to a principal officer of the institution. So, there is discipline, we don’t interfere, we just make sure that anyone who runs foul, whether a teacher or a student, should be properly disciplined. If you are a lecturer, you don’t sell handouts because the sale of handouts is banned on our campuses. We told students to report anywhere they have such. What we have told lecturers is that they should develop instructional materials and keep them in the bookshop. Then the students go and buy in the bookshops. Lecturers should not sell directly to students. These are some of the things that we have put in place to ensure discipline.
‘If you look at all of these items, you will see our students doing very well and you find Delta State students in responsible positions across the country. Some have gone abroad to authenticate the first degree they got here. Those who made first class that we have given scholarships are around the world’
‘What we are trying to do in higher education is to create more access for everybody. We also believe in accreditation of our courses. It was under this administration that our medical school was granted full medical school status. We achieved that by 2010’