Killing Scholarship in Universities

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Mike Akpan
Mike Akpan

Mike Akpan  |

NDUBUISI Okorie (not his real name), a resident of Lagos, is not in the habit of carrying his mobile phones to the church whenever he has a programme to attend. In line with this policy, he left his two phones in the house when he attended a three-hour programme in the church on November 15, 2012.While he was away, one of his daughters, a 300-level accountancy student in a federal university located in a South- South state, called his two lines several times without any answer. She rightly suspected that her father must have been in the church by the time she called. She therefore decided to leave a message on the two lines for him to call her immediately he returned home.

When Okorie came back and opened his phones, he noticed that the daughter had called each of his telephone lines 22 times. He was worried as to what must have happened to prompt the daughter to call his two lines for that number of times. He called her immediately and the daughter who was expectantly waiting for his call at the other end, answered immediately. But Okorie noticed that she was crying on the phone. Curiously, he asked the daughter why she was crying. Her reply, indeed, disorganised him completely. According to her, one of her lecturers had deliberately failed her in one of her best subjects because she did not pay “sorting fee” to her after writing examination on the subject. She said: “What pains me most is that I expected an A in the paper I wrote but the lecturer never read my answer script because my name was not on her register as one of those who had paid the fee. She makes sorting a guarantee for passing her course. Whoever fails to “sort her” knows that the inevitable is failure but I felt I could make a good grade without sorting any lecturer.”

A visibly shaken Okorie asked the daughter how much was the sorting fee and after being told that it was N10,000, he further asked: “Will the payment guarantee you  a pass?” Said the daughter: “Yes. The lecturer has been telling us openly in class that she does not give an A to any student no matter the efforts he or she puts in to prepare for the course. She always said that the highest mark she can award a student is a B unless…” What that means is that she can give an A to any student who is prepared to pay the right price for it. This casts serious doubts on the integrity of high marks some lecturers award to their students and which eventually land them on first class honours list.

Okorie was caught in a moral dilemma. Should he pay the N10,000 so that the daughter be given a pass mark to move on to the next level of her course? That would amount to encouraging examination malpractice which he abhors. Should he refuse to pay in order not to be seen as encouraging examination malpractice and face the obvious consequence of the daughter repeating the examination? What is the guarantee that if she repeats the examination, she would pass without paying the sorting fee? This is the dilemma which many parents whose wards are studying in Nigerian higher institutions face. It was a tough decision for Okorie to take. But eventually, he succumbed to the pressure from the daughter and his wife to pay. That payment has continued to haunt his moral conscience till today.

Lecturers in public and private higher institutions in Nigeria see the courses they handle as gold mines and have devised various ways to extort money from their students. The commonest form of extortion is “sorting,” which comes in various forms. There is sorting for textbooks, for continuous assessment, for terminal papers or class assignments, for approval of project topics and supervision of projects .Others are sorting for cases of missing examination or test scripts, mix-ups in student results, miscalculation of  students’ grade points and cumulative grade points-aggregate. Lecturers also extort money from students during examinations. One way of doing this is that some lecturers do not go to class until a week to examination. A former student in a federal university located in the South-West, told me last week: “Throughout my years in the university, I observed that some lecturers stayed away from lectures until a week to the examination. In my first year, two lecturers were assigned to handle a particular course. One of the lecturers, junior in rank, usually came to deliver his lectures but the professor failed to come even for one day. The only time we saw him come to class was one week to our sessional examinations. He tried to use a few days to cover what we should have done in the entire session. It was impossible for him to exhaust his course outline. What he did was to give us a voluminous material on the course outline which he downloaded from the internet for us to read just three days to the examination on his paper. Besides, he also gave us a 50-page continuous assessment manual to fill and submit immediately after our last paper coming four days later. Naturally, most students will not do well in the examination and willy-nilly, they will be forced to pay some fee to the lecturer in order to get a good mark.” There was another case of an absentee lecturer bringing a voluminous package that covered all the topics she was to handle for the entire session and advised the students to make photo copies and read to prepare for an examination on her paper that was coming up the following day. This strategy was an indirect way of sending a message to her students on her expectation.  Apart from habitual absenteeism, what is most disgusting about the lecturer is that she is out to kill the spirit of scholarship in her students who prefer to read wide to broaden their knowledge in the subject. Remarked one of her frustrated students: “If you don’t give her what is in her handout or book, you are sure to fail in her course.”

There are a thousand and one more ways that unscrupulous members of both the academic and non-academic staff unions in the country’s higher institutions adopt to extort money from hapless students who are ever ready to do anything fair or foul  to get university degrees. But this is not helping the growth of university education in Nigeria. A university is supposed to be a fountain of knowledge which passes through people who pass through it. Under the current system, it is not. It is surprising that the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, and other associated unions who have been fighting for improved funding and research grants and the welfare of their members which, in turn, will impact positively on the quality of university education in Nigeria, have turned a blind eye to the activities of some unscrupulous members in their fold. If university education in Nigeria must get the desired international respect and recognition, the ASUU, the Non-Academic Staff Union of Universities, NASU, the university authorities and the federal ministry of education must join hands to fight the menace which is a product of indiscipline, corruption and greed. There are very many undesirable elements who ought not to be in our university system. Such people must be shown the way out if they are not prepared to shape in.

— Jan 28, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT

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