Umuahia — Renowned banker and economist Mr Alex Otti has decried the standard of academic content and training students are exposed to in the Nigerian university system, making them less competitive after graduation.
He said universities turn out their products without giving them relevant skills needed to think outside the box and develop relevant solutions to problems, thereby attaining self-reliance in the globalised economy.
Otti stated this in a keynote address, ‘Gown to Town: Strategies for Graduate Employment Readiness and Economic Growth’, delivered at the inaugural ‘Gown-to-town Symposium’, organised by the Abuja chapter of the University of Port Harcourt Alumni Association.
“I believe, and with all due respect, that our universities have failed us so far. Nigerian universities have remained in the lower rankings in the World and Africa. For instance, in the 2022 edition of Times Higher Education Ranking, no Nigerian University made it to the top 400 universities in the world,” stated the banker, noting that “explains how fast the world is moving or how fast Nigeria is moving in the wrong direction. In this same report, the University of Cape Town in South Africa ranked 155th.”
Otti added, “In another report, the 2022 African University Ranking, which essentially agreed with the Times ranking, only two Nigerian universities made it to the top 40 in Africa. The first of those schools, the University of Ibadan (also ranked highest for Nigeria in the Times Higher Education Ranking), came fourth after three South African universities.”
Otti, the governorship candidate of the Labour Party for Abia, also noted that “most Nigerian tertiary education curricula are a poor imitation of the study packs of western universities hence the difference in the quality of their products.”
As a way out of the national malaise, Otti suggested seven steps that government must take.
“We must have the (political) will to spend at least 25 per cent of the country’s annual budget on education and create special education funds to support R&D (research and development) in priority areas,” he stated and encouraged tertiary institutions to collaborate with “industry to have successful entrepreneurs address undergraduates from time to time (bringing the town to gown) in what should be annual symposia that target a mindset shift or orientation for undergraduates.”
Otti advised governments at all levels to set up investment funds at single-digit interest rates and more extended payback periods to fund the ideas of young school leavers wishing to build startups.
“The government must reduce the country’s embarrassing unemployment figure. We need people to become entrepreneurs out of choice, not a necessity. Reducing unemployment requires deliberate policies to drastically improve Nigeria’s ease of doing business, in which we rank 131 out of 190 countries,” he said, adding that the government should grant special education support for students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). He also urged that companies’ investments in STEM should be tax deductible.
Otti encouraged universities to use their alumni networks to attract endowments and bequests.
“They should produce saleable journals. They must see the possibilities of the commercial viability of their indigenous products and processes. Handouts are no longer fashionable,” added Otti. “These days, the smartest dog gets the fattest bone while the patient dog eats no bones.
“Tertiary institutions must teach students soft skills to help them in the workplace. This is needed by both the graduates seeking employment and those seeking to launch their businesses.”