A Current Affairs And Social Critic Blog


Nigeria’s National University Commission’s PhD Syndrome

NOTE: First published 2008


Nigeria’s National University Commission (NUC) recently came up with its ‘bright idea’ that will bar non-PhD degree holders from teaching in Nigerian universities. In reaction, many Nigerians have said a few words of condemnation of the policy. I am yet to see any positive reaction to the idea. And I am assuming that the negative slant in public opinions has by now informed the architects of that their ‘bright idea’ really sucks!

          Other commentators may want to be a little diplomatic in their comments about the policy. This may be because, for one reason or the other, they cannot afford to be blunt about it. Well, I can afford to be very brutally blunt, and I will say it exactly as I feel it. And what I feel right now is that the proposed NUC policy is downright unintelligent, and that’s putting it very mildly. Hopefully, nobody will take this personally. But I don’t even give a damn if anybody does take offense with my passionate, categorical condemnation of the policy. As always, I will state my reasons for lambasting NUC.

          Mind you, mine is different from an argument that refers to the policy as a ‘tall order.’ The ‘tall-order’ argument emphasizes the little matter of ‘shortage of PhDs’ in the country. Hello, people! Has everybody forgotten that this is Nigeria? Coming up with millions of PhDs is far from being a tall order in Nigeria. If you want PhDs, then Nigerians will give you multiple PhDs in a jiffy. Anybody who knows Nigeria does know this perfectly well. So, who are we kidding in the country? My argument emphasizes qualitative, and not quantitative factors involved in the NUC policy. If I must talk about quantity, then it must be from a perspective that does relate to qualitative factors. I start with the question; how many qualified PhD holders are willing to teach in Nigerian universities in the first place?

          Let’s face it; I would not teach in one of those degenerated and degenerating places even if they were the last jobs on earth. And I don’t even have a PhD. Nigerian education system has a major problem of attracting and keeping qualified and committed teachers because the system is rotten. Yet, the NUC suddenly thinks that it can pick and choose from a queue of PhD holders begging to teach in their rotten universities.

          Let’s embellish the argument that the PhD policy is unintelligent, shall we. I must warn you, however, that I do have a serious bias for Knowledge & Experience, against bogus Certificates & Titles. In order words, all things being equal, I would pick knowledge and experience any day over paper certificates and titles.” This is not only in the education system, but in the entire social order of Nigeria. The mentality behind the emergence of the new NUC policy is exactly the sort of unintelligent mentality that promotes the mad rush for worthless degrees by too many Nigerians. As a nation, we have the erroneous belief that the title PhD means that the bearer is excellent in his field. Please don’t get me wrong; I do have a lot of respect for that titleordinarily! Of course, PhD does mean excellence in some cases. But we are not talking “ordinarily” here. We are talking about the Nigerian Factor! We have seen cases of fake degrees in Nigeria in recent times because everybody attaches so much stupid importance to degrees. Nobody cares about the quality of education that results in the pieces of paper called degrees.

          Nigerians have taken the Nigerian Title & Paper Chase phenomenon to another dimension. Our governors, lawmakers, and other so-called leaders go as far as paying money to be conferred with some stupid honorary degrees. They are stupid because they know nothing in or about the disciplines that they acquire the degrees from. They have never made any social or academic contributions towards the development of those sectors either. Everybody wants to be called Dr. Tom, Dr. Dick, or Dr. Harry, this Harry not inclusive.

          I will illustrate with a couple of analogies, how unintelligent the entire notion of the NUC PhD rule really is. It would be an insult on the intelligence of Nigerians to imply that we are not aware of this universal fact. Some of the greatest inventions of all times came from people who did not see the four walls of any university. Indeed, some geniuses did not even get to see the four walls of an elementary school at all. Sure, some eventually acquired one or two degrees just for the heck of it. And in some cases, they ended up practically teaching their PhD teachers. Now, if we do know all these facts, then is it not unintelligent to say that those non-PhD great inventors and geniuses of all times are not qualified to teach in Nigerian universities?

          Maybe I am too dumb to understand the PhD move; so, somebody please break it down for me. Tell me in simple language what NUC says to one of those great non-PhD geniuses who may offer to teach in a Nigerian university? Do we say to him/her, buzz off; you have no PhD, so we do not need your great ingenuity and knowledge? For crying out loud, I am not even a genius, but I was “teaching” electronic editing in a first-class university while I was still a graduate student in the USA. The professor of the telecommunication production course was not proficient in electronic editing and allied technical matters, so to speak. His deficient area happened to be one of my passions at the time. So, I had put some time and effort into being very good at it. The lecturer recognized my proficiency, paired it up with his own weakness, and before I knew what hit me, I was a teacher. The good old PhD professor enlisted me to teach the practical/technical aspect of his course. He concentrated on the theoretical/scholarly aspect that he had passion for. The point is that I did not have a Master’s degree yet. And I was not even classified as a “teacher” when I was ‘teaching’ or imparting useful knowledge to students who were my course mates in the same school. The fact that I was appreciably proficient in that subject was all I needed to be a teacher, and not a title, or a piece of paper with the word ‘PhD’ on it.

          I thank God that I do happen to have a few of those pieces of paper called degrees, three in all. So, it should never be seen as envy when I say that they are very often so, so overrated! A guy may possess some great knowledge and experience to impart upon our children, but NUC says no, because he or she does not possess a piece of paper with ‘PhD’ written on it. These guys should be thinking out some ways to improve on the pay package and other favorable work conditions that would attract and keep quality devoted teachers in the schools. Instead, they are busy encouraging infantile Paper Chase in the country, as if we didn’t have enough of the ‘Toronto (fake) degree’ craze already.

          If NUC’s policy is allowed to stand, then I can bet anybody a million bucks that by the year 2009, there would be a sharp increase in fake PhD degrees in Nigeria. Several Nigerians intend to go into teaching, and others are already there and do not want to be weeded out for no just reason. So, they will acquire the PhD through one illegal means or the other. Conversely, some of our universities are bound to lose some brilliant brains. Some of them have not been privileged to attain the PhD degree. And some simply are not really interested in the doggone thing in the first place.

          I once again cite myself in my illustration, hoping that it is not mistaken as ego-tripping. I possess three different degrees in three different areas of the Communications discipline—Theater Arts, Telecommunication (Film/TV Production), and Mass Communication. But none is PhD. You and I know that the funds, time and effort put in those three degrees (two Bachelors & one Masters) could have earned me a PhD in one particular area, if that was my passion. I would have saved some money and time taking the PhD option. And if I was to teach in Nigeria, a Communications student may benefit immensely from my versatility in the Communications discipline. The fact that some bureaucrats woke up one morning with PhD-mania does not suddenly strip me of the knowledge and experiences. Do remember that the batch of teachers that may come along with the PhD title and take over the jobs lost by some non-PhD brilliant minds may have absolutely nothing to offer in knowledge and experience…a fact!

Harry Agina writes from the USA.

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