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Is NOUN making open university system work?

As someone who has maintained a relationship with NOUN since 2008 when I was engaged  as a facilitator at the Abuja Centre, it is difficult…

As someone who has maintained a relationship with NOUN since 2008 when I was engaged  as a facilitator at the Abuja Centre, it is difficult to resist the temptation of joining the debate in the hope that such a healthy discourse will lead to an improved open university system in Nigeria. It is not fair, and indeed counter-productive, to dismiss the serious issues raised by the concerned students as Mrs Akinyemi attempted. I also find it difficult to swallow the official denials and rationalizations advanced by the management in its rejoinder to the students’ complaints.

No doubt, the idea behind the establishment of the Open University is novel. The capacity of the institution to establish study centres across the length and breadth of the country means that university education can be brought to the door step of every Nigerian thereby quenching our insatiable thirst for tertiary education. Also, its flexible arrangement has given millions of Nigerians the opportunity of acquiring university education while working. Issues that border on the efficiency of the university must therefore be tackled frankly and dispassionately with the intention of seeking a collective solution to challenges inherent in the system.

However, one critical issue that has not featured in the exchanges so far but capable of compromising the good intention of the open university system is the very limited attention being paid to facilitation.  No doubt, the principle behind the open university system is self study by the students. But the importance of intellectual exchanges between the students and facilitators in attaining the goals of producing good quality graduates cannot be over emphasized. Maintaining an intellectual rich facilitation base is therefore not a question of choice but an absolute necessity. This of course means engaging qualified and competent scholars who must be properly remunerated and their allowances paid as at when due.

The situation is however, the contrary, at least at the Abuja Study Centre. I also have cause to believe that the situation is the same in other centres across the nation.  A paltry sum of N5,000 is paid per hour for facilitation and as a rule, facilitation for a course ranges between 8 to 12 hours. This period is highly inadequate to cover a course resulting in situations where the facilitators have to put in more ‘’free hours’’ in order to cover the course.

Regular payment for facilitation appears to be least on the priority of NOUN. The payment is  irregular and often delayed for several months. For example, facilitation for courses completed in August 2008  was not paid until May 2009. For the current session, facilitation for the courses was concluded in September 2009 but as at today (8th June 2010), nine months after, the allowances are not yet paid.

The implication of the low rates and irregular payment of the allowances is that it has been difficult for the university to attract and retain high calibre academics on its facilitation list. For a centre that is close to two conventional universities, University of Abuja and Nasarawa State University, it would have been a good thing for the Abuja Centre to shore up its faculty base with a retinue of scholars from these universities but this has not been the case, no thanks to the unattractive reward system. The situation is not different in other centres.

The implication of this disincentive is of course telling on the NOUN as students spend four to five sessions to graduate for a course that should not last more than one year. The situation of students who enrolled for postgraduate courses is even more pathetic. My encounter with the M.Sc students  reveal that some of them started the programme since 2004 and are yet to complete the programmes. Having completed the course works, they have been stranded with projects, which have to be supervised by at least a Ph.D holder. This category of facilitators are in short supply due to the low remuneration system. For those of us who have taken the challenge of supervising the students, paying the sum of N10,000 for the rigour of supervising an M.Sc student is not a pleasant experience I want to go through all the times.

The open university system is a novel thing that is capable of revolutionising the educational system but we must admit that its operation in Nigeria is fraught with shortcomings. We quite appreciate the fact that the challenges may go beyond the management of the NOUN, given the persistent underfunding of many other novel projects in Nigeria but the solution to the problem does not lie in official denials. We must be frank on all issues and lay all the cards on the table.

Yahaya is Facilitator, Abuja Centre of the National Open University

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