In spite of the widespread fanfare that heralded the commencement of the National Open University of Nigeria seven years ago, the institution is still battling with teething problems, reports SEGUN OLUGBILE
Seven years after its resuscitation, the National Open University of Nigeria is still battling with its many teething problems. The institution is still contending with poor funding; inadequate course materials for students; uncoordinated calendar; inadequate study centres; and dearth of course writers. In addition to all these, many Nigerians, including a large number of NOUN?s students, don?t yet understand the procedural differences between a conventional university and a distance learning institution. Also, the decision of the Lagos State government to stop the use of its school premises by higher institutions and the alleged uncooperative attitude of some other state governments seem to have compounded the woes of the open university.
NOUN was initially established on July 22, 1983 as a springboard for open and distance learning in the country. It was however suspended by the military government on April 25, 1984. But it was resuscitated on April 12, 2001 after it became obvious that the nation?s university system could not cope with the increasing number of Nigerians thirsty for university education.
The open university began with 32,400 pioneer students and offers certificates, diplomas, degrees and post graduate diplomas and degrees in over 50 programmes. The programmes are designed in a flexible and convenient manner to suit the students, whose age at entry point should not be less than 22 years.
But, seven years after the university opened its doors to students, it is yet to have a solid footing. The students have among others, alleged uncoordinated calendar and inability to register online for the second semester of the 2007/2008 session as some of the problems facing the institution.
These problems, they claimed, resulted in their inability to access the institution?s website for registration for the second semester of the 2007/2008 academic session. The students also said the Lagos State government?s decision to stop higher institutions, including NOUN from using its schools? premises for academic purposes would hamper their studies.
But, the university has denied this, saying that the temporary closure of the site was done to afford it the opportunity of expanding the site?s bandwidth. It also denied the allegation of wobbled service disclosing that the university would organise its maiden convocation in January.
?The problem we have is that some of the students do not understand the operation of an open distance learning university. They are calculating the semester based on what operates in a conventional university. This is the basis for the agitation but I can tell you that we have resolved the problems their leaders highlighted at a meeting with some principal officers of NOUN on Friday,? the Head, Public Communications of NOUN, Dr. Ronke Ogunmakin, said.
She added that the temporary closure of the website was done in the interest of the students. According to her, the university decided to increase the university?s website?s bandwidth as a way of widening the scope of accessibility by the students.
When our correspondent visited the office of the Lagos Study Centre Manager, Prof. Kehinde Obidairo, he was not in the office but one of the officers of the university who spoke on the condition of anonymity confirmed that the scope of accessibility had been widened.
?Ask any of the students now, in fact you can visit the site, our site is now working and academic activities will begin in earnest in January. The problem we have in Lagos is that we have the highest number of students and unfortunately most of the students are still young.
?I think the problem they have is that they compare NOUN with other conventional universities that operate a regular academic calendar year of September to October. Here it is not so,? the source said.
But the official said that the Lagos State government?s attitude to the open university had not been encouraging. According to the source, the management of NOUN has visited top officials of the state government twice to table its need but nothing has been done.
When contacted, the Senior Special Assistant on media to the Governor, Alhaji Hakeem Bello, said the Deputy Governor, Mrs. Sarah Sosan, who is also in charge of the education ministry, would be in a better position to speak on the issue. He offered to speak with the deputy governor to get her comment and get back to our correspondent. But rather than the comment, the SSA said the deputy governor requested for our correspondent?s phone number with a promise to call and thereafter give the official position but as at the time of filing this report, Sosan had not responded.
Also, the Public Relations Officer in the Ministry of Education, Alhaji Tunji Bakare, was also said to be on leave but a source in the ministry said that the state government had nothing against the institution. ?Neither her excellency nor the state government has anything against NOUN. The policy was not targeted at any institution, what we are just saying is that our schools? premises should not be used without our permission.?
However, some of the students of the university who spoke with our correspondent in one of the centres in Akoka area of Lagos, alleged that the institution had not treated the students well.
?We don?t really understand what is wrong with this institution, we have not received the result of any examination we did, neither have we seen the result of any of our TMAs (Tutored Marked Assignments). All our scripts are still littering offices in the studying centre. We are using a whole year to do a semester, is that how to operate a university?,? one of the students, who simply identified herself as Aanu, said.
Another student, Mr. Fidelis Okon, said though he paid for eight course materials when he was offered admission late last year, only five course materials were given to him. Investigations by our correspondent however revealed that the university had been finding it difficult to recruit dons to write the course materials.
A top source at the university confirmed this. He disclosed that because of dearth of professionals to handle the materials, the few ones available were taking the job with levity. ?It is not as if we have not paid them, we pay but we still have to be begging them to do the job. We have placed advertisement soliciting for the services of these dons but I can tell you that response has been very poor. That is why we repeated the advert in some national dailies including your paper (The PUNCH),? the source said.
Though the institution?s Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Olagbemiro Jegede, neither denied nor confirmed this, he blamed the students of the Lagos State centres for their lack of understanding of the operation of the open university. He had earlier referred our correspondent to Ogunmakin, who also attributed the challenges of the university to inadequate funding.
According to her, the students, rather than confronting the university authorities, should join force with the management to seek better budgetary allocation to the institution.
She said, ?As a federal university, tuition is free, so our students don?t pay tuition, but they also do not pay other charges that their counterparts in regular universities pay, so we have the challenges of raising alternative funds. We depend solely on government and that is why I will advise the students to join efforts with management to prevail on government to give us more funds.?
Ogunmakin, who expressed optimism about the ability of the open university to reduce admission pressure on the conventional universities, said the challenges facing the institution would soon be a thing of the past.
?We are on course and with the support of the government, the National Assembly and other stakeholders in the educational sector; we will achieve our mission to provide functional, cost-effective and flexible learning which adds life-long value to quality education for all those seeking knowledge.?