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Urgency of Reforming Nigeria’s Primitive Postgraduate Education

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D. Twitter: @farooqkperogi Postgraduate education is almost dead in Nigeria. That is why the vast majority ...

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

Postgraduate education is almost dead in Nigeria. That is why the vast majority of Nigerians now go abroad to earn postgraduate degrees. Only severely underprivileged people—or people whose work and family commitments make it impossible for them to leave Nigeria—enroll in Nigerian universities for postgraduate degrees.

Every day on my Facebook news feed, I see scores of Nigerians celebrating their master’s or Ph.D. graduation from foreign, usually Asian, universities. Malaysia has especially emerged as a destination of choice for Nigerians seeking postgraduate degrees. Malaysia probably now attracts more Nigerian postgraduate students than Europe and North America, and may in future produce more Nigerian master’s degree and PhD holders than Nigerian universities.

It is easy to see why this is happening. Asian universities are well-run, efficient, comparatively cheap (cheaper certainly than European and North American universities), and infinitely better organized than Nigerian universities.

But, most importantly, the Asian universities that Nigerians are increasingly turning to are not plagued by the primitive, anti-intellectual Nigerian university academic culture that detains postgraduate students in school for years on end just for the hell of it.

I know several people who took nearly a decade to earn a master’s degree. Getting a PhD is even worse. Some people spend up to two decades just to earn a Ph.D. And the delays are not the consequence of academic rigor; they are inspired by the twin evils of rank laziness and “intellectual hazing.”

Many supervisors of postgraduate theses and dissertations in Nigerian universities are so disinclined to intellectual exertion that they take months, even years, just to take a look at their students’ theses or dissertation proposals. When they eventually do, their feedback is often so perfunctory as to be almost useless.

Postgraduate supervisors who don’t needlessly detain their students because of laziness do so out of a perverse desire to “haze” them. People think of hazing as typical only of military training institutes and of secret society organizations where recruits or initiates are often harassed and hectored by being forced to perform vicious, humiliating tasks.

 There is a barely talked about but nonetheless pervasive and insidious culture of academic hazing in Nigerian postgraduate schools, too. Postgraduate supervisors intentionally hold up their students because they want them to “value” their degrees. They take unconscionably long time to give their students feedback, not necessarily because they are lazy or busy, but because they don’t want their students to go away with the impression that postgraduate degrees are easy to come by.

I have heard heartbreaking stories of supervisors who turned their supervisees to domestic servants, of supervisors who emotionally and sexually abuse their supervisees, and of supervisors who demand financial gratification from their students to guarantee a speedy turnaround in their degree completion, which often never happens.

And it’s a vicious, self-replicating cycle: mean-spirited supervisors haze their students because they were also hazed by their own supervisors in postgraduate school, and students who manage to survive the intellectual bullying of their supervisors internalize the intimidation and inflict same on students who have the misfortune to come under their intellectual tutelage. And on and on it goes. But even supervisors who earned their advanced degrees abroad sooner or later get sucked into the primitive academic hazing culture.

I can’t put my finger on when this culture started, but it has been around for a longer period than most of us realize. I met an extremely intelligent man here who told me he abandoned his PhD in Nigeria after nearly 10 years of trying because it became apparent to him that his supervisor had determined that he would never graduate, however hard he tried. He said he went to the supervisor’s office, abused the hell out of him, and stormed out of his office, slamming the door violently as he left. And this was about 30 years ago. So, this isn’t a new thing.

Now, let me be clear: there are still many postgraduate supervisors in Nigerian universities who are conscientious, ethically sound, and hardworking; who don’t exploit and intentionally delay their students’ graduation. There are also a few universities and departments where students earn their postgraduate degrees, especially master’s degrees, in record time. But, frankly, these are becoming exceptions rather than the rule.

I have several friends who are either helplessly stuck in the morass that is Nigerian postgraduate education or who have totally given up on it after years of bootless struggle. This can’t continue. It just can’t. Without sound postgraduate education, we can’t train the next generation of professionals, and our universities will collapse.

Universities in Asia are taking advantage of Nigeria’s dysfunctional postgraduate education to lure knowledge-thirsty Nigerians to their schools. Before it gets to a point where no one goes to postgraduate school in Nigeria, the Ministry of Education and the National Universities Commission must intervene to salvage what remains of Nigeria’s postgraduate education.

For starters, greater systemic accountability should be built into postgraduate mentorship. Supervisors should be required to give periodic updates on the progress of their students. For instance, there should be a system in place to account for why students enrolled in a two-year master’s degree program, or a five-year PhD program, fail to graduate after their expected date of graduation. There should be sanctions—and redress for students— if it is established that a student is held up either because a supervisor was being lazy or because he was hazing a student.

This is particularly imperative for doctoral education, which has virtually collapsed in Nigerian universities. People should enroll in PhD programs with the expectation that they will graduate in record time if they work hard enough, and that they don’t have to submit to intellectual intimidation and extortion to graduate.

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