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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

NIGERIAN UNIVERSITIES AND TEACHING OF ECONOMICS: MY TAKE



    Teaching of Economics in Nigerian universities has not witnessed substantial progress like it happens in the case of its quasi-rivals such as Business Administration and Accounting, who after all are offshoots of Economics who developed into independent disciplines not more than one century and a half ago. Business Administration has transformed into money making machine for Nigerian schools who run Masters of Business Administration (MBA) that continue to attract people with deep pockets such as bankers, employees of multinational organisations and tax collectors. But, the fact of the matter is that, though, many people continue to rush for MBAs their corresponding value in term of the type of job they can get one into is fast declining. And, the explanation for this is not far fetch. The standard under which these courses are being offered do not meet international standards, as many schools compromise standard in order to make more money from big pocket students Thus, ending up producing graduates who fall below employers’ expectations. Hence, the rush to offer professional courses such as the ones mentioned has affected the research ability of these departments and their manpower strength to offer regular courses such B.sc and M.sc, further eroding the general standard of university education. In Economics department itself, professional courses such masters of banking and finance are now seriously encroaching on regular academic programs due to lack of available academic staffs to cover both.


   There are over hundred Nigerian universities (both private and public) today, located across all the six geographical parts of the country with substantial numbers located in the Southern part of the country. The number of universities offering Economics among these universities numbers more than 50% of the total because of the popularity of the course and the demand for it in the labour market. A university like University of Ibadan (which is also the first university in Nigeria) boasts of the oldest department of Economics in the country that up till today comprises of sizeable number of highly qualified professors. The country’s main center for economic research (the equivalent of America’s NBER) is based in the University of Ibadan, likewise the Nigerian Economic Society (equivalent to the US American Economic Association). Other universities that came after University of Ibadan such as Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, University of Nigeria Nsukka, University of Lagos, and Obafemi Awolowo University, Ife, established their own economics departments that were to play a prominent role in producing the earlier generation of Nigerian economists. But, that is where it all stops as the Nigerian Economists and the Economic departments in its various universities are today the shadow of there former selves. known globally for producing critical thinkers and scholars who have contributed in formulating government policies as well as playing important role among the community of academic economists and practitioners around the world. 


   Some of the most prominent players in the formulation of the country’s economic policies were locally trained. This is to tell you how good these departments were during the 1970s and 1980s when graduates from Nigerian universities were on high demand around the world, and Professors left their chairs in Europe to come to Nigeria in order to take teaching appointments. Those that were produced during those years include Prof. Charles Soludo former CBN governor (UNN), current CBN governor Sanusi L. Sanusi (ABU), Minister of national planning Shamsudden Usman (ABU), Mansur Mukhtar former finance minister (ABU), former Managing Director of United Bank for Africa Toney Elumelu (Lagos), to mentioned only the key players of the current period. One of the reasons for apparent decline in the status of Economics departments of Nigerian universities is absence of quality teachers to help with the teaching and the researching in the universities which like most other departments have been affected by brain drains in which good professors who have published in world renown academic journals have gone abroad where there is better condition for teaching and research.  Some of those that cannot move abroad have moved their services to the private sector where there is better pay and working condition. The few quality professors that remain have divided their attention between the department and their outside consultancy works. Thus, at the end of the day the one that pays the high price of this unfortunate scenario is no other than the graduates being produced by these institutions.


  Some of the world acclaimed economic departments such as Massachusetts institute of technology (MIT), Cambridge, Harvard, London school of economics, and Chicago boast of not only a number of Nobel laureates but an alumni base that has defined the course of Economics over the last century and contributed to the development of the World economy. In these places, the quality of their teaching materials is superb; their libraries and research centres the best in the world. No wonder everyone wants to go there in order to pursue his academic interests. Their academic staffs contributed to some of the best known Economic journals in the World such as Review of Economics and Statistics, Econometrica, Journal of political economy, Journal of monetary Economics, American Economic review, Economic Letters, etc. They not only contributed to shaping the curricula of Economics around the World but defined it future direction. They adapt to technological changes as they appeared on the horizon and help define its contribution to business and economy; something you cannot say of Nigerian schools’ Economic departments. They support promising students who show academic excellence with scholarship to further their studies something you hardly see here. Some of the unlucky half bake graduates produced in Nigeria end up pursuing careers different from the economic training they received at school.


  There is little contact between students and their lecturers apart from the occasional meetings for the usual class lectures, this did not help the development of the students into critical thinkers as they are left with the only mastery of what is contain in the hand out, a kind of garbage-in-garbage out (a world of crammers). This is contrary to what obtains else where, where apart from the class meetings professors give students individual attention to discuss economic matters with them and even help them to publish papers earlier in their career. In his autobiography after he received the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1992 the eminent American economist Gary Becker described how the department atmosphere was at Chicago where they were taught by great economists like Milton Friedman, Gregg Lewis, and T. Schultz. On Friedman, Becker has this to say, “He emphasized that economic theory was not a game played by clever academicians, but was a powerful tool to analyze the real world. His course was filled with insights both into the structure of economic theory and its application to practical and significant questions. That course and subsequent contacts with Friedman had a profound effect on the direction taken by my research.”


   Going back in time to 1930s, the department of economics at Harvard of that period comprised of some of the world greatest economist under one roof. These include Joseph Schumpeter, Alvin Hansen, Seymour Harris, Edward Chamberlin, Edward Mason, and Wassily Leontief who helped to inspire students that would later become world renown such as Paul Samuelson, Lloyd Metzler, Paul Sweezy, Kenneth Galbraith, Abram Bergson, James Tobin, Richard Musgrave, Richard Gilbert, Lloyd Reynolds, John P. Miller, and Richard Goodwin. Across the Atlantic ocean at London school of Economics (of the same period of time) the economic department comprises academic staffs that include John R. Hicks, Lionel Robbins, Friedrich Von Hayek Roy Allen, Nicholas Kaldor, Abba Lerner and Richard Sayers. Thus, at the centre of the success of any Economics department around the world is the composition of its lecturers who are on average brilliant, hardworking, versatile, and highly motivated to contribute to the development of the department by given there one hundred percent to research and teaching. In Nigeria today it is only few departments that comprises of more than five full time professors (and this is mostly restricted to federal universities who paid professors in excess of N400, 000.00), majority of these lecturers comprises of masters holders and others pursuing their PhDs. And, the recruitment process into some of these departments have become skewed in favour of those who are connected, and where merit is followed some of the newly recruited tend to start looking for greener posture elsewhere the moment they get what they want.


    The curriculum in those departments also needs some changes to reflect the changing reality of our time. Like most things in Nigeria it is very difficult to introduce changes as those against it will do everything possible to frustrate it. Many scholars and commentators have emphasized the need to introduce courses that encourage free thinking and brainstorming but instead the curriculum stick to syllabus that emphasize pure mastery of the subjects in order to pass exam; as the only thing that matter is the certificate that one will graduate with at the end of his program. And, some of the lecturers are to blame for this scenario as they are accused of using strict marking scheme that do not allowed for student own contributions and research. Such lecturers are said to have given marks out according to what they provided in their lecture handout. This explain the inability of the graduating students to conduct any research of their own instead resorting to stealing others ideas and works and putting their names on it. Outside the school period, in their later places of work graduating student find it difficult to contribute to freethinking and innovation- that develop their places of work- what in reality Economics is all about. Though, economics is considered to be a quantitative subject one will be surprised to find out that a lot of economic students fear mathematics and statistics and consider them as their number one enemies. But, how can one consider himself an economist when he fears quantitative courses?


   But, the death of research culture is not only restricted to the students as the lecturers themselves find it increasingly difficult to conduct researches. In those circumstances where they wrote their papers they end up being published in departmental or faculty journals that in most cases are of lower quality than international or national journals. Then there is the proliferation of private journals in Nigeria and abroad who accept any kind of paper in as much as the author pays them the publication fees. Though, this problem is not restricted to Nigeria as is seen in other places around the world, that does not means the Nigerian academic economist should accept it. Though, not all fee paying journals are of low quality, there are a lot many that do not deserve the name academic journal. The only national Economic journal of refute that remain in publication for over sixty years is that published by Nigerian economic Society, Nigerian Journal of Economic and Social Studies (NJESS) since 1959, the quality of the type of papers contributed to the journal both from Nigeria and abroad attest to the reputation of the journal in Nigerian academia. Other highly regarded journals include the ones being published by the central bank research department, CBN Economic and Financial Review, and periodicals like that of Nigerian Deposit Insurance Corporation. But, the aim of any aspiring academic Economist is to publish in world renown journals such as the ones I have made mention of earlier, so as to get international recognition and not to restrict his papers to national periodicals. Departmental conferences also have become the thing of the past as departments of
economics around the country find it difficult to get the financial and human resources needed together to organize such conferences, as was the case before, when they organized international conferences that attracted world renowned scholars from around the world. The proceedings of such conferences later get published in the form of books thereby providing student and lecturers with working materials of international standard base on their local environment. 

Source:
1                             Autobiography of James Tobin, www.nobelprize.org
2                             Autobiography of John R. Hicks, www.nobelprize.org
                  Autobiography of Gary S. Becker, www.nobelprize.org