Graduate Employability: Time to Take Action -PART 4
By Tope Toogun
What is taking place or has taken place at TETFUND should be of interest to all stakeholders interested in curbing graduate unemployability. TETFUND says it is the key agency for actualizing the Ministry of Education’s Strategic Plan in the focal area on Funding, Partnerships, Resource Mobilization and Utilization, towards accomplishing the objectives of the Nigeria education system, which are to address the challenges of access and quality and develop world-class infrastructure, learning resources and world-class teachers and to ensure that the institutions are able to produce highly skilled manpower and individuals with entrepreneurial flair(emphasis mine). There are ongoing moves to increase education tax from 2 to 4%. If we have not received significant value from 2%, what hope do we have that increasing the revenue base will yield positive results?
In four years and maybe about N2 trillion later (adding the regular government funding to the TETFUND interventions for 2011-2015) how ‘world class’ is the manpower we are producing when employers are complaining about severe skill gaps?
One can safely assume that for as long as we are not producing work-ready graduates, TETFUND’s intervention is money going down the drain. Most of what we see in the agency’s reports are pictures of construction projects at various stages of completion and data in terms of research publications it has resuscitated, postgraduate scholarship awards it has offered and laboratory equipment it has procured but we are still not producing graduates who are fit for purpose. Since we do know for a fact that we are not, it is time to rethink how TETFUND has been executing its mandate, which has cost taxpayers so much but yielded so little in return.
The loopholes that have allowed people to game the system should be closed and we should focus the bulk of funding interventions, not on what the universities individually say they need, but on providing a specific set of facilities that are in line with revised objectives and goals for tertiary education, which should align with our manpower development needs. Crucially, there are four areas where we need intervention; curriculum review and educator retraining in line with the skill requirements of a 21st century society, broadband internet access across all campuses, uninterruptible power and refurbishment of existing infrastructure (this is not to reject building new structures but what about a programme to maintain existing structures?)
Curriculum review and training our administrators
First, we have to recognize the need for a paradigm shift in mindset for our education administrators and regulators. Both must be open to admitting the failure and inadequacy of current initiatives, much as the federal government has admitted the same. We need to invest significant resources in enlightening and educating our administrators and regulators, to create an environment where they are open to joining the rest of us in the 21st century. And the means should not be one (or several) of those interminable jamborees that people in government are fond of, by whatever name they call it -”seminars” and “workshops” etc. Can we apply more TETFUND grants to outcomes based capacity building for our lecturers? Why not put resources together on an online portal for educators to access and earn credit or some form of rigorous accreditation for completing the courses that will enable them adopt modern methods of teaching? If we revamp the curriculum to be competency focused, we have to up skill our lecturers to be able to work towards competency-based outcomes, which will match the needs of employers. How do we embed metacognition in the curriculum? How do we train faculty members to embed employability outcomes in their course delivery? Some intensive training is required for these to happen, (and it is not short term or slapdash) and aid faculty members to apply the knowledge in their delivery to prepare students for life outside the university walls.
Can we agree the fundamental outcomes that will make students “fit for purpose” upon graduation? How much interaction is taking place between the “producers” of labour and the end-users, that is, the employers of the graduates our institutions are churning out. It is when we are able to align the curriculum, NUC’s quality assurance, TETFUND interventions and such like with the needs of employers of labour that we can start making some headway. The way it looks now, the activities of these agencies and the institutions themselves are being conducted as if the agencies are oblivious of the skill requirements in our society or they do not have a clue as to how to ensure they can “produce to specification”, that is, produce graduates who are employable. The entire tertiary education curriculum needs an urgent revamp. We need graduates who, as part of their course of study, are equipped with critical thinking and employability skills. The soft skills can be embedded in every single university degree programme and assessed along with the mainstream courses.