I was waiting for my MSc Viva when I was offered an appointment in 2005. I was recommended for the position of Assistant Lecturer but was stepped down to Graduate Assistant since I have not got an MSc degree yet. The viva took place 3 months later and I was upgraded to Assistant lecturer. Unlike my non-academic colleagues, Bachelor’s degree can only make you a graduate assistant in the university and nothing more.
After resuming and an office allocated to my friend/colleague and me, we were told that we have 3 major responsibilities as academics: Research, Teaching, and Community Services. There, I realized that, unlike my non-academic colleagues, my next promotion will be based on my research output and, in academics, there is a limit to where the just acquired MSc degree can take me. PhD is a requirement to grow to be a senior academic.
So, we enrolled for PhD Physics immediately. Before then, I was already assigned a laboratory course and have to be in one of the teaching laboratories every day of the week from 2 pm to 5 pm. Then, a first-year course to teach about 2,000 students splitted into 3 groups. I have to teach each group on different days. It was dawn upon me that, as a staff-in-training that is actively involved in teaching, it is my responsibility to carefully plan my time and strike a balance between my PhD research work, and teaching, while still working towards my next promotion.
In 2006 got more responsibilities as I was made the Assistant Examinations Officer of the department. A year later, I became the exams officer and the seminar coordinator for the department. For the next 2 years, I was a PhD student, examinations officer, seminar coordinator, laboratory coordinator, courses to teach, and hundreds of scripts to mark. And I still have to publish my research work for the next promotion. I remember that sometimes I don’t get home till about 10 pm.
I was working on dielectrics and the research facilities ain’t available nearby. Then I realized that they were working on natural oil at NARICT, Zaria. I got access to their lab and was going to Basawa for my sample preparation which involved the chemistry of natural oil. While the sample preparation was ongoing, I was still thinking of how to get the dielectric analysis of the samples done after the preparation. Meanwhile, I have to save from my salary to get all these done.
In 2008, that’s after almost 2 years of working on my PhD research, I got a relief. I was among the 2 lucky Nigerians that are the recipients of an international scholarship for PhD for that year. Most of my other colleagues were not that lucky. Just like I started, they have to completely fund their PhD. They struggled to finish the PhD alongside teaching and other responsibilities. I left to do fantastic research on a project that won the IEEE DEIS fellowship for innovative ideas. I got nice publications (research output) from the work that will cover my next promotion.
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Then, I returned with so much energy to add value to the system, especially in research and development in my field. But I return to meet the system the way I left it. I could still not do what I was not able to do before I left. Nothing has changed. No miracle to change our situation since we have refused to invest in research. I resumed teaching the same thing that I taught before leaving. Teaching and marking the scripts of the same hundreds of students. I was faced with the sad reality that I have just gone for good training on research that I can’t use to train others. I start to ask myself questions on the essence of the research training abroad.
We developed a proposal and reached out to the university, and relevant agencies for collaboration and possible funding of our research ideas and it yielded no result. While battling with my life as an academic in a Nigerian university, another temporary relief came up. I was invited for a postdoc interview and got a job offer. It was a temporary relief.
Shortly after I got the postdoc offer, I got an international research grant as the principal investigator for work on drilling fluid. It boosted our morale. That grant helped us to start building our research lab. Some MSc students were working on the project while I left for the postdoc. I supervised the work remotely. The job was well done by the brilliant students as we got it published in a Scopus-indexed journal. That was our first paper from the lab in a Q1 journal. Q1 journals are the best journals in the top 25%.
I returned to the university in 2015 after my postdoc to meet the same system. Unfortunately, no miracle had happened to change the situation within the 2 years that I was away. I remember that in 2008, a congregation member asked a VC about the budget of the university for research and he responded that there is no budget for research. You check the budget and you realize that universities, a supposed research hub, that is meant to hold the keys to innovative ideas for the country has no budget for research but the ministries, departments, and some agencies have a budget for research. Isn’t that amazing? Since there is no provision for research, the personal efforts to improve our research facilities in the department continued. It was very frustrating at a time but as Physicists, we refused to give in to the opposing forces. That eventually gave birth to our lab, “The Cubicle.”
Certified French Tutor in Nigeria with Years of Experience – Ms Blessing Akpan
Even though research output is the major criterion for the promotion of academics in universities, research facilities are not given attention by the owner. MSc and PhD research works of lecturers on training in the university are mostly funded with their salaries. The postdoctoral research work in the university and the publications that are going to get you a promotion are mostly funded from your pocket.
There will be a question such as: why not assess international research grants to build our research capacity? No country develops its research capacity with international grants. Research capacity is built with national research funds and supplemented with international research grants. Till the recent little intervention from TETFund, there are very few research grants to access nationally.
Research is not given adequate attention and the person responsible for that is asking for innovation to produce vaccines for COVID-19. Will that be done with saliva? Since research is not properly funded, the minister thinks that all that an academic do in the university is to teach and mark scripts. In his mind, an academic in the university is not working if he is not in the classroom teaching. He can’t even remember that TETFund has started funding some research and the works are ongoing despite the strike. If the education minister can’t understand that despite the unfavourable working conditions, lecturers are still winning grants and publishing despite not teaching, who else do you expect to understand? Is it President Buhari that is supposed to be briefed by the minister?
The university lecturers are most likely the only workers in Nigeria that have to spend their salaries to work to progress in their careers. Aside from performing their teaching responsibilities and other services, they have to save their salaries to do research, the third component of their job. And unfortunately, promotions are hanged on that third component but they have to struggle to put up their research facilities with very limited support to achieve that.
Your next question may be what is the impact of these researches done in the university on Nigeria? It’s one thing for the researchers to do research and it’s another thing for the output to be picked up by those that need it and develop it further into finished products. If the managers of the country refused to use the research output from the university, you can’t blame the researcher. He has done his bit. If the managers of the country refuse to challenge the intellectuals for solutions to address national challenges, the intellectuals can’t force them and you can’t blame the intellectuals.
Meanwhile, the education minister was recently heard on TV comparing Chief Lecturers in the Colleges of Education and the Polytechnics with Professors. There seems to be a poor understanding of the university system by the minister and many other stakeholders. The Minister is comparing a position whose minimum degree requirement is an MSc with another position whose minimum degree requirement is a PhD. That’s strange. Chief Lecturer is technically equivalent to Lecturer 1 in the university. NUC possibly needs to organize a workshop for the Minister of Education and the other stakeholders on the university education system and the responsibilities of the lecturers.
In your quiet moment, you reflect on the whole education crisis in Nigeria and your activities in the university. You wonder if returning to the country was a wise decision. You wonder if all the personal efforts and funds injected into your research facilities are really worth it. Then, the names of the students your efforts have impacted their lives come to your mind and that put a smile on your face and feel that inner fulfillment. But will the zeal to go extra mile for the system continue to be there after this crisis? Who will be at the receiving end? I haven’t got an answer to those questions yet.
Some people think education is critical to the development of a nation, especially a developing nation like Nigeria. But those in the government think otherwise. Again, most Nigerians are just out for a certificate. I still can’t believe that the immediate past Minister of State for Education said there is no return on investment in education. We are on a journey to nowhere if Nigerian leaders will borrow to fund all sorts of things but claim there is no money to fund public education and Nigerians are clapping and hailing them.
Nobody needs to remind us that as you make your bed, so you must lie on it.
Happy 7 months anniversary of the 2022 ASUU strike.