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Making varsity awards worthwhile

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SOMETIMES,  it is the little things that reveal where a society’s priorities lie. Last week, Nigerians received further confirmation that, for all the soaring rhetoric that seems to suggest otherwise, the Nigerian society actually places very little emphasis on education.

The latest sad reminder came in the form of two letters signed by Dr. S.O. Afolabi on behalf of the Registrar, Ekiti State University, Ado Ekiti, (EKSU) and delivered to Mr. Oluwadamilare Samuel Uwagwu and Ms. Aderonke Ashabi Fashina. While the letter to Mr. Uwagwu, dated  June 13, notified him that he was “the best student in crop production in the Faculty of Agricultural Sciences,” the letter to Ms. Fashina conveyed the news of her distinction as “the best graduating student in the final examination for the degree in (sic) B.Ed. (Hons.) Education for 2016/2017 academic session.” Copies of both letters have been posted on the social media and numerous news portals.

By themselves, these letters give the impression that EKSU cares deeply about excellence and is willing to honour students who have acquitted themselves well in their studies.  However, the monetary value of the awards to both students, N2,000 and N250 respectively, gives a contrary impression. The question that arises here is a simple one: if the university is concerned about excellence, why can’t it put its money where its mouth is by rewarding it well? Sociologists have long emphasised the paradox in certain forms of distinction demeaning their recipients. The award of these paltry sums to two students who have separated themselves from their peers on account of their industry and persistence belongs in this paradoxical category.

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Yet, and as would seem obvious to any casual observer, while the authorities of EKSU are the apparent villains in this example, what is on full display here is just a microcosm of the degraded state of education, especially tertiary education, public and private, in Nigeria. The sad truth is that over the years, Nigeria has gradually become a country where artistes, entertainers, athletes and, of late, participants in reality shows like the Big Brother Naija (BBN) are more respected and socially valorised than academics and members of the knowledge industry. This situation has to change if Nigeria is to move forward.

While the government enjoys pontificating about education and its benefits, its talk hardly, if ever, translates into action. Worse still, on the rare occasions when it makes money available for research and knowledge production in universities, those funds are misappropriated by the authorities in the universities, many of whom today rival politicians in the degree and brazenness of their pettiness and unaccountability. After all, these days, even vice chancellors, like the president and governors,  have a Chief of Staff.

The authorities of EKSU can and must boost the monetary value of awards to the university’s standout students. So should the leadership in other universities. We also urge those who endowed university awards in the past to review them in line with current economic realities. Nigerians would only be deluding themselves if they think that the fundamental issue here concerns EKSU. It does not. It is about the value that, collectively, Nigerians assign to education. And on this evidence, it is very little.


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