It happens frequently in Nigeria’s federal education system. It has been described as mortgaging the future of Nigeria’s youth. It is responsible for wasted years and setbacks that can lead some to get involved in questionable activities. We are all familiar with the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and their strikes over the years.
Since ASUU went on strike on July 1, 2013, everyone has been reminded of what makes studying at a public, federal university an option that should be carefully considered. The Minister of Education, Professor Ruqayyatu Rufa’i, is constantly reassuring students that she will bring the strike to an end. Her guarantees fall short day after day, week after week, as the strike continues and the educational dreams of thousands of Nigeria’s young people are eroded.
ASUU strikes date back to 1988 when union officials began to protest for wage increases. The union was suspend and then reinstated in 1990. Following another strike in 1992, the union was barred and restored yet again, after an agreement was reached with the federal government. In the mid-1990s, two more strikes hindered university education in Nigeria once more. Fast-forward to 2003, when the union went on strike again due to disagreements with the manner in which the government handles education, and you get more reasons why public universities in Nigeria are not living up to their promise. Another three-month strike in 2007 was situated around their demands not being met.
In May 2008, the ASUU went on strike for a week in order to send a message to the authorities that they deserved higher salaries and wanted the return of instructors who had been dismissed. In June 2009, they had another spat with the federal government on terms agreed to in 2007 and, yes, there was an additional strike. After the three-month strike, ASUU and other staff unions signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the government and called off the strike.
What is happening at the moment is a result of broken promises and agreements that were reached in 1981, 1982, 1992, 1999, 2001, 2005, and 2006. But there is another option for those who want to be educated in Nigerian – private universities. One institution that stands out is the American University of Nigeria (AUN) in Yola, Adamawa State. Although when most people hear Adamawa, there is a bit of reluctance, the University itself offers a serene environment that is unparalleled in Nigeria’s educational landscape.
AUN was founded in 2003 to fill the educational gap that strikes breed, and to provide an alternative for young people who are considering going overseas to study. Opening its first class in the fall of 2005, it was created to be a Development University. The AUN campus has the only university-wide wireless facility in Nigeria. The University is in partnership with Tulane University in New Orleans, the US, one of that country’s top institutions. Other partner-institutions include American University in Washington, D.C., George Mason University, and Kansas State University all in the US and Oxford University, the UK, Eastern Mediterranean University, Cyprus, and John Cabot University, Italy.
It is the first and only American-style tertiary institution with a mission statement that is based on what Nigeria and Africa need from its universities. Core academic programs combine broad, general education with areas of specialization, while emphasis is placed on active participation in small classes that require independent thinking and research that is community-based.
All students are required to participate in community service to help solve societal problems. AUN’s Sustainability Initiative is a development project that teaches people in the Yola community how waste/garbage can be transformed into wealth. Women in the Yola community have learned how to turn recycled water bottles into eco-bricks, and how to market the crafts and trinkets they produce with recycled objects. There is also a literacy program that teaches women in the community how to read and write. Every weekend, students participate in a wide range of community service opportunities like repairing broken floors in primary schools, painting walls, reading to children, and assisting teachers with their class work.
In January 2012, President of the American University of Nigeria, Dr. Margee Ensign, and Board of Trustees, Chairman Ahmed Joda, launched the Adamawa Peace Initiative. The group helped pave the way for the first Yola Peace Day. API is made up of religious, traditional, business, and government leaders. Representatives for the Christian Association of Nigeria, Nigeria Police Force, the State Security Service, the Muslim-Christian Forum, the Islamic Council, and the Traders Association of Nigeria are also members. A state-of-the-art library to reflect a “post-internet” design is currently being completed on the campus. This new design will have more room and flexibility, and an integrated information circulation desk that is small but effective. Scanners, desktop computers, laptops, photocopy machines, and traditional telephones are being replaced with smart-phones. This ensures that less energy and space are used and that the library operates more cost-efficiently.
Because of AUN’s unique approach to teaching and community service, the University has received accolades from international organizations and institutions. In 2011, the American Peace Corps, while celebrating its 50th anniversary, awarded the Founder, H.E. Atiku Abubakar, with the first Harry Wofford Global Citizenship award for his support to higher education. AUN President also won the African Leadership award in Educational Excellence in 2011. In October 2012, AUN was honored as Africa’s Leading University at an award ceremony in Atlanta, Georgia. In July, the library won the American Library Association’s award for International Innovative Library Projects.
The University has three undergraduate schools: the School of Arts & Sciences (SAS), the School of Business & Entrepreneurship (SBE), and the School of Information Technology & Computing (SITC). The SAS lays the foundation for a liberal education by emphasizing and encouraging critical thinking, and imparting knowledge that is essential to the future of every AUN student. It offers programs in Natural & Environmental Sciences, Petroleum Chemistry (with an engineering component), Economics, International & Comparative Politics, and English Language & Literature.
SBE prepares students for careers in business as they acquire the necessary knowledge and skills to function as professionals, entrepreneurs, and visionary leaders in the business world. The school has programs in Business Management with concentrations in Accounting, Finance, Economics, Management, and Marketing. In the spring of 2011, SBE began a course in Social Entrepreneurship, a new field of study where business skills are harnessed to solve societal problems. The quality of teaching and research makes SBE an excellent option for majors to secure a strong foundation in business before they enter the workforce.
SITC has a curriculum that is designed to produce the next generation of highly skilled IT professionals and leaders in Nigeria and sub-Saharan Africa. The school offers programs in Software Engineering, Computer Science, Information Systems (with concentrations in Networking, Database Administration, Management Information Systems and Information Security and Assurance), and Telecommunications & Wireless Technologies.
AUN also offers two other graduate degree programs: Executive Master in Information Technology and an Executive Master in Telecommunications & Wireless. The Executive Master in IT is currently in progress, with 35 students expected to graduate in May 2014. Students in the Master of Business Administration (MBA) and Post Graduate Diploma in Management (PGDM) programs began classes on August 23, 2013.
So, there it is. Young people in Nigeria do not have to depend on public universities to fulfill their dreams. There is another option. Several scholarships available for students who meet the academic requirements and financial assistance are also available to those who qualify. Students are admitted in January and August and prospective students can apply at any time.