Sometimes in November 2011, two university lecturers, Yemisi Pitan of National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) and her counterpart from Lagos State University (LASU), Oluyemi Stephens carried out an eventful study on prisoners’ self-concept in two of the nation’s prisons: Maximum Security Prison, Kirikiri and Ikoyi Security Prison, Lagos. Twenty two inmates, comprising 11 who were Students of NOUN and 11 others who were non-students were drawn from both ends. They served as the study participants.
Two hypotheses at 0.05 level of significance were tested using the descriptive survey method and a self-concept scale designed by Akinboye (1977) otherwise known as the Adolescent Personal Data Inventory (APDI). In the end, the scholars came out with the result–prison inmates who are students of NOUN have higher self-concept than their counterparts who are non students. Reason: they have been exposed to academic activities; hence they have something to look forward to when they complete their prison terms.
Indeed, Ikoyi and Kikiri are not just the two prisons where NOUN is providing inmates with access to varsity education. Similar gestures have since been extended to Enugu and Port Harcourt maximum prisons. Though an uncommon novelty in this part of the world, NOUN management said it is committed to creating more prison study centres when right logistics are in place.
“With right logistics in place, we hope to open more study centres through which inmates can enjoy the benefit of varsity education while their prison terms lasted. Remember, NOUN was set up to champion the widening of access and providing flexibility of higher learning studies to teeming Nigerians, who hitherto had suffered deprivation in matters of access to tertiary education because of the limited carrying capacity of our conventional universities. Prison study centres programme is just one out of other innovations we have come up with in that regard,” Dr. Ronke Ogunmakin, NOUN Director, Media and Information, said.
Ogunmakin’s innovative claim can only spur one to dig further. And in the course of examining the books, it may not be too difficult to discover how NOUN is providing access to varsity education even at the rural level. In a country where higher institutions of learning are cited in urban and semi-urban centres, NOUN prides itself as one that is opening access to tertiary education for the rural populace. Thus, aside having its study centres in state capitals, communities such as Gulak in Adamawa state, Awa-Ijebu in Ogun state Iyara and Ogori communities in Kogi state, among others can all boast of having university campuses.
Asked why NOUN embarks on such adventurism considering the cost implications, the NOUN spokesperson said the university took cognizance of the cost implications but has to embark on the project because it realizes that study centres located in geo-political zones, state capitals and the rural communities are resource providers from where students can collect course and other study materials as well as interact with tutors, counselors, study centre directors as well as other students. As at last count, NOUN has 47 study centres spread across the country which include those opened in the prisons and rural communities.
Historically, when the idea of an open university was conceived by administration of President Shehu Shagari about 30 years ago, it had the mandate of spreading varsity education to the most interior part of Nigeria but that ambition became stillborn with military incursions that came few months after. And so it remained for about two decades before Olusegun Obasanjo administration reactivated its establishing Act in 2001. NOUN kick-started its operation in 2003 and today, it prides itself as the single largest operator of Open and Distance Learning (ODL) institution in West Africa.
Perhaps no one can tell NOUN story better than it’s helmsman. Prof Tenebe Vincent, the NOUN Vice Chancellor is one man that hardly hides his enthusiasm when it comes to appreciating the progress of the nine year old institution.
“The 13,794 students matriculated on February 25, 2012, raised the number of registered learners in our university to 132,000. This is the first time a university in Nigeria has this kind of population. When you consider the fact that every year at least 1.5 million prospective students write UTME while only about 500,000 of them eventually gain admission, NOUN carrying capacity brings in a ray of hope. That is our success story. NOUN is succeeding, Nigeria is succeeding,” Tenebe said.
An elated Tenebe will also not mince words rolling out the list of students patronizing the ivory tower. According to the VC, thousands of house wives and women in purdah, career persons across all sectors, business men and women, retirees and highly placed individuals including past and present political moguls in the country are now enrolling at NOUN.
The VC noted that since the ingenuous action of former President Obasanjo who enrolled for a programme at the institution, served elderly Nigerians followed suit. Chief Julius Fashuba, an 85 year old retired school principal who enrolled to study law at Ado Ekiti study centre was said to have followed closely after Obasanjo. Others include Chief James Obia, 67, Otaro Dada, 72; Young Bozi, 66; Chief Ballantyne Ume, 75; Chief Femi Balogun, 71; John Ashiyanbi, 79; Paul Oguejiofor, 70, among others.
“It is on record that the number three citizen of this country, the senate president, Senator David Mark is a student of NOUN. Several state governors are not left out; even the visitor to the university, himself, President Jonathan is being touted as showing interest in enrolling at NOUN to study Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution. In fact on February 25, 2012, Oba Sikiru Adetona, the 78 year old Awujale of Ijebuland, a first class Oba, who is now studying law at our Study centre in Awa-Ijebu, matriculated alongside 200 other students,” the vice chancellor said.
Emboldened with the tremendous patronage and acceptability of its programmes, NOUN management said the varsity is moving to the next level of awarding Post Graduate Diplomas in Distance Education (PGDDE). Already, the institution had held a sensitization workshop for its 1124 staff comprising academic and non-academic personnel. And according to the Vice chancellor, it has become expedient for these people to upgrade themselves with certificates in education disciplines.
The VCs argument is that the new policy of the federal government is that any individual wishing to teach in education-inclined institutions in Nigeria must be a professional and a registered teacher. But considering the fact most of the varsity academic staff including professors do not have a background in education discipline, it would only be appropriate that they earn for themselves certificates in education through NOUN PGDDE. To demonstrate leadership by example, Tenebe said he is most willing to enroll in the PGDDE soon.
Nevertheless, the story of NOUN is incomplete without mentioning its challenges. There have been cases of students’ complaining over inadequate or non-availability of course materials. Only recently, a national newspaper reported grudges in one of NOUN campuses where students complained of late delivery of course materials. The affected students were said to be displeased with the fact that the unavailability of study materials may hamper their performances and as such, were asking the school management to help them out.
But while responding, the varsity authority said eventhough it is not unaware of complaints, yet such remained isolated cases. NOUN image maker insisted that an institution as large as NOUN cannot but have challenges, even as she contended that management has indeed put measures in place to address such challenges.
“It is pertinent to say that NOUN did not have a smooth ride at the take off. Perhaps, a proper understanding of the enormous challenges is in selling the novel Commodity of an open and distance learning form of education to the government and the general public. Other challenges include competition with conventional universities, inadequate budgetary provisions, preparation and production of course materials, among others,” Ogunmakin said.
Ogumakin further argued that it must be remembered that NOUN actually started from the scratch, yet it had written and printed over 180 courses and now has over 800 courses: Access, pre/post graduate, masters and PhDs. She maintained that if there is anything to justify NOUN’s tremendous progress, that has to do with the recent accreditation of courses being offered by the institution from the National University Commission (NUC). Out of the 31 courses submitted for accreditation, four got full accreditation, 26 earned interim accreditation while one was denied accreditation. To NOUN officials, that was a resounding success.
In what has been described as the glamorous way of marking its 10th year anniversary next year, NOUN will be hosting an international conference, tagged; Pan Commonwealth Forum for Africa (PCF7) in November 2013. The institution was said to have been chosen based on its commitment to Education for All (EFA) and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). That event is one opportunity for NOUN and its management to showcase what they’ve got. They seemed to understand that and have promised not leave any stone unturned.