The Tale of Nigerian University Portals

In 2005 I bought my ICT scratch card. I was supposed to use the card to activate my account on our university portal. With my account I should be able to do my semester registration online, register for my courses and view my results online. These should be the least I should be able to do for me to find the portal useful or any other student. For the lecturers I believe they should be able to have access to their courses, view the registered students and input students’ scores. These are the basic things the application should be able to do for it to be rated as providing a solution. We do not have to go far on the several reports it should be able to generate including Senate Format Report, Graduating List, Pass/Repeat List and Transcript. For it to be even more valuable, the University Senate should be able to approve/reject results online. Administration like accommodation allocation, lecture venues, time tabling, etc should also be available.

With these things in place then there is a valuable service and solution to problems. This is the main goal of ICT – to simplify processes, improve efficiency and accuracy, and reduce cost.

But I started realizing the opposite of it since the first step of using the portal. For the activation we needed to go and submit our registration numbers somewhere and then patiently wait for a number of days before we get going. Unfortunately for me (and many others) we had to wait for the whole session for our accounts to be activated. And since I was in my final year I was not going to be among those that would make use of the portal; let’s not talk about the money I paid for the ICT. Anyway since it was the first time it would be very kind if we give it a time grace to go through testing and quality assurance phases. At least we contributed our own quota as a case study for testing the applicaton.

One (1) year after I left school I thought everything should be fine now, I inquired from friends and was shocked to learn that it was a total failure and our manual method was preferred, so they had to go back to it.

This tale is not just in Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University, Bauchi (ATBU), the university I graduated from. Two (2) years before ATBU started the project, I recall University of Maiduguri (UNIMAID) to have been one of the pioneers to implement it. I was amazed to learn about that and was hopeful that our universities would soon be going into IT solutions and move to another level in process improvements. Unfortunately almost all the solutions in many universities and high institutions have failed.

I finally understood that there is a unique problem that contributes to these failed systems: the main objective is not to solve problems but rather to use ICT buzz-words in order to extract funds.

Why it fails

As I said earlier, the main cause of the failure is having a different objective far away from providing solution for some problem; and because of that there is no any feasibility studies in order to design and implement a system that would suit the ICT development of our universities. Most of the systems therefore are unusable and have very poor quality; and for any software to provide any solution it must be usable. No matter how feature rich the software is, it is worthless if it becomes unusable. Software usability is very important that ISO developed standards like ISO 9126 and models to specify and measure software usability.

To understand what I mean by an unusable and poor quality system, imagine a bandwidth of 128/64 kbps or 256/128 kbps used to serve 20,000+ students, or a system that allows a student to register 100 units of courses in a semester, or registration links that display ‘Database Access Error’ or ‘This Page is Invalid’.

The Scratch Card Business Model

Payment methods have been part of ICT solutions. Services that require payments could be integrated with the solution using some payment methods in order to make lives of customers easier. In Nigeria, one of such methods is the scratch card particularly in schools.

However, instead of making lives of students easier, it has become a business model by extorting students. The student therefore becomes the victim of the portal system instead of its beneficiary.

Even with the scratch card model, students still have to queue to make their payments. This keeps one still wondering what problem has the model solved, and only stops (wondering) when he realizes that it has solved the business problem of the beneficiaries.

The Mighty Banks

The bank is always chasing for money to beef up its deposit, and that is what it has been chasing in our universities. They promise the universities to assist them in implementing these unusable systems, making it seem to be at no cost whereas the victims (students) end up paying the price. Students are therefore forced to make payments in these banks.

The Solution

It is very simple. Instead of emphasizing on the scratch card business model and extorting students, the first step is to have an objective of trying to solve at least the following problems:

  • A system that would simplify the registration process for students
  • Lecturers should be able to use the system and save students’ scores
  • The system should be able to compute students’ results based on the saved scores
  • Students should be able to view their records from the system and print their result slips
  • The system should be able to generate reports including end of semester results, graduation list, transcript, etc.

The system must be usable. Instead of hosting the portal online and providing limited bandwidth to students, the system should be hosted locally in the school. A stable Local Area Network (LAN) for the whole school is therefore a pre-requisite (which ideally every school should have). A public IP can be obtained for the network so that users can also have online access if they have good Internet connection and also enjoy non-compromised speed within the school’s network.

Comprehensive user requirements must be specified before the system implementation. The system should also go through testing and quality assurance phases so that students cannot be able to register 100 units of courses when they are supposed to register a maximum of 23.

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