A fundamental cause of underdevelopment in African countries, including Nigeria, is the low level of the application of Science, Engineering and Technology (SET) in the productive sectors of their economies. Many factors contribute to the situation. One of such factors is the extant and persisting pattern of educating and training SET graduates in developing countries; a pattern which overlooks the difficult conditions under which the SET graduate is expected to work after graduation.
Studies carried out by the World Bank and the Nigerian Institute of Social and Economic Research (2001) and by the National Universities Commission (2004) demonstrate the deterioration in the quality of Nigerian SET graduates over the years. The studies show that employers believe that graduates generally lack hands-on or practical skills and competencies that would make them productive on the job.
THE RATIONALE FOR SIWES
In recognition of the extant shortcomings and weaknesses in the formation of SET graduates, the Federal Government, through the Industrial Training Fund (ITF), established the Student Industrial Work- Experience Scheme (SIWES) in 1973. The scheme was designed to expose students to the industrial environment and enable them to develop occupational competencies so that they can readily contribute their quota to national economic and technological development after graduation.
Consequently, SIWES is a structured and planned programme based on stated and specific career and learning objectives which are geared toward developing the occupational competencies of participants, through bridging the gap between theory and practice.
OPERATION OF SIWES, 1974 -1979
Between 1974 and 1979, the organisational structure for SIWES at the University of Lagos, featured a SIWES Officer at the departmental level, a SIWES Coordinator at the faculty level and a university-wide SIWES Coordinator. The Faculty Coordinators were constituted into a committee, with the University SIWES Coordinator as Chairman, to manage and operate SIWES on a university-wide basis. The Chairmen of the university-wide SIWES committee during this period were Dr. O. Ajayi and Dr. O. O. Omatete of the Departments of Electrical Engineering and Chemical Engineering respectively.
The Departmental SIWES Coordinators and members of the university-wide SIWES committee were appointed for designated periods and on a rotational basis from among academic staff; hence the SIWES function was more or less an additional load to their normal teaching responsibilities.
The arrangement featured duplication of efforts and wastage of resources which, in turn, affected the smooth operation of SIWES. Further, there was a lot of confusion arising from the year-round nature of SIWES activities whereby outstanding matters in one year overlapped to the next and were not effectively handled by a new SIWES Officer, having little or no experience, in the following year.
The organisational ineffectiveness for SIWES operations nationwide and the accompanying dysfunctions and confusion arising there from, constituted one of the major reasons that led ITF to withdraw from the management of the scheme in 1979. Other reasons for ITF’s withdrawal from management of the scheme include the increased financial burden which the Fund had to bear as a result of the increase in the number of students, courses/programmes and institutions that were eligible to participate in SIWES.
OPERATION OF SIWES, 1980 -1984
Following the withdrawal of ITF from the management of SIWES nationwide, the supervising agencies of tertiary institutions assumed responsibility for the management of the scheme. The National Universities Commission (NUC) became responsible for the management of SIWES in the Universities sector.
Consequently, the NUC directed universities to employ full-time career SEWES Operational Personnel to ensure continuity and accumulation of experience in the function. The administration of Prof. Kwaku Adadevoh complied with NUC’s directives by appointing Engr. 0. A. T. Mafe of the Department of Chemical Engineering as the pioneer career SIWES Operational Officer in 1980 for the Faculty of Engineering (where SIWES was already a compulsory part of the curriculum). In 1984, a second career SIWES Operational Officer, Engr. S. A. 0. Aina, was employed in order to cope with the increase in the number of engineering students eligible to participate in the scheme.
Meanwhile, other Faculties (Science, Environmental Sciences and Business Administration) which took part in SIWES pre-1979 and where the course (SIWES) was not a requirement for graduation opted not to continue with the scheme following the withdrawal of ITF in 1979.