Ever Considered the Hurdles to Add or Drop Courses at a Large University without an Online Portal? A Case on Ahmadu Bello University, Nigeria

Online course registration systems seem ubiquitous today, making it easy for university students to fulfill many registrar and bursary obligations. We don’t seem to have trouble signing up for our favorite courses, neither do we have trouble paying our school fees. This convenience was not available to students in Nigeria’s Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), one of the premier universities in the country.

Back in 2007, while still a student at Northern Nigeria’s Ahmadu Bello University, I went through some rough hurdles to register for classes and pay the required school fees. How did students register for classes as recently as 2008? The process was entirely manual. Students picked up registration forms from the registrar’s office and filled out the documents with their desired and required courses for the upcoming semester. Next, a student had to physically meet with each professor who will be teaching a course on the student’s list. After such discussions, the student would receive approval (or not) to enroll in the course. Seeking these busy professors often takes two weeks of stressful hassle, walking around the massive ABU campus (situated on 7,000 hectares of land) and queuing outside closed doors at every juncture. It took another week of hassle to queue up and pay school fees at the designated local bank. After going through these grueling processes, very little excitement is left on the faces of students who were initially looking forward to connect with classmates after the holidays.

chem-dept-a-b-u-zaria          abu-pic

Aerial View of Biological Sciences area at ABU – Source, ABU Alumni Association

Thanks to the eventual adoption of online registration portals, students today will no longer go through the registration nightmare. A newly introduced online registration system allowed students to add or drop courses during the allotted registration period. An inbuilt Advisor guided students as they made these course selections1. After registering, the process was only finalized upon making school fees payment at the bank, which provided a PIN that’s needed in the online system for process completion. Reflecting on the relief that the new system brought, stakeholders witnessed the power of the internet to revolutionize a decades long experience, which frustrated generations of ABU students. Most people who were privileged to have access to the internet at the time mostly used it to send and receive emails. Quite frankly, we never knew that the course registration process could be upended by the internet, and we were pleasantly surprised. In addition, this innovation allowed ABU to join the global trend in information technology, positioning the institution for further breakthroughs.

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ABU Student Portal – Source, University

The new process came with a new set of challenges that were gradually addressed over time. Top on the list was internet access. Very few people could pay for monthly internet subscriptions and thus, the use of cyber café was often the only way to use online services. Well, there wasn’t sufficient café capacity during the registration period to accommodate the roughly 35,000 students that needed to register for classes. Note that other universities in the country were also rolling out this initiative around the same period. ABU responded by extending registration deadlines to accommodate the situation. The lack of regular website updates to fix bugs inherent in initial system roll-outs was another problem. Several incidences of wrong data entry and wrong allocation of credits to courses surfaced and when these issues were brought up, system updates were routinely delayed2. Another issue involved the financial institutions with regards to payment of school fees. Banks had to send electronic data to the university’s database before students could finalize the registration process. Bank delays were common due to high instantaneous demands on its systems and processes.

The rapid penetration of internet services in the following years throughout Nigeria alleviated any concerns around internet access. The university gradually expanded its IT team to address system maintenance issues. Over time, banks also allotted resources to handle the increased demands for their services. The sad stories around the pain of adding or dropping classes at ABU now belong to the history books, and recent students that went through this institution have had one less problem to worry about as they pursued their academic aspirations.

How else can ABU harness the power of the internet to further its goals of providing high quality education? The university should install computer labs for use by students in each academic department. In addition, the school should purchase academic journal and articles’ subscription for use by the faculty and students. To date, academic research intensity is shallow, often relying on outdated material across various fields. Student thesis and dissertations are often lifted from previous documents submitted by former students. To fully compete at the global stage, ABU needs to equip its smart and resilient faculty and student base with up to date resources so that they can add to the rapidly evolving body of knowledge that is out there.

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References

1 Nsikak-Abasi Udofia. An Evaluation of Students’ Response to Online Registration. American Journal of Engineering, Technology and Society.Vol. 2, No. 4, 2015, pp. 90-95.

2 “Challenges of Student’s Online Registration System,” http://www.academia.edu/3410337/Challenges_of_Students_Online_Registration_System, accessed November 17, 2016.

3 Ahmadu Bello University Website, https://abu.edu.ng/, accessed November 17, 2016.

 

 

 

 

 

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3 thoughts on “Ever Considered the Hurdles to Add or Drop Courses at a Large University without an Online Portal? A Case on Ahmadu Bello University, Nigeria

  1. Thanks for the article, Anto. It was really interesting to read about such a different reality from what we are used to the in the US. One thing I’m wondering is how does the university find funding to develop these IT initiatives? I can’t imagine it would be easy to get funding for this type of project despite its potential positive impact. Another initiative that the university could do is to raise awareness or partner with foreign universities that already have developed such programs.

  2. Interesting post, Anto! Thanks for sharing a more personal story.

    Did ABU build the software in-house for the online portal or did they partner with a 3rd party and leverage their software? In addition, did ABU have to hire a new set of employees with a new skill set to keep the portal up and running at ABU? It sounds like ABU had to change some of their internal processes (i.e. processing hand-written registration forms, facilitating student-professor meetings) to adapt to the new online offering, and I was wondering what effect this change had on their employee mix and registration processes.

    The new, online portal also seemed to make the registration process less personal. As you mentioned in your post, students and faculty would often meet to discuss the course and professor would either accept or reject them from the class. Did students and professors react favorably to removing this personal touch? Although it sped up the registration process, I would be interested to know if students actually missed the opportunity to engage with professors. It seems like it could actually be part of the University’s “customer promise” – facilitating relationships between professors and students and ensuring the classroom mix consists of the “right” students for the class.

  3. Wonderful post Anto! I’m curious if you know about how the University segmented add-periods for various courses. I know at my University, the class was parsed into separate groups that each had a certain queue number for various courses, meaning there was a good chance of them getting into some popular courses, but not a good chance at others. The system provided some parity by preventing classes getting unfairly filled up at a certain time, since not all 1st year students could register at the same time. It’s possible for your university to address it this way, in order to reduce the demands on the system for numerous add-drop requests.

    Has there been any developments on a mobile platform? This could potentially solve the issue of access without adding extensive IT cost to the university for building more computer labs.

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