Approval of new private universities – Guardian Nigeria

Ordinarily, the recent approval of 12 new private universities by the Federal Government underscores the expediency of more space for tertiary education in the country. While that may serve as plausible reason given that annually, a large number of applicants cannot secure admission, the core issues are how to ensure quality of the education such that the graduates are not half-baked; and of course, the need to align university products with jobs availability. Certainly, there is a misnomer in producing university graduates who have no meaningful engagement afterwards. It is akin to encouraging the devil to find work for brilliant but idle hands, a dangerous prospect for the society. Is government aware of these, and has it taken them into consideration?
It is incredible that a huge gap still exists between supply and demand. A situation whereby yearly, no fewer than 1.5 million candidates seek to enter the universities but only about 500,000 or 33 per cent of that are offered admission is embarrassing, which makes the approval of more private universities logical, to fill some of the admission gaps. Among other things, the 1999 Constitution charges government to provide “equal and adequate educational opportunities at all levels” and to work toward free education at all levels for Nigerians.
With this development, the number of universities in Nigeria has increased from 143 to more than 151, while the number of private universities has risen to over 69 from 61. The public institutions absorb over 80 per cent of Nigerian students while the remaining 20 per cent are in private institutions.
However, the state of affairs in the universities is largely appalling, with frequent and unending industrial action by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). These are matters of grave concern, considering that private educational institutions including private universities are expensive and otherwise inaccessible to many Nigerians legitimately yearning for higher education. There is no doubt that more new private universities are needed to supplant the existing ones, some of which, however, offer little in terms of quality.
The new private universities include PEN Resource University, Gombe, Gombe State; Al-Ansar University, Maiduguri, Borno State; Margaret Lawrence University, Calilee, Delta State; Khalifa Isiyaku Rabiu University, Kano, Kano State. Others are Sports University, Idumuje, Ugboko, Delta State; Baba Ahmed University, Kano, Kano State; SAISA University of Medical Sciences and Technology, Sokoto and Nigerian British University, Asa, Abia State. Also given approval were the Peter University, Achina-Onneh, Anambra State; Newgate University, Minna, Niger State; European University of Nigerian, Duboyi, Abuja, FCT and Northwest University, Sokoto.
According to the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the new universities would be mentored by federal universities close to their locations to provide recruitment of principal officers, academic, and administrative staff, make available human and material resources for the commencement of any academic programme, among others. There is genuine concern nevertheless that government, by its action, is promoting private universities while neglecting its duty of care and sustenance for public universities, thereby missing the point as to the essence of education. Considering also that the federal universities are currently unstable, even shut down over teachers’ strike, how are they expected to mentor the newly approved universities?
Equally, it is pertinent to ask what plan government has for education, which has been in shambles lacking critical infrastructure, quality teachers, research facilities and harbouring teachers and non-teaching personnel who feel highly alienated and ill-treated. Where is the agenda for quality education, the technical input or plan for the products of the institutions? It surely is not enough to be obsessed with new universities. Accreditation should be more transparent.
These missing factors partly inform the systematic failure of the country that government must address in order to bequeath quality and meaningful education to Nigerians. There are no enough teachers or library facilities in this digital age. How then can these universities compete with those in other climes? Little wonder why no university in the country appears in global ranking among the first one thousand universities.
Establishing new universities is a welcome idea but the problems confronting the existing universities cannot be ignored. Nigerian universities are not among the best in the world at the moment. They are ill-equipped and poorly funded and so basic infrastructure and manpower needs are still lacking. What is worse, even university teachers are not being regularly paid in many cases, while students study under an environment that is not conducive for learning.
Gross under-funding of education in the country is at the root of the problems of higher education, and this has been aided by widespread corruption. Staff development is near zero. Research has shown that the number of lecturers in Nigeria is just enough for about 40 universities, and yet, there are more than 150 universities. This is the main reason the lecturers are overlaboured, moving from one university to the other, which does not make for efficiency and growth of scholarship.
The National Universities Commission also needs to exert more rigorous quality control. Unfortunately, the commission too is ill-equipped to regulate the complex system. Universities should not be set up for commercial proposition or for profit. They are established for research and development. It is, therefore, needless establishing new universities if the products are not exceptional for this knowledge century.
Nigeria used to have some of the best universities in the world, and the country had been part of the Top Four in the Commonwealth comprising UK, Canada, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, New Zealand, etc. Why should it lag behind now? The time has come to designate some old universities for only post-graduate studies. This will assist in producing excellent post-graduate degree holders to teach in the new institutions.
The curriculum reform urgently needed should indeed reflect digital literacy, which is the direction the world is headed at the moment.
Research should also be well funded to reflect this reality and indeed the need of the locality. Universities in erosion prone communities should do research in that aspect. Those in oil polluted environment like the Niger Delta should produce experts in pollution control. The same should be for universities in drought-prone northern ecological zone, which should focus on desertification control, among other salient issues. Nigeria needs community-based universities in order to excel globally and to produce the manpower needed for national development.

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