To at a time when the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), the Association of Senior Staff of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) and the Non-Academic Staff Union (NASU) are on strike, the Federal Executive Council (FEC) has shocked the nation last week when he announced that the government had approved the establishment of 12 new private universities. This decision came at the height of the instability of the Nigerian university education system.
Information and Culture Minister Lai Mohammed, who announced the news, said the 12 universities would be guided by existing universities in recruiting key officials, including academic and professional staff. What a big dream. Does a patient care for other patients? The existing universities have their own problems to deal with, but the government full of dreams has loaded the struggling universities with additional tasks.
In an overhaul of what has become the government’s standard model for justifying the increase in the number of private universities, Mohammed said the country does not have many universities to contain the large number of students seeking to be admitted each year. It was on this basis, according to Mohammed, that the government reviewed and approved the 12 new universities. This pathetic and baseless argument is analyzed below.
There is always the strange vision that the increase in the number of private universities in Nigeria would drastically reduce the number of students seeking admission to universities in the country. How weird. For example, when the former Minister of State for Education, Professor Anthony Anwuka, on Wednesday 2 November 2016 announced the decision of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) to increase the number of private universities by eight , he argued that the additional universities would help provide more opportunities for the large number of students seeking admission to the existing universities.
Again, in November 2010, when the federal government approved six federal universities, then Minister of Education Ruqayyatu Rufa’i said the decision was to increase the number of undergraduate places in the universities. She said more than 84% of qualified applicants could not be admitted because universities had exceeded their capacity.
Increasing the number of universities just to reduce the number of students applying for admission to universities does not make logical sense. It does not take into account the quality of the programs offered in these universities. It overlooks the scarcity of infrastructure, library resources and scientific equipment available in new universities.
It is mind-boggling to hear ministers of education claiming that the frequent increases in the number of private universities have clear objectives. What ministers forget is the extent to which the sheer number of universities is directly and logically linked to quality education in those universities.
The anarchic proliferation of private universities in Nigeria are band-aid solutions. They don’t address the root causes of the problems. They complicate rather than solve the problems of the country’s higher education sector. The challenges facing Nigerian universities persist and the solutions need to be carefully thought out to ensure they will be long term.
Pushing hundreds of thousands of students into ill-equipped and poorly funded private universities that are created without proper planning is a disaster programmed to happen. It is the weak political response of an idle person to a persistent problem in a disorganized university system.
There are many reasons why the unsystematic approval of new universities in Nigeria should be seen as a rash decision. Contrary to the government’s view, creating more universities will not alleviate the pain that existing universities are experiencing in trying to fit thousands of students into fewer available university places. I’m not convinced by this rigid, old-fashioned, one-size-fits-all, uninspiring way of thinking.
It is shocking that the government has ignored the deplorable conditions in which universities currently operate and decided to approve new universities. Some questions are relevant. Does the number of universities in a country determine the quality of university education? Do existing universities have sufficient teaching and research staff to warrant approval of new institutions? What program was served when the federal government approved the creation of new universities which, most certainly, will struggle to provide quality education?
Currently, the level of teaching, research and learning in existing universities is poor. Infrastructure and other facilities that should support teaching and learning are non-existent or have collapsed. Nigerian universities are deteriorating and so are the products of universities.
On June 5, 2018, I wrote in this column that “The establishment of private universities in Nigeria has become a kind of dog breakfast.” Nothing has changed from this point of view.
There are basic facts that the government must consider before approving or rejecting applications for the establishment of private universities. These conditions were either ignored or thrown away before the government approved the new private universities. At the forefront of this assessment must be the quality and performance of existing universities. The government should have thought about how new universities with inadequate or unqualified teaching staff and poor facilities would help students achieve their learning goals. To what extent would new universities improve or compromise the quality of education they offer to students?
Granting approval for the creation of new universities without logical and factual arguments means a government that makes higher education policy on the run. There is no guarantee that the new institutions would compete favorably in terms of attracting quality students and qualified teachers, in terms of innovative teaching and research, and in terms of providing state-of-the-art scientific and technological laboratories, or even in terms of better funding.
Many existing universities are far from engaged in teaching and learning activities amid ongoing strikes. Many of them did not deliver on what they promised to deliver to students. Many of them will perpetually struggle with limited funding, the constraints of limited office space, a shortage of qualified teaching staff, poor libraries, ill-equipped science laboratories, and significant modernization of teaching and research facilities. .
All of these shortcomings will negatively impact the products of new universities in terms of quality and ability to compete abroad or in other environments. There is no way for newly approved private universities to meet these challenges instantly in the current atmosphere of financial and economic restrictions.
There is a compelling and deeper reason why the approval of new universities should be viewed with great sarcasm. Seven years ago, precisely on Wednesday, January 7, 2015, a deputy director of the National Universities Commission (NUC), Ashafa Ladan, revealed at a public lecture in Ilorin, Kwara State, that less than 50% of university professors in Nigeria hold a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD). Until today, there has been no substantial improvement in this terrible situation. Ladan said the shortage of qualified teaching staff in universities has had a negative impact on the approval or academic accreditation of many degree, diploma and certificate programs offered at many universities.
Ladan told his audience, “Most teaching staff at private universities are either employed on a sabbatical, visiting or adjunct basis primarily because of the difficulty in attracting quality staff at this level… The quality of teaching staff ( lecturers and above) poses a bigger problem. challenge with respect to mentoring, research and research leadership, effective linkages, journal publishing, and the university’s overall reputation evaluation system.
According to Ladan, unproductive management was one of the major challenges facing private universities in Nigeria and this was attributed to the lack of competent and qualified staff.
The federal government’s erratic policy on university education has upended the dreams of high school students. The nation needs a clear policy framework to manage the challenges of university education.