Written by the Editorial Board of The Guardian Newspaper
A recent approval of eight new private universities by the Federal Government underscores the expediency of more space for tertiary education in the country where most times, more than 67 per cent of applicants cannot secure admission annually.
It is incredible that a huge gap still exists between supply and demand. A situation whereby yearly, no fewer than 1.5 million candidates apply to enter the universities and only about 500,000 or 33 per cent of that are offered admission is pathetic. And so, the decision of government is a step in the right direction.
With this development, the number of universities in Nigeria has increased from 143 to 151, while the number of private universities has risen to 69 from 61.
The names of the universities and their promoters are Anchor University, Ayobo, Lagos, owned by Deeper Christian Life Ministry; Arthur Jarvis University, Akpabuyo, Cross River State, by Clitter House Nigeria Limited; Clifford University, Owerrinta, Abia, owned by Seventh Day Adventist Church; Coal City University, Enugu, operated by African Thinkers Community of Inquiry College of Education.
The others are Crown-Hill University, Eiyenkorin, Kwara State, floated by Modern Morgy and Sons Limited; Dominican University, Ibadan, by the Order of Preachers, Nigerian Dominican Community; Kola Daisi University, Ibadan, from Kola Daisi Foundation and Legacy University, Okija, floated by The Good Idea Education Foundation. With the exception of one, all the universities are faith-based.
Minister of State for Education, Professor Anthony Anwuka, who spoke to journalists at the end of the meeting of the Federal Executive Council noted that government approved the new institutions to give the teeming youths the opportunity to acquire university education.
As part of the requirements, he said the new universities would be mentored by the older universities within their zone of operation for a period of three years. “The aim is to assist them in terms of academic culture and administration, within which period they must have learnt the art of university governance and academic details”, the minister noted.
Accordingly, Anchor University would be mentored by the University of Lagos; Arthur Jarvis by University of Calabar; Clifford will be looked after bythe University of Agriculture, Umudike; Coal City University will be supervised by the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. In the new deal, Crown-Hill University will care for the University of Ilorin; Dominican University and Kola Daisi universities will accordingly, be advised by the University of Ibadan and Legacy University will be under the tutelage of Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka. The idea of mentorship is not novel. For instance, the University of Ibadan, Nigeria’s premier university mentored the University of Jos, among others, in the beginning.
In as much as having the new universities is a welcome idea, 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 most cases. Students study under an environment that is not conducive for learning.
These are serious concerns that may agitate the minds of many citizens that may want to question the basis for licensing new ones when the existing ones are poorly funded in this digital age. It is hoped that the owners of the new universities are aware of these concerns about quality.
Besides, the issue of curriculum reform deserves even greater attention. There is no question that the curriculum of the existing universities does not offer functional education for national development. Thousands of students graduate without skills that today’s industry and society generally need.
The point needs to be emphasised that gross under-funding of education in the country is at the root of the problems of higher education. And one of the reasons is widespread corruption that has prevented proper funding. Staff development is near zero. Research has shown that the number of lecturers in Nigeria is just enough for about 40 universities, and yet, we have exceeded a hundred and fifty universities. This is the main reason the same lecturers move from one university to the other, which does not lead to efficiency and growth of scholarship. The lecturers are over laboured while students get quantity and not quality instruction.
This situation abounds because there is no rigorous quality control anymore. The NUC, which bears this responsibility, is also ill-equipped to regulate the complex system. And it is for these reasons Nigerian universities hardly rank among the best in Africa or in global context.
It bears repeating that universities are not 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, this same Nigeria, once had some of the best universities in the world. Nigeria has 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 too 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 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, etc. We need such community-based universities. The universities should be able to produce the manpower needed for national development. Except that is done, we might as well be joking.
In the main, it is important to appreciate the gap between the North and the South in education. It is gratifying to note that some states are now establishing universities in addition to the federal ones in the region. Education is light and according to Henry Peter Brougham: “Education makes a people easy to lead, but difficult to drive, easy to govern, but impossible to enslave.”