July 4, 2019 at 8:18 pm #6992
“Since education is everybody’s business, all Nigerians should support the effort towards educational development. Universities should not be established just to boost the ego of rich individuals and politicians”
–Prof. Is-haq Oloyede, Registrar of the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (The PUNCH, Friday June 24, 2019)
A spirited debate has broken out following the suggestion, quoted in the opening paragraph, by the Registrar of Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board, that an embargo be placed on the establishment of new universities in the country, in order that the existing ones can be consolidated. While the Academic Staff Union of Universities and some critical stakeholders hailed Oloyede’s idea, some others including a recent editorial in one of our national newspapers have taken him to task. For example, a comment in The Nation (Tuesday, July 2 2019) argued that; “Nigeria needs more universities. They are vital to ensuring that: more candidates are able to acquire university education. They are crucial to providing the human resources the country so desperately needs”. Other opponents of Oloyede’s proposal hinged their argument on the need to multiply access to young Nigerians who desire to have university education and to deepen as well as enlarge Nigeria’s manpower profile. Two other buttressing arguments made in favour of establishing more universities are the number of students who register for the Unified Tertiary Mtriculation Examination, measured against the number of available spaces which is less than 650,000. Also, statistics are bandied around about how many universities exist in the advanced democracies such as the United States, close to 6,000, and France, a little over 1,000. It is then extrapolated that if these countries have these numbers of universities, Nigeria’s roughly 160 universities look legitimate with potential that more universities could be licensed. But, wait a minute, is there no relationship between a country’s wealth and its ability to warehouse and sustain multiplying universities? That aside, these statistics do not tell us anything about the population of students, which in many cases are higher in the industrialised countries than those of Nigeria. Of course, that does not change the argument one way or the other, but it does open a window to inspect whether making our universities more commodious than they currently are will increase their “carrying capacity”, so that even if new ones are for the meantime embargoed, the existing ones, in their improved status, can solve the riddle of a soaring number of candidates besieging their doors. This is where Oloyede’s other suggestion of increasing the funding of education to 15% of the annual budget, ignored by critics of his position, comes in handy. For sure, if education, in particular higher education, is better funded, it will then be possible to expand existing facilities in the extant universities so that more candidates can be admitted. Is this about to happen? I doubt it, because for several years, education has remained the underdog in the funding equation of successive budgets.
There are other sides of the debate that need to be brought in, even if we agree that Nigeria requires more universities, how do you interpret the fact, revealed by the Executive Secretary of the NUC, Prof. Abubakar Rasheed, that the institution is currently looking at 303 new applications for university licences? Is this not the way to downgrade an idea by taking it to ridiculous proportions? To underscore this point, factor that of the existing 79 private universities, 90% of them are undersubscribed while half of them are badly cash-strapped and exist on financial tenterhooks. It is not just that. All the private universities in Nigeria have a student population that is less than 10% of the entire student population of Nigerian universities. So, it is balderdash to talk about licensing new private universities, while so many of them are in a bad way and engage in a fierce search for students. As for the states, their capacity to fund more universities has reached a point of exhaustion, with tell-tale signs of desolation because of the inability of the states to adequately provide for them. Partly because of the rascality of the politicians and their penchant to subordinate all else to the logic of crude politics, state governors have continued to establish universities based in their home towns or primordial neighbourhoods. One way of clarifying these politically derived universities is to ask the question, how much research and enduring work are going on in these universities? Apart from a few happy exceptions the answer is pretty little or none at all. This leads us to the federal universities several of which have complained in recent times about being shortchanged in salaries, with crucial amenities not maintained. Undoubtedly, therefore, to continue to establish more universities in the current climate of financial uncertainty is to rest logic upon its head, and to further compound the crisis of credibility, and of identity of Nigerian scholarship and degrees. It is plainly unserious to keep advocating that more universities should be licensed when the existing ones are badly maintained. This is equivalent to an irresponsible husband who has just lost his job begging that he should be allowed to take on more wives and more responsibilities.
As this columnist argued in “Private university licences and policy vacuum” (The PUNCH, Friday, December 22, 2017) “so, what is the logic in replicating undercapitalised, high fee paying, underpopulated private universities, that merely replicate the mediocrity of the underfunded and strike-ridden public ones”? Of course, that article was written in the context of the debate, raging at the time, whether more private universities should be licensed.
As everyone knows, the counsel was ignored and more universities, public and private, have continued to be licensed. Isn’t it such a shame that in a season when policymakers and politicians are making so much of their sons and daughters graduating from British and American universities, the same politicians, some of them at least, are busy calling for the establishment of more universities with the new ones adding nothing whatsoever by way of innovation to the outlook of a dishevelled higher education. One marvels why we are so attracted to the syndrome of multiplication without commensurate advances in value addition and upward drives in quality. So, the country boasts 92 parties with almost 90 of them frail and fickle. We have uncountable number of churches and mosques with many of them merely occupying spaces, tied to the ego of founder entrepreneurs, among other quantitative mark-ups bereft of quality or significance. Accordingly, it is this accumulation of universities with a tight leash on resource allocation that has landed us in the current educational morass, where graduates are unable to write letters and carry around certificates of doubtful quality.
The way out of the bind is to place a moratorium, as Oloyede correctly suggested on the licensing of new universities so that we can sort out the minimal conditions for the existence for universities properly so-called. Needles to add that until the political leadership face the problem squarely, we are in for a new normal that will habituate citizens to the existence of midget institutions, ill-clad, underfunded and highly marketed, but have little or no bearing to what the rest of the world knows as universities and knowledge centres.
Friday Musings with Ayo Olukotun email@example.com, 07055841236
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