The Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, penultimate week, announced the approval of 20 licences granted by the Federal Executive Council to new operators of private universities in the country.
With this development, Nigeria now has 43 federal universities, 52 state universities, and 99 private universities, making it a total of 197 universities in the country.
According to the Minister of State for Education, Emeka Nwajiuba, who represented Adamu at the presentation of the licences to their new owners, the approval was important because Nigeria needs more universities, considering her population, manpower needs and the rising number of applicants seeking admission into tertiary institutions yearly.
Nwajiuba stated that the number of universities in Nigeria was low when compared to what obtains in countries like Russia, Brazil and Mexico. These considerations would have been enough and acceptable, except that the occasion left a yawning breach.
In his remarks at the occasion, the Executive Secretary of Nigeria Universities Commission, Prof Abubakar Adamu Rasheed, who threatened to introduce sanctions for “any unwholesome practice or operations outside the provisions of the NUC guidelines”, said the commission would embark on a resource verification exercise to certify that the minimum human and material required for the commencement of academic activities in the take-off programmes had been provided.
We think it should have been the other way. If the state of the minimum human and material requirements is yet to be known before academic activities at the new universities take off, why grant approval for their commencement in the first place?
We are aware that Prof Rasheed knows from experience that many private universities, not to talk of some state- owned ones, are still being plagued by issues of accreditation of courses, lack of facilities and trained manpower, even as they charge exorbitant fees.
Also, every year after the conduct of university examinations by the Joint Admissions Matriculation Board, many parents have complained about how some of these universities they never heard of or chose constantly pester them through their consultants to bring their children for admission. Besides, many licenses are yet to become operational several years after they were approved and granted. So, is it just for quantity rather than quality and the desire to please cronies that these licenses are being granted?
Many of these licensed institutions are still at the stage of turning the sod at their chosen locations. There is no indication that many families, who can afford and should be in a position to pay the high fees charged by these universities, have stopped patronising foreign universities for their children.
Indeed, one of the recurring, but cogent, issues broached by the Academic Staff Union of Universities, each time its members embarked on a strike, was that of infrastructure, poor learning environment, inadequate financing and over-stretched staff. Except for a few well-equipped and financed private universities in the country, many are ill-equipped, poorly funded and staffed.
Much as we welcome the intention of the Federal Government to create more openings in higher institutions for our growing mass of education-hungry youths, we wish to caution that more care and focus should be followed in the process to fulfill that goal.
Central to the provision of a good education is the sharpening of the human mind and broadening of the individual horizon. Once this noble aim is allowed to be commercialised, the effect can be grave both for the student and the country. An indoctrinated and manipulated person in the name of education is worse than an ignorant rustic. Creative entrepreneurs, employable graduates and problem solving intellectuals are urgently needed to remake Nigeria.
It is on this note that we call on the supervising body, the NUC, to be up and doing. In an age that is increasingly being ruled by the Internet, digitalisation and artificial intelligence, emphasis should be on quality and not quantity, with strict adherence to laid down guidelines for, and not after, setting up a university.
Only recently, the Federal Government displayed a commendable posture on the future of tertiary institutions in the country when it inaugurated visitation panels to federal tertiary institutions and charged them to produce excellent reports to reposition the country’s tertiary institutions in the areas of the leadership quality, financial management and the application of funds by each university.
The panel’s work is expected to cover a period of 10 years, between 2010 and 2020. It is also required to present two reports covering the period between 2011 and 2015, as well as between 2016 and 2020. We commend this effort and hope the outcome will be implemented to reposition the nation’s increasing number of universities for productive and creative enterprises.