The authorities should impose minimum standards
For a nation of more than 200 million people, 111 private universities cannot be considered too many, especially given that there are only 105 public universities belonging to the federal government and the 36 states. And if the access gap to university education and its attendant enrollment of students persists, according to Education Minister, Adamu Adamu, government will continue to welcome proposals for the establishment of private universities by credible groups and organisations. While it is difficult to fault such a policy, the proliferation of private universities has also raised several pertinent questions about standards.
The main worry stems from the fact that the sheer incompetence in tackling the problems in the existing public universities is being waived by this recourse to all manner of private universities. Lecturers who can’t hold their own as senior lecturers in respectable universities are being hired as professors and even vice chancellors in some of these universities. The same thing that happened with the banks when we had close to a hundred of them before the 2004 Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) consolidation exercise is now happening with universities. And it bodes ill for the quality of education in the country.
We appreciate the critical roles being played by many of these private universities. What we abhor is the current cynical approach to education in Nigeria and that explains why we have been calling for a total overhaul of the sector. The development of a sound educational system, according to Afe Babalola, SAN, proprietor of a respected private university, requires enormous resources for research, infrastructural development, and the employment of quality academic and non-academic staff. That is precisely the point we are making.
The Committee on Needs Assessment of Nigerian Public Universities once identified a common problem among Nigerian universities, irrespective of region and ownership: they are all battling with the challenge of poorly equipped laboratories and workshops, outdated equipment, overcrowded classrooms, dilapidated structures, etc. These inadequacies and many other irregularities in the Nigerian education system have contributed to the declining quality that has continued to elicit concern from stakeholders.
It is therefore little surprise that graduates of Nigerian universities are said to be unemployable, as they lack sufficient knowledge, skills and possibly other attributes that will enable them to serve themselves, their employers, and the society. Yet this problem can easily be traced to the neglect that the sector has suffered over the years in the hands of successive governments in the country. Unfortunately, this has led to a situation in which the future of many innocent education-seeking young Nigerians is now practically compromised.
The advent of private universities in Nigeria was considered a welcome development for the simple reason that the public universities had become anything but centres for excellence. Aside the endless strikes by the lecturers and the non-academic staff which sometimes last one academic session, the neglect of federal and state universities by successive governments has also resulted in a situation in which students at these universities were never certain as to the number of years they would spend for their degrees. Unfortunately, the emergence of private universities does not seem to be raising academic standards given their penchant for indiscriminate award of classes of degrees that are not worth the papers upon which they are printed.
The government at all levels should therefore pay more attention to the education sector and provide a conducive environment that will make our youths globally competitive in the 21stcentury. In as much as we cannot continue to shut out millions of Nigerians from gaining access to university education, the high numbers of private universities must be matched with ensuring high quality teaching and learning within their precincts.