Proliferation of varsities: Whither education standard?

In this report, PAUL OKAH takes a look at the recent creation of 20 private universities by the federal government against the backdrop of the perennial strikes by university workers and decaying infrastructure in the education sector.

Over the years, the standard of education has been a major concern to authorities in the education sector. The nation’s graduates are said to be unemployable, while others are said to be unable to express themselves in the English language.

Also, decaying infrastructure in the nation’s universities and issues bordering on salaries and allowances are always cited as reasons for the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU’s) persistent strikes. With the poor state of education in the country, wealthy parents have always opted to send their wards abroad to study or send them to the best private schools in Nigeria, while the public schools continue to deteriorate.

On additional varsities

On February 3, this year, while briefing State House correspondents on the outcome of the Council meeting presided over by President Muhammadu Buhari in Abuja, the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, disclosed that the Federal Executive Council (FEC) had approved the establishment of additional 20 private universities across the country.

Adamu said the approved universities “will get their provisional licences from the National Universities Commission (NUC), which they will use for the next three years while monitoring and evaluation will go on.”

The approved universities are: Topfaith University, Mkpatak, Akwa Ibom state; Thomas Adewumi University, Oko-Irese, Kwara state; Maranathan University, Mgbidi, Imo state; Ave Maria University, Piyanko, Nasarawa state ,and Al-Istiqama University, Sumaila, Kano state; Mudiame University, Irrua, Edo state; Havilla University, Nde-Ikom, Cross River state; Claretian University of Nigeria, Nekede, Imo state; NOK University, Kachia, Kaduna state, and Karl-Kumm University, Vom, Plateau state.

Others are: James Hope University, Lagos, Lagos state; Maryam Abacha American University of Nigeria, Kano, Kano state; Capital City University, Kano, Kano state; Ahman Pategi University, Pategi, Kwara state; and University of Offa, Offa, Kwara state; Mewar University, Masaka, Nasarawa state; Edusoko University, Bida, Niger state; Philomath University, Kuje, Abuja; Khadija University, Majia, Jigawa state, and Anan University, Kwall, Plateau state.

Interestingly, nine of the private universities are located in the North-central; three in the South-south; two in the South-east; five in the North-west and one in the South-west, making it a total of 99 private universities in the country.

Commendations, experts’ views

Expectedly, individuals, stakeholders in the education sector and state governments, including Kano and Plateau, have been commending the federal government for the “foresightedness” in establishing new universities, saying it would save the education sector.

Speaking to newsmen on February 4, a former Minister of Education, Prof. Chinwe Obaji, said the approval of 20 private universities was in order, adding that there was the need to match the establishment with manpower and other operational needs.

She said: “I don’t have any problem with establishing more universities across the country, but my concern is putting in place an enabling environment, quality assurance for them to remain strongly competitive. For instance, we must consider equipping them and ensuring they have qualified manpower to run them.

“Again, where are the lecturers that are to teach in these universities when we are complaining of inadequate academic staff in the already existing ones? One thing is clear, you can make a minister out of anybody overnight, you can equally make a senator, a businessman or even a president, but you can hardly make a professor or a senior lecturer out of anyone overnight.

“You have to go through the mills before getting there. We must also consider what facilities are on ground that will drive online teaching and learning in the face of the current global health challenge, as well as other facilities. We should try to shift our attention to faith-based or even corporation-based ownership. This is to ensure continuity and proper management.”

Similarly, the deputy president, National Parent Teacher Association of Nigeria, Chief Adeolu Ogunbanjo, told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) that the initiative was a step in the right direction in view of the country’s population.

He said: “Let me also say that the government has a lot of things jostling for its attention and cannot really fund education all alone. As much as it is willing to ensure that there are more tertiary institutions in the country, there is the need for other stakeholders to complement such efforts.

“I also want to say that there is a need for adequate facilities on the ground. Establishment of these new universities is also a wake-up call for workers, especially the teaching staff of our federal and state universities, to be more responsive to their tasks. The incessant strikes by labour unions in universities are drawing students back. This is disturbing. There is a need to get it right as soon as possible.”

Also, a former Dean, Faculty of Law, University of Lagos, Prof. Oyelowo Oyewo described the approval as logical, saying it affirms the prospect of the private universities’ contributions to education in Nigeria.

“It simply goes to show that these private universities have done well. It is a good development; the federal government cannot solely fund education. Private individuals should come on board and do their bits and ensure sustainability and quality, as anyone that does not do well will die by nature. The caveat is maintaining high quality. There is always a tendency for people to compromise in private universities; so, there must be the Shakespearean approach, which is: to yourself, you tell the truth,” he said.

In the same breath, a lecturer in Adekunle Ajasin University, Akingba-Akoko, Ondo state, Dr. Theophilus Adebowale, described licensing of more private universities as a strategy to address the needs of the youth.

”Faced with inadequate space in existing institutions, limited by coronavirus pandemic and travel restrictions, the government has to look for practical means of preventing a repeat of the #EndSARS protest. It is from this perspective that other palliative measures, including resolution of labour disputes, are also being pursued,” he said.

Furthermore, the vice-chancellor, Prof. Charles Ayo, Trinity University, Yaba, commended the federal government for approving 20 new private universities, saying the approval of more universities was a development that would improve access and quality education to students.

“There would not have been a need to canvass for financial assistance from the government if basic infrastructure such as internet facilities, stable power supply, and potable water, among others were made available to them. Government should work out modalities on how the cost of education in private universities could be reduced. Government should look beyond just approval but to ensure that the private universities could also benefit from the Tertiary Education Trust Fund to cushion the unbearable cost accrued by the owners of the institutions.”


However, many Nigerians have been applauding the federal government over the creation of private universities, others say the development portends danger and will put the death kneel on public schools.

On February 5, stakeholders in University education, who spoke with NAN, said there was nothing to justify the approval, when the existing universities were neither adequately funded nor properly monitored to ensure compliance, with appropriate guidelines.

The chairman of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), University of Benin chapter, Prof. Monday Omoregie, said he had begun to see approval of more universities as political patronage, despite warnings to the relevant authorities on the inherent danger.

“Education is a social service, but these private universities are established by investors, who believe in profit making. The guideline is that private universities must be run for 15 years before any plan of making profit, but which university can do that”, he asked, saying that within a year of establishment, many proprietors would begin to crave gain,” he said.

Speaking in a similar vein, Chairman of ASUU, Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma, Prof. Monday Igbafen, said establishment of more universities, without proper recourse to the challenges facing the existing ones, was what the union had been trying to criticise.

He said: “How do you justify the existence of additional universities, when there is this cry that even the private universities that are running now lack proper monitoring, to see if they comply with the NUC guidelines and what is required to run a university.

“They are all just centres of where they collect people’s money. That is why most of us are getting worried about the education system in the country. If properly funded one university in the country might take a half of the population of prospective university students.

“ABU (Ahmadu Bello University) can cater for almost half the population of students we admit in this country, but there is nothing on ground to sustain an ideal university. When you carry out an objective assessment of these universities, you discover that they are not really universities; they are just there to divert our attention where the rich ones can send their children, whereas they will not be properly trained in terms of developing minds.

“It is all about just dishing out degrees; not necessarily interested in the content and quality of the product. It is just about giving out first class and what is important is to get money. I think it is necessary for the government to reflect on some of these decisions that they have taken. If we have to advance the course of our educational development in this country, it is not through proliferation of both private and public universities.”

Also reacting, the President of the Students’ Union Government (SUG), University of Benin, Benjamin Egwu, said that the proliferation of private universities would soon cripple the standard and patronage of public universities.

He said: “The attention of students is being diverted to the private universities, because the situation of our public universities is worrisome. The incessant industrial action by the ASUU is one factor, while lack of proper funding is another. There is no need for the approval of more universities for now. These private universities shift attention from public school, because there is no much care about facilities in the public universities.

“The public universities are dying and if the situation is not properly checked, it will lead to what is currently happening to public primary and secondary schools in the country. If you compare the public and private primary and secondary schools, the difference is clear. It is affecting the system negatively and that is now moving to the higher institutions. It is getting to a situation where commoners would also not want to train their children in public universities because of the environment.

Private varsities’ chair, NANS speak

Addressing newsmen on the development on February 5, the chairman, Proprietors of Private Universities in Nigeria, Prof. Gregory Ibe, described the approval as a giant stride and commended President Buhari and the executive council for the development.

“It will further help in creating choices for candidates of Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB) and increase the capacity of universities to absorb yearly seekers of higher education.

“What this singular action entails is that instead of mushroom universities springing up outside Nigeria and patronised by our teeming youths without the NUC’s guideline, it is better we have these universities licensed to operate.

“No doubt the spread of private universities is looking good. I sincerely believe that the federal government in the future will do more and help private institutions receive grants,” he said.

On the contrary, the national president, National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), Mr. Sunday Asefon, said the approval of the private universities might weaken public tertiary institutions.

Asefon said lecturers would be forced to withdraw from public institutions to these private institutions and as such would weaken human capital, adding that it would have a long-run effect and relegate the public institutions, especially state-run institutions, to the choice of the poorest of the poor in the society.

“The approval of these private universities might end up weakening the public tertiary institutions more given the reality of our system. Lecturers and experienced staff will be drawn from public institutions thereby weakening the human capital in public institutions, this will affect output in terms of quality of graduates from public institutions,” he said.

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