Our institutions need more funds, not additional numbers

Much as it is desirable to take education closer to the people, the rate at which universities, polytechnics and colleges of education are mushrooming in Nigeria has raised serious questions about the underlying factor for their establishment. But in what appears a brazen attempt to further complicate the problem, the Senate last week directed the federal government to establish additional 10 such academic institutions across the country. The Senate resolution followed the adoption of the report of its committee on tertiary institutions and TETFund. But to show that it is all about politics, one of the 10 new institutions approved is a polytechnic to be located in Daura, the hometown of President Buhari.

According to the Nigerian National Policy on Education, the nation’s tertiary institutions are established as part of national development goals with the task to inculcate into the graduates proper skills for survival of the individual and the society. It is also expected that these graduates would “develop the intellectual capacity to understand and appreciate their local and external environments”. But any honest assessment will come to the inescapable conclusion that the graduates of these institutions cannot meet those objectives.

Indeed, what has been evident over the years is the steady decline and decay of the institutions of higher learning in Nigeria. Not long ago, an international survey of Africa’s national universities concluded that in many countries, including Nigeria, “education has been reduced to the substandard level in which little or no learning is taking place, occasioned by lack of classrooms, laboratories, libraries, workshops, desks, books, etc.” In fact, a recent UNESCO report indicted the Nigerian authority for apparent lack of interest in the educational sector. The report particularly noted the use of obsolete technique and methodology as well as decline in research funding.

From the foregoing, we do not believe that investment in the educational sector is synonymous with the establishment of more universities, polytechnics and colleges of education, under the prevailing circumstances. What the country needs as a matter of national urgency is the allocation of more funds to the existing institutions of higher learning to enable them meet their running costs and generally improve on standards. To this end, we will reiterate the call for a declaration of “educational state of emergency” especially in the federal and state universities.

It is noteworthy that at the public hearing organised by the Senate on the issue, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) president, Biodun Ogunyemi expressed serious misgivings. “My heart is heavy that we want to establish new universities when nothing is being done about the existing ones. The federal government is considering the imposition of tuition when most Nigerians cannot afford three meals a day, and you are talking of new universities”, Ogunyemi said.

A similar position was canvassed by Senator Joy Emordi, a former chairman of the same committee on education. “If you ask me, I think there is even a need for us to reduce the number. What I still can’t explain is why we are establishing universities all over the place when the teaching and learning environment is nothing to write home about. What we need is to update and increase the quality and quantity of teaching and learning facilities,” said Emordi whose view aligns with ours.

Sadly, the lawmakers chose not to be concerned about the issue of standards but rather by the fact that the number of tertiary institutions in the country “cannot adequately accommodate the quest for admission by Nigerians, which calls for more to address the protracted problem”. This sort of reasoning is precisely the reason why we have mushroomed public tertiary institutions that churn out half-baked graduates. We urge the President Buhari to ignore the senate resolution.