By Victor Ogunje
The Committee of Pro Chancellors of Private Universities (CPCPU) in Nigeria, have pleaded with the federal government to reopen the 78 private universities in the country.
These universities have been closed alongside other educational institutions in Nigeria since March 23 due to the spread of COVID-19 pandemic disease in the country.
In a communiqué issued at the end of its emergency virtual meeting on July 25, the CPCPU made it abundantly clear that the private universities are ready to reopen having put in place all the necessary requirements and protocols specified by the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 to ensure a safe and secure campus.
“We are prepared to open in phases, first with the graduating students, and probably with the first year students,” the communiqué said.
The plea became imperative because the CPCPU affirmed that its members around the country had made sustained efforts to comply with the guidelines for the reopening as detailed in the template it submitted through the Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission, NUC, to the federal government.
The communiqué, which was signed by a former Minister of Education and Pro-Chancellor of Afe Babalola University, Ado Ekiti, ABUAD), Prof. Tunde Adeniran, highlighted the overwhelming contributions that private universities have continued to make in the manpower training and development in Nigeria.
Adeniran stressed that the private universities remained fully committed to producing competent graduates in a timely manner through their ethical standards and settings that would build credible leadership and followership for a better Nigeria. This, Adeniran said, called for the full support of government as is the case in advanced countries of the world.
He said: “It is globally acknowledged that prompt solutions to economic, medical and scientific problems are best secured through the active participation of universities as knowledge workers through the performance of their teaching and research functions”.
The former Minister was worried that “further closure of our universities will amount to sounding a death knell to the continued viability of our institutions. In particular, the demise of private universities will increasingly become imminent and gravely undermine their role in assisting government in the provision of jobs, education for the populace and overall civil security, since private universities rely solely on student enrolment and fees which are only realisable, if the universities are opened forthwith.
“Our universities have also resolved to mobilise relevant resources in our universities across the country to undertake researches that address the challenges of the pandemic, for the wider benefit of the Nigerian populace and the world as a whole.
“We are pleased to have proactively and productively engaged with the complexities and complications arising from the pandemic in the last four months of closure.
“However, we have noticed with a heightened sense of trepidation that serious distortion and damage, in relation to academic calendar and resource base, await our institutions, should the closure of universities be prolonged beyond the next one month. Ultimately, the preparation of our students for a productive future may be compromised and this will not augur well for a country that is still grappling with employment challenges for its graduates.”
The CPCPU demand agreed with the Committee of Vice Chancellors of Private Universities (CVCPU), which recently requested the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND) to provide special grant to cushion the effect of COVID-19 pandemic and a dedicated fund as palliatives to private universities to facilitate their efforts in reopening their institutions.
Adeniran drew the federal government’s attention to the funding scheme of the public institutions by the government to the extent that students in such institutions do not pay tuition fees. This is in contrast to private institutions, which have to rely on the fees being paid by their students to meet their operational costs and achieve their well-known programme quality delivery.
Miffed by the lingering discrimination against private institutions in respect of the various interventions by TETFUND, which are currently being enjoyed solely by public institutions, the CPCPU urged the federal government to address this situation, especially as the law setting up TETFUND mandates it to intervene in all tertiary institutions without discrimination.
The CPCPU also commented on the unresolved issues between the public universities in Nigeria and the government. “It is disconcerting that the public universities in Nigeria still have serious unresolved issues with the government while their large size constitute additional challenges for them to re-open following the guidelines stipulated for re-opening,” the CPCPU said.