More care should be taken in licensing new universities

The recent approval by the federal government of additional 20 private universities ordinarily should be a welcome development since it brings the total number of such institutions to 99. But there are genuine concerns by critical stakeholders on the implications of proliferation of these institutions of higher learning in our country. There are also several pertinent questions particularly about private universities and they include: What are the standards required to establish one? Who is accrediting the courses? What are the minimum infrastructure requirements?

While the federal government can continue to license any qualified person or group to run a university, it is more important to pay attention to the worrisome state of these academic institutions. The proliferation of private universities, according to the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), bodes ill for the system because standard is being compromised. “Most of these private universities are unleashed on Nigerians without concrete and realistic human resource development plans,” said ASUU president, Biodun Ogunyemi. “So, they poach on academics in older universities to attract them mostly as visiting, part-time and adjunct lecturers. The few permanent lecturers in most of these private universities are employed under conditions that are not labour friendly.”

In as much as we are not opposed to the idea of private universities, we agree with the summation of ASUU about standard. We abhor the current cynical approach to education in Nigeria and that explains why we have been calling for a total overhaul of the sector. That of course will go beyond the universities, private or public. There are many more questions to pose but 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 reckless recourse to all manner of low-standard 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 is now happening with universities.

Ordinarily, the increase in the numbers of universities need not be a matter for alarm if several other questions are posed and answered satisfactorily, namely: Are there adequate and equal numbers of high quality technical colleges? Are there competitive ‘community colleges’ supported by, and relevant to, needs of local authorities for training locally required personnel? Are local communities involved in monitoring the quality of the culture of learning, quality of favourably remunerated teaching and administrative staff? Are local primary and secondary schools endowed with quality staff, infrastructure, teaching material and innovative teachers?

The large numbers of universities must be matched with ensuring high quality teaching and learning within their precincts. And it must be matched by needs. The late Tanzanian President, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere once argued that since the vast majority of Africans work in the agricultural sector, and since room for training youths are severely limited in pyramidal tertiary educational sectors, it is vital to invest the largest percentage of budgets for education in providing very high quality pre-primary and primary schools so that the products can creatively transform rural economies with their inventions and local manufacturing and processing activities.

That there is an urgent need to revamp higher educational institutions to satisfy the demands of today is no longer in doubt. Universities in advanced countries and elsewhere are platforms for problem-solving, viable and result-oriented academic inquiries. Ours must not continue to lag behind. We must do away with the notion that anybody with some money can own universities. That is not the way to develop any society.

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