The major aim of establishing tertiary institutions is to build high-level manpower for national development. It is a place where people acquire the needed tools; social, mental and intellectual skills, which will be required by the beneficiary to become self-reliant and resourceful member of the society.
In Nigeria today, there are public universities owned and funded by the governments, on the other hand are the private universities, owned by individuals, business enterprises and religious bodies. Statistics show that as at October 2011, there are 36 federal universities, 37 state universities and 45 privately owned universities.
The deregulation of education in Nigeria is a deliberate effort to break government’s monopoly on education, thereby giving freedom to private participation in the provision and management of education in order to check the incessant strikes by lecturers in public universities improve the quality of education and return the lost glory in the nation’s university system. These factors largely influenced the decision of former President Olusegun Obasanjo and Atiku Abubakar’s administration to endorse and approve private universities of which they are also beneficiaries of the licences.
Ironically, most Nigerian leaders benefited from the public universities when they were well-funded with scholarship, free meals, free accommodation, stipends and high quality facilities for learning. Unfortunately these same beneficiaries could not maintain the standard which they enjoyed as students of public universities; instead they have allowed it to go into near total demise.
While one could observe the selfishness of some of our leaders and their seeming connivance in promoting private universities to the expense of the public institutions, yet the so-called leaders would rather sponsor their children to study in foreign universities rather than allow them attend any of the private or public higher institutions in Nigeria.
There are clear justifications for the establishment of private universities, these include increase access to education due to acute shortage of places in the existing institutions, overcrowded and deplorable physical facilities. The lecturers in public universities under the auspices of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) could also be blamed for the bastardization in that system. Members of the union, in their efforts to register their grievances against inadequate funding from the government take some actions that are inimical to the progress and development of their poor students.
In fact the flexibility of academic environment with job security and huge severance packages influence lecturers to retain their offices in public universities while providing part-time lecturing to the private universities in the name of private practice (PP). Some of them would rather lobby or take political appointments and consultancy jobs than attend to the needs of their students. Surprisingly too, some professor are yet to adapt to the new information technology. They still rely on old books and theories of past centuries when the internet provides the theory of reality and practicability. Only in Nigeria University one could find a lecturer that does not have an email.
Indiscipline and lack of adequate inspection and close monitoring on the campuses by relevant authorities have caused some students at the public universities to engage in cultism, drug addiction, gang rape and other criminalities. The situation becomes worrisome whenever there are strikes, where some idle students engage in prostitution, robbery and kidnapping to earn a living and to occupy their times. At the end, these institutions churn out certificated illiterates who could barely write their names and place of origin, not to mention the application and demonstration of their expectedly acquired knowledge.
The federal character principle that permits universities the right to give priority attention to the catchment areas in admission of students and recruitment of staff also has its negative effect on the university system. This results in situation where dunderheads are admitted and unqualified workforce recruited. The outcome of such policies is clear for everyone to see.
Private universities as profit-making ventures, apart from being expensive have also widened the social gap between the rich and the poor as a new status symbol. Proprietors are not required to understand the knitty gritty of managing an academic environment but can give directives to recruited administrators. Requirements for admission into private universities are not stringent as under-aged applicants and failed candidates in national common entrance examinations could easily get admissions once they could afford to pay the exorbitant fees into private universities. There is also an arbitrary inflation of tuition fees annually. There are also medieval laws put in place by some schools to weaken independence and freedom of expression on the campuses. Like regimented garrisons where all forms of feudal measures are taken, the universities do not treat their students as adult and matured persons but like boarding schools’ boys and girls. For instance, one of these universities is reported to have strict wake-up time and bedtime light-out to be observed by the students. In another instance, a university is reported to conduct virginity tests on students upon resumption.
The missionary universities established by religious organisations have some tactics to woo prospective students for enrolments. Some have unwritten house-rules that ‘no student will ever fail to graduate because of spiritual interventions.’ They also have discriminatory policies against those that do not believe or practice their faiths. Apart from employing the service of some of their worshippers as part time lecturers, whose allowances could be paid ‘only in heaven’, most of the other recruited scholars are actually lecturers from established public universities within their vicinities. Since well-qualified tutors would rather take offer in public universities because of the flexibility I mentioned early, the less qualified and jobless candidates are mostly in private universities where they are reengineered to work tediously to bring out the best in their students.
The establishment of private universities could be a blessing to Nigeria’s education system but not an alternative way of funding the public ones, because there are huge federal budgets and various revenues generated in the name of taxes for education available to government institutions of learning. Therefore government has no excuse not to adequately fund the universities.
The private universities should remain private for the very rich who could afford them but without government’s financial interventions, since they are established for maximization of profit on investment. They could utilise other avenues of revenue generation through charity organisations as well as private entities that are willing to provide endowments and sponsorships as parts of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programmes.
Policy makers and lawmakers should ensure that our universities are adequately funded and make laws that would compel lecturers to be responsible to their duties and restrict them from Private Practices once there are improvements in their salaries. Top public office holders should be compelled to send their qualified children to public institutions of learning so that the poor would have confidence in getting the best training out of it.
Regulatory bodies such as the Nigeria University Commission (NUC), Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB), National Examination Council (NECO) and West African Examination Council (WAEC) should be more proactive and responsive in their close monitoring to ensure that Nigerian universities both public and private comply with international best practices with quality standard in term of examination supervision, enrolment, and accreditation of courses. Well qualified staff; administrators and lecturers should be employed to meet the needs of their students.
This article by Yushau A. Shuaib has been published in October 2011 in Economic Confidential, People Daily, Nigerian Tribune, Daily Trust, Leadership, Blueprint, Champion, Vanguard, National Mirror and New Nigerian Newspapers