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The new private universities

LAST week, the Federal Government approved the take-off of eight private universities in the country. The Federal Executive Council (FEC) announced the approval of these universities sequel to the submission of an approved memo from the National Universities Commission (NUC) to it by the Federal Ministry of Education. Briefing state House correspondents at the end of the meeting, the Minister of Education, Professor Anthony Anwuka, said the reason behind the approval was to give the teeming youths the opportunity to acquire university education. According to him, the new universities would be supervised by the older universities within their zone for a period of three years, to assist them to put the    necessary infrastructure in place. He added that the supervision was in agreement with the law.

However, it may be quite difficult to overlook the speciousness of the Education Minister’s presentation, especially the part which attempts to justify the approval of these universities on the basis of the clamour for university education by the country’s “teeming youths”. Ideally, universities are established for higher purposes than the banal ones which the minister cited.  In Nigeria, the university degree has not gone beyond the request for a meal ticket. It has hardly guaranteed capacity building and, arguably, most of the investors in that sector, sometimes hiding under the cloak of evangelical ministry, are only interested in quick returns on their investment while cashing in on the desperation and quests of the vulnerable admission seekers.

Tellingly, the majority of aspiring students of tertiary institutions of higher learning in Nigeria would rather opt for the public institutions with tame fees and experienced lecturers, although with overstretched infrastructure. A university actually consists more in its faculties than in overpriced infrastructure with little learning. In any case, many of the already existing private universities do not have enough students to justify the huge investments that went into their establishment, so it is difficult to see how establishing more of these institutions can help to increase the opportunity for university admissions for the “teeming youths” of the country. It would seem that the profit motive is central to the establishment of these institutions, in spite of the pretentious altruism of many founders.

Will the mentoring to be done by the older universities be limited to assisting the new private universities in putting certain infrastructure in place, when these older universities have challenges themselves in this area? What about their faculties and the research and teaching that are the core essence of the university experience? We note the tendency of some religious bodies to proliferate these universities for less than wholesome motives, especially in the face of the dearth of qualified teaching staff. Even the NUC recently admitted that only 60 percent of university staff in the country are qualified to teach. If only 60 percent of the staff are qualified to teach, where did the FEC get the confidence to approve another eight that have surely come on board to further clog the drain?

We are of the opinion that the planning department of the Federal Ministry of Education must ensure due diligence on each application for license to make these new universities comply and conform to the human power needs of the country. It is disconcerting to live with the mushrooming of universities in the country when the oldest university is not yet 70. It is an experience that countries with centuries-old universities are yet to go through.

The NUC should not be recommending the approval of licenses of private universities to the FEC at the drop of a hat. It has become crucial for it to conduct a comprehensive review of all applications in order to ensure that approved universities have genuine reasons to exist as fully fledged institutions with social yearnings to fulfil.

It is true that the teeming youths desire tertiary or university education, not just some letters after their names, but the exposure and capacity building that will universally enhance their chances. But it is imperative that the NUC licenses only institutions, private or public, that are capable of delivering the goods.