Private universities: quality or quantity?

In part of what was evidently his last contribution to knowledge and scholarship, the late former Minister of Education and well-acclaimed educationist, Prof. Babs Fafunwa, wrote “The Beginnings and Evolution of University Education in Nigeria” which was published in “Fifty Years of University Education in Nigeria: Evolution, Achievements and Future Directions”, a joint publication of the University of Ilorin and the National Universities Commission in 2010.

In the article, an eye-opening read, Prof. Fawunwa bemoaned the proliferation of private universities in Nigeria. He noted that Chief Gabriel Igbinedion was the first to apply for a licence to establish a private university in the country. Though he was affluent, he said,  “it took seven years before the NUC granted his request. Between 1960 and 1991, a period of 31 years, a total of 31 universities were established. Today, Nigeria now has 104 universities; that is, 73 universities established in 11 years at an average of 6 universities per year!” This was in 2010.

Therefore, the late scholar offered a golden piece of advice: “Like the creation of more states, applications for university licences will continue unless the federal government places a temporary embargo on such requests. Indeed, the time has come for such action and for a review of the private universities issues. Our concern at this point is how to guarantee and sustain quality” (p.24).

However, hardly had the ink with which the paper was written dried than more universities were established. In 2011, four private universities were granted operational licences. In 2012, additional five were established. In 2013 and 2014, there was no new licence granted but in 2015, the “shortfall” was addressed and 11 private universities were established! This year, indeed this month, eight new private universities were established, making the  total number of such universities 68.

Thus, just six years after Prof. Fafunwa’s observation was made, in what can qualify us for a position in the “Guinness Book of Records,” our universities have increased by an average of 8 per year. From 104 universities in 2010, Nigeria now has 152 comprising 40 Federal, 44 State and 68 Private universities, meaning that we have added 48 new universities in six years.

Though Federal, State and Private universities have recorded new members over the period, private universities take the lion’s share of the new additions, the reason for the attention here. From all indications, a time will soon come when the number of private universities will overtake the public ones, both State and Federal combined. That itself is not a problem but the question is: how do we not sacrifice quality at the altar of quantity?

Though I support the establishment of new universities for the simple reason of providing more educational opportunities for Nigerian students, statistics does not support that reason as few admission applicants for a number of reasons want to study in private universities. The most preferred 10 private universities in Nigeria, based on the 2016/2017 data of the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB), do not have up to 10,000 applicants altogether.

As a matter of fact, all applicants to private universities in Nigeria are not up to 25 per cent of those who apply to the University of Ilorin, with a total of 103,238 student-applicants. Some private universities had five, four, three and even two applicants in this year’s admission exercise. To get students into such universities, some extraordinary measures have to be taken.

The rationale for today’s intervention on my part is to re-echo the advice of Prof. Fafunwa and reiterate his call for a “temporary embargo” on the establishment of new universities, not just private. The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) ended a warning strike last week based on the need to drive home issues related to better funding and quality.

As a country of 186,053,386 people, we need more universities of course but we cannot afford to bite more than we can chew based on our economic reality. Therefore, the Federal Government should keep in view its plan to establish six new universities of Science and Technology apart from the proposed “first ICT University in Nigeria”.

If the Government injects the funds meant for the establishment of new universities in the existing ones for improved quality, enhanced service delivery and increased access, the outcome will be better than mushrooming universities all over the place.

Re: Thinking about Trump

The deal has been done by voting Trump but this moment should be of great concern to people of goodwill and conscience who should not keep silent to pressurize Trump to understand America’s diversity and serve all Americans with utmost sense of respect and clear mind.  – Aina Akindele Oyebanji, Ketu, Lagos State