Private Universities for Who?

By Lekan Otufodunrin

Based on data by Nigeria’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) and the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB), of the 10 million applicants that sought entry into Nigerian tertiary institutions between 2010 and 2015, only 26% got admitted.

While not all of them might be qualified for admission, a good per cent of the admission seekers would have met the requirements for admission in their institutions of choice or others.

However, due to the lack of capacity and in accordance with the guidelines of the Nigeria University Commission (NUC) on the maximum number of students that should be admitted by each institution and for each course, many are year after year, denied the opportunity of University education.

To solve the problem, one of the solutions to make up for the shortfall would seem to be the establishment of more universities at either the federal, state and private levels.

This is being done and just last week, the federal government approved the establishment of 20 new private universities. With the new approval, the country now has 99 private universities, though the new ones have a provisional licence for three years during which the ministry will monitor and evaluate their growth.

Federal Universities are for now 44, while states have 48 institutions with the chance of more being established considering the indiscriminate rate at which some states governors’ pronounce some other tertiary institutions in their states as universities, more for political reasons.

While there may be indeed needed for more universities in the country, it is necessary to ensure that approvals are given based on the required standard than for any other reason.

I am particularly worried about the increasing number of private universities. The numbers approved is a fraction of applications awaiting approval and one wonders why many think they have the capacity to own a university like private primary and secondary schools.

From all indications, ownership of universities has become a status symbol for some individuals and organisations. Because their contemporaries and similar organisations have universities, they also want one in their names or that of their organisations.

What is apparent from the way some previously approved private universities are managed is that their owners underestimated what is required and have been forced to adopt all kinds of measures to stay afloat and awarding sometimes questionable certificates.

Some of them should not have been approved in the first place or by now should have had their certificates withdrawn, but they have been allowed to remain because the NUC and its accrediting officers have chosen to look away and pretend that the universities have the capacity to run the courses they admitted students for when they don’t.

Some private universities have lived up to expectations and even done better than many federal and state universities, but there are others that lack resources, infrastructure and staff to run a tertiary institution.

Although the NUC had in past suspended the licences of some private universities, it has not been able to sustain wielding the big to ensure that the required standard for higher institutions is maintained.

While the number of private universities keeps rising, they have not been able to admit a substantial number of excess qualified admission seekers due to the fees they charge. Not many can afford their fees and so, many are still left without the opportunity to get the education they desire.

While the federal government can continue to grant approval for any qualified person or group, it is more important to pay attention to the worrisome state of federal universities, while states also provide the required resources for their institutions.

It is not fair that governments are not meeting the basic demands of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) that has led to the reoccurring strike, the recent lasting for almost a year, while private universities keep running uninterrupted.

If necessary priority is given to education in the country, federal and state universities will have more capacity to admit more qualified students who cannot afford the high fees charged by the private universities, some of which are not worth what they claim to be.

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