Closure of unapproved varsities
THE announcement the other day by the National Universities Commission (NUC) that it had banned 57 illegal degree-awarding institutions operating in Nigeria was nothing more than another of its annual ritual in the face of its lax regulatory instincts.
Since 2009, the NUC has always released such a list and rather than the phenomenon abating as a result of previous actions by the NUC, it is growing steadily, meaning that there has been no enforcement of such bans. The NUC should, therefore, do its job by prosecuting the operators of illegal institutions and enforcing its own regulations.
The Executive Secretary of NUC, Prof. Julius Okojie, maintained that certificates obtained from the institutions would not be accorded recognition for the purpose of election, participation in the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) scheme and other important functions. He said the illegal fees and charges to subscribers by operators of the institutions would also be recovered. It is not clear how the NUC intends to accomplish this but parents and guardians should be wary of where they send their children for tertiary education to avoid regrets.
Obviously, there is desperation for university education in Nigeria. People are hungry for certificates and the growing number of youngsters has put pressure on the existing institutions. Every year, the university entrance examination conducted by the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) records over a million candidates out of which only about 20 per cent is offered admission. The remaining 80 per cent are left with no other choice than to seek other schools, including unapproved ones. Unfortunately, the proprietors of these institutions are sometimes no more than traders seeking to make money by purporting to run tertiary institutions.
The problem is compounded by the unwarranted dichotomy between holders of university degrees and Higher National Diploma (HND) from polytechnics. The polytechnics, which should have lessened the pressure by absorbing some of the students are, therefore, abandoned by many students in favour of universities. This is a systemic problem, a matter of mental underdevelopment in the country, which needs to be addressed.
The pertinent question is: Given the high demand for education and the fact that national development aspirations cannot be met without a literate citizenry, why is education not given a pride of place in Nigeria.
And why does the country have glorified secondary schools at best in the name of universities when the proper thing to do is to expand the existing universities and have them equipped for a proper education of the nation’s future leaders? And what was the NUC doing when all kinds of universities were mushrooming all over the country many licensed by the commission? Time is now to begin an annual performance evaluation of all the universities, for if NUC fails to regulate and monitor university education properly, the country’s future is in trouble.
Licensing of private universities was aimed at reducing the admission pressure on the older schools but this has not solved the problem. While some universities are doing enough to raise standards, majority are still not measuring up as they are without qualified lecturers in their faculties. As a matter of fact, experts say all the lecturers in Nigeria are just enough for 30 universities. Yet, this is the number that is spread over the 100 universities in the country. There is inherent fraud in that kind of situation in which the teacher to student ratio is so bad and it can only breed mediocrity.
Somehow, owning a private university has become a status symbol and a financially rewarding venture rather than a genuinely academic or human capital development matter. There is no quality assurance in the institutions. The periodic accreditation visits are not thorough. Some universities hire ad-hoc staff just to present for accreditation, after which they return to status quo. The NUC should, however, be able to fish out fraudulent lecturers hired for that purpose and bring them to book.
There is certainly a need to create the capacity to admit more students in Nigeria’s genuine universities. There is also the need to expand post-graduate education to produce more lecturers. The campuses are brimming with students but no lecturers. A situation in which only one lecturer teaches and marks the examination scripts of over 1000 students cannot make for academic excellence.
There is need for national re-orientation about education and the authorities should avoid a policy somersault that creates problems. The future of Nigeria can only be glorious with a sound educational system. That future is being imperiled with a rotten tertiary education system that is understaffed, ill-equipped and one in which illegal universities mushroom.