High tuition, other matters in private universities
UNIVERSITIES all over the world have the tripartite objectives of Teaching, Research and Community Service. Essentially, the purpose of higher education is to equip the students to imbibe the following four modules: (i). Positive culture and worldview (ii). Personal discipline, spirituality and ethics (iii). Specialties of his/her discipline(s) and (iv). Process, intensified as he/she advances in research and scholarship in the field.
The teaching and learning outcomes of the university come at a huge cost either to the government for public universities or to the promoter or proprietor, for the private university.
The problem in Nigeria is our attitude to what is government – public, and what is private. Many Nigerians believe that education is free in government-owned (federal or state) universities. They have failed to realise that these institutions of higher learning are being funded by our collective resources, personal and corporate taxes of individuals and organisations.
A recent financial analysis of government subventions in federal universities in Nigeria indicates that the federal government pays an average of between N700,000-N950,000 on each student in federal universities in form of subvention. However, to an average Nigerian private university is an aberration, a bunch of capitalists with uncompromising rip-off mentality.
The incursion of private promoters into tertiary education in Nigeria is a good omen for the socio-economic growth and sustainable development of our dear nation. Harvard is a private university in the U.S. and its influence and reference have overshadowed virtually all the federal and state universities in America. The reason is that a private university is student-centric in nature. Student enrolment, retention and continuous increase in student population are the life wire of a private university. The universality of the ethos of higher learning is jealously guarded without government interference while regulatory benchmarks are strictly adhered to. Thus a private university owes it continuous existence to its integrity, character and reputation.
One lie is that the existing universities (both public and private) have low carrying capacity. That is, these universities are not capable of admitting successful UTME candidates in a year. The recently released JAMB document shows that only two per cent of candidates seeking admission preferred the private universities. Thus out of the 1.4 million candidates that obtained the JAMB form, less than 20,000 chose private universities. This is indeed worrisome, considering the student-centric nature of the private university system. It was also reported in the JAMB document that out of the 20,000 applications into the private universities, one private university recorded just five (5) applicants through JAMB.
Apparently, the problem is not of low carrying capacity but of low patronage of the existing private universities. This makes the private universities to suffer a recurrent under-enrolment year in, year out.
The JAMB registrar after consultation with other stakeholders in the sector devised a strategy to bridge the gap between over-enrolment and under-enrolment. The issue of over concentration of admission seekers in public universities led JAMB to increase by 100 per cent the admission quota of some public universities which allowed them to pick the candidates with relatively higher JAMB scores while the remaining candidates with at least 180 were distributed along geographical zones to nearby state or private universities that suffered under-enrolment. This altruistic gesture met a brick wall with protests and even a court case and the agency had to rescind the move.
The onus is on a proactive government to take a definitive stand on the enrolment issue. The government should also consider it a paramount social service to help indigent admission seekers, who genuinely desire university education but denied access into the existing commonwealth – the public universities, by offering them scholarships to pursue their dreams in the nation’s private universities.
Moreover, the government can subsidise tuition fees for all eligible Nigerians to study in any private university of their choice in Nigeria. The disbursement of the Tertiary Education Tax Fund (TETFund) should be equitable and not be restricted to public universities alone. One is not advocating that government should build or fund infrastructural development of private universities but the same government through its specific agencies should encourage the student-centric philosophy of the private universities by providing funds in form of subsidy or scholarships which private universities can access to cover the tuition of every qualified Nigerians who applied to them. This way, the private universities will be able to mop-up the huge number of qualified candidates that the public universities cannot accommodate. This will also stem the tide of influx of our children to neighbouring African countries, seeking admission into some less endowed universities out of frustration.
The Tertiary Education Tax Fund (TETFund) should look beyond public universities and begin to see how it can start funding researches emanating from qualified lecturers from private universities. It is often said that the TETFund is restricted by its enabling law but the amendment to the existing law can be effected by the national assembly if we really desire to build a nation with equal opportunities for people without prejudice to their service location – public or private. Moreover, TETFund gets it pool of funds from private/corporate organisations, not government agencies!
In their quest to make access to university education readily available to qualified Nigerians, the private universities, though operating under stringent financial clime, still offer some of their programmes to the public at a very low, unbelievable fees. Sometimes, one wonders if they break even at all, considering huge expenses incurred on personnel and physical infrastructure. For example, Lead City University, Ibadan, a private university approved by the Federal Government of Nigeria in 2005 offers programmes in the Faculties of Art and Education that start with N100,000. The part-time programmes are offered starting from N250,000. The highest fee is that of Law programme which is offered at N550,000.
The “massification” of education in the world has turned Nigeria into a higher education haven for “scavengers” of Nigerian students for foreign institutions. Our huge population and penchant for education should be to our advantage because no foreign nation can develop Nigeria for her citizens. It is a fundamental error if the Nigerian government thinks the developed countries will help develop our educational system if the government continues to send on scholarships, “privileged Nigerians” to their universities to study at the undergraduate level and at a huge cost to the government. The fact is that many of these foreign universities, ultimately collect our foreign currencies in form of school fees and subsequently hire Nigerians to teach Nigerian students in foreign lands, and certified the students for the purpose of functioning in Nigeria. Gone are the days when these foreign universities train students for global competitiveness. Their respective admission requirements and their often touted “on the spot “admission policy” say it all. This is not a sweeping generalisation but a painstaking analysis of the happenings in the system.
However, there are still very reputable, renowned foreign universities that are dream destinations of many Nigerians, not some unknown universities in Turkey, Russia, China, South Africa, etc. In the midst of the general scrambling for admissions into the foreign universities by their Nigerian collaborators and representatives, one has not heard of any one of them representing Harvard, Yale, MIT or Oxford University. Even corporate organisations who hitherto are foreign degree crazy are now very careful when recruiting Nigerians with foreign degrees or certification.
Thus, it is high time we began to support and encourage our own private initiatives. The value-added, embedded in public-private partnership should be explored by the present government for the benefit of all. If we are not going to pay lip service to the change mantra, the change that we desire is in and with every Nigerian. The change must start from the individual with the renewal of our thought pattern and our attitude to what is public and private. Nigeria is a great country but we can make it greater only if we begin to see the contributions of private sector/enterprises beyond profit maximisation. Private universities are here to stay; their contribution in the last 16 years is scientifically impactful and humanly empowering and laudable. The Nigerian Private Universities can do more only if we all give them our support and take pride in their existence.
• Dr. A. M. Owolabi is the Director, Corporate Affairs and Communications, Lead City University, Ibadan.