Making private varsities attractive

Whereas the Federal Government is finding it extremely difficult to meet the funding demands of universities and other tertiary institutions under its portfolio, it is baffling that private universities want the same Federal Government to support private universities and make them “attractive and affordable” to students through the award of scholarships and granting of loans, among other incentives.

While affordability may be the only attraction, there is nothing else that makes the public universities, especially, in terms of infrastructure and provision of other facilities that promote learning and qualitative education the citadel of learning of choice.

The fact that private varsities are not plagued by the incessant strikes in public varsities is of course, a major attraction. Parents and guardians would prefer them for that sole reason if only they were affordable.

The private varsities should therefore take a critical look at the fees they charge vis-à-vis their quest for profit while being institutions of higher learning. Return on investment should be spread over a period of time in order to make the fees affordable, which in turn, would make the varsities attract students.

On this note, the recent call by the Vice Chancellor of Achievers University, Owo, Ondo State, Professor Samuel Ibiyemi, on the Federal Government to make private universities attractive and affordable can only attract sneer.

In developed countries, at least, private universities attract mainly children of the wealthy and upper- middle class while public universities educate large numbers of children from the working class and the poor. That situation applies in Nigeria. It would, of course, be wrong for government to fund an education system that benefits mainly the rich while funds meant for public institutions that caters mainly for the majority is also given to those who prefer snub appeal. Whoever promotes any educational institution, in this case university should fund it.

Professor Ibiyemi spoke during the 11th matriculation ceremony of Achievers University. While calling on one hand, for government to declare a state of emergency in the education sector, which is understandable, he noted, on the other hand, that many admission seekers were not willing to attend private universities as a few succeeded in getting admitted into public universities.

According to him, in terms of admission subscription, statistics over the past four years have consistently shown that over 98 per cent of candidates preferred to study in public universities, leaving less than two per cent to private varsities.

Consequently, he argued, while the annual admission quota of public universities are increasingly over-saturated with demands that cannot be met, that of the private universities are abysmally running in surplus begging for demand. He said the lopsided physical increase in growth rate in favour of private varsities has failed to translate to corresponding increase in admission subscription in private varsities.

No doubt, there is truth in Ibiyemi’s argument. As earlier mentioned, the issue borders on the cost of education. This cost is low and affordable in the public universities but outrageously high in the private varsities.

Faced with poverty and low financial capacity, most parents can’t afford to sponsor their wards in private universities. How to reduce the exorbitant cost of attending private universities is what the promoters should evaluate. But as for the government getting involved in terms of subvention or other financial support, this is out of the question.

In 2014, proprietors of private universities mounted a campaign asking government for funding support, which was discountenanced, reason being that from the outset, the varsities knew that they were excluded from public funding by virtue of their ownership status in addition to being for-profit institutions.

Certainly, no individual or group was forced to set up a university, which is capital-intensive. The entire enterprise was voluntary. By its ownership structure, a private varsity is entirely a personal property. No one has a say in the running, assets and liabilities of the institutions. Government can’t even investigate its finances and can do little other than setting standards that apply to all universities.It is therefore befuddling that private varsities that sought approval on that platform can now turn around to ask for public funding.

Knowing fully well the peculiar circumstances in Nigeria, it would be a mistake for government to give public funds to any private university as that would open the floodgate for agitations for public funding for all private educational institutions. Government should not drag itself into what, obviously, is avoidable headache.

In this article:
Samuel Ibiyemi
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