By Enyeribe Ejiogu, Rose Ejembi and Scholastica Onyeka (Makurdi), Ighomuaye Lucky (Benin), George Onyejiuwa (Owerri), Emmanuel Adeyemi (Lokoja), Paul Osuyi (Asaba) and Geoffrey Anyanwu (Enugu)
Life is sweet when you have credible, valuable alternatives, especially when you are confronted with a really bad situation. Naturally, if you have the means to take advantage of the alternative route, you follow it headlong, if that is the only way to achieve worthwhile results and gain peace of mind.
Thousands of parents of hapless students in federal universities, caught in the wholly injurious test of wills between the Federal Government and the Academic Staff Union of Universities, have chosen the alternative route, to ensure that their children continue their pursuit of tertiary education by withdrawing and registering them in private universities where academic calendars have been stable and predicable.
Meanwhile, the strike embarked on by ASUU has so far lasted eight months with no end in sight.
Currently, private universities, which hitherto could not get enough qualified students to admit into their various programmes because of high tuition fees, are finding themselves swamping with applications for admission, with parents ready to pay the exorbitant fees. Some are even taking some loans or disposing assets to meet up. That is the grim reality of many Nigerian families today as they scramble to cope with all the other troubles confronting them. Families that cannot move their children to the private universities and, of course, cannot send them abroad are pining away, frustrated, angry and agonizing, waiting for the Federal Government and ASUU to agree.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in a survey found out that most private universities in the South-south were reluctant to disclose information on their current levels of admission.
But Glorious Vision University, formerly known as Samuel Adegboyega University, Ogwa, Edo, disclosed that the enrolment of students in the institution had increased by 30 per cent due to current ASUU strike.
The Public Relations Officer of the institution, Mr Emmauel Abhulimen, told NAN in Ogwa that the incessant strikes by the academic staff union of universities led to more students seeking admission into the institution.
He said that the student enrolment in the institution moved from 81 in 2021/2022 academic session to 110 in the present 2022/2023 academic session.
Indeed, privately-owned institutions run smooth and uninterrupted academic calendars, producing graduates within the appropriate time framework, depending on duration of courses.
Much as he never wished that the FG/ASUU face-off should happen, even for one day, the Vice Chancellor, University of Mkar, Mkar, in Benue State, Prof Zacharys Gundu, honestly acknowledged that the prolonged strike has created a boom in admission for the private tertiary institution, which has witnessed an increase in the number of students seeking to enroll for degree programmes.
However, Prof Gundu carefully drawed a line, stressing that the school would not just admit people because they are desperately seeking admission and can afford the fees.
The university, he said, takes utmost interest in maintaining an optimum student-teacher ratio in order not to overcrowd the classes by exceeding their carrying capacity.
“They say one man’s poison is another man’s meat. For us, there are a lot of people who had applied with the public universities and they approached us, wanting to know whether they could come to us and we said yes. JAMB allows them to go to the portal to change their first choice to University of Mkar and several of them are doing that and we are happy for it.
“Our pride at the University of Mkar is really not in numbers. Our pride is in structures, development and small numbers that we can manage.
“We want our teachers not to face crowds when they stand to teach. We want them to face manageable numbers. So, we are paying attention to the teacher-student ratio and that is our strength.
“If we were not careful, if we were not strategic and we were not responsible, we could just open our doors to any person coming in and before long we would have overcrowding just like the public universities and before long, we won’t be worried about quality issues.
“But yes, people are coming to us particularly people who didn’t apply to come to our university originally, and we are accepting them, we are screening them and we are hoping that by 10th of October, our new session will start,” he said.
As a parent and someone whom passed through a Nigerian university in the days of yore, when the universities functioned like clock work, he is deeply troubled that no Nigerian graduate from a public university has gone for the national youth service in the last two years, describing the development as very scandalous.
A look at the admission details of the school in the last five years revealed that in the 2018/2019 session, the school admitted a total of 261 students into the freshman year.
In the 2019/2020 session it admitted 321 students, but in the 2020/2021 session it offered admission to 105 students while in the current 2021/2022 session it has 305 students.
The interesting thing about the relatively young tertiary institution is that it has adequate facilities to accommodate students for practical trainings.
In Edo State, the wave of admission boom is being felt with joy at Wellspring University, Benin City, where the Senior Lecturer and Head of Department, Mass Communication, Mr Matthew Onuh, told Sunday Sun that the university has the capacity to cater for the needs of its students.
“Private universities are having the upper hand now irrespective of the large sums being paid as school fees. To be frank, the difference in admission rate in the previous years and this year makes it crystal clear because many students already in 200 and 300 levels in various federal universities are trooping into private universities begging to be accepted as direct entry students not minding what it will take from them.
“Again, by this time last year, we were counting our students not up to 50 in all, but today we have already told some departments like Nursing, Mass Communication, to be careful in accepting students because they are too close to their quota even though admissions have not started proper.
“For accreditation, both in infrastructure and manpower, not every private university can boast of such now as the sudden inflow of students was impromptu.
“For accredited courses, Wellspring University is ready to accommodate students in all the accredited courses because as we speak, expansions works in both classrooms, hostels, offices etc are going on simultaneously within the school premises. Wellspring University is ready for that”, he Onuh assured.
In Imo State, Hezekiah University, Nkwerre, has gained more students in the last two sessions because of the frequent academic disruption in the public universities.
Public Relations Officer of the university, Reverend Innocent Osuoha, affirmed: “Yes, the student population of our university has been on the rise because the majority of students do not want their academic programmes to be unnecessarily dragged on. So, the majority of the students who have been seeking for admission are mostly those who had already applied to the public universities, but later decided to come to Hezekiah University because there is no academic disruption. Thus, the university has actually been gaining from the incessant ASUU strikes. Again, parents are tired of their wards spending about five years for a four-year course which is an additional financial burden.”
On the admission front, everything is cool at the only private tertiary institution in the state, Salem University, which is a faith-based institution located in Lokoja. It has not seen any upsurge in admission into 100 Level though hundreds made inquiries in regarding admission or transfer procedure.
Major reasons for no upsurge in admission are the high cost of school fees charged by the school, limited number of courses offered by the university and the fact that Kogi State is largely a rural state where only few parents can afford the luxury of sending their children to a private university.
On the issue of fees, the Vice Chancellor of the university, Prof Alewo Johnson Akubo, countered that the university was not charging high fees compared with other private universities in the country.
The university, he said, has adequate facilities and requisite academic manpower for the few courses accredited by the National Universities Commission.
As Alewo revealled, the prolonged ASUU strike has led to a high number of students transferring to the university from other institutions, to enable them continue their studies.
At the Gregory University, Uturu, GUU, Abia State, it is still too early to determine whether the prolonged strike has caused an increase in the number of qualified candidates seeking admission into the university.
With neither the Vice Chancellor or the Public Relations Officer of GUU being available to speak on the official position, a senior staff in the VC’s office who spoke on the condition of anonymity said that it might be pretty difficult to determine at present if the ASUU strike has significantly raised the number of students admitted or not.
“We might not give you a categorical answer on that for now until admissions are closed which will still take some months,” Sunday Sun learnt from the senior staff, adding that “by the time the admission window is closed in few months to come, I am optimistic that we are going to have surge in students enrollment because there are already pointers in that direction.”
He hinged his optimism on the fact that medical students now flock the university following the withdrawal of the accreditation of Medicine at the Abia State University by the NUC.
Just like GUU, Novena University in Ogume, Ndokwa West Local Government Area of Delta State is not reaping from the ASUU strike in terms of substantial increase in enrolment.
Director of Public Relations of the university, Dr Emmanuel Odishika, while stating that the impasse between the Federal Government and ASUU has significant increase in the admission figures of the university, he however, could not immediately provide the enrolment figures of the institution in the past five years for comparative analysis as the time frame for responding to the request was not convenient.
His words: “I would not say ASUU strike has been a blessing to Novena University, you know every university has its own catchment area. So, before ASUU strike, Novena University had done well on its own, but even within the strike, the university still gets its numbers of candidates. I don’t think there is any particular increase in terms of numbers as a result of the strike.
“The point I am making is that I don’t see any significant difference in the number of candidates being admitted as a result of the strike, it might be remotely connected, but I don’t think it is directly connected.”
In the great Coal City state, private universities are happily cashing in on boom created by the ASUU strike to ramp up their admission rate tremendously.
Though officials of some of the institutions were keeping their figures secret, Sunday Sun gathered that those of them with impressive academic record are having a boom.
Like the Godfrey Okoye University, Enugu, owned by the Enugu Catholic Diocese, where parents are falling over themselves to secure admission for their children, Sunday Sun gathered that the institution has enough capacity to carry the influx of students.
Deputy Vice Chancellor and Director of Academic Planning, Prof. Marry-Sylvia Nwachukwu, told Sunday Sun with obvious joy: “Godfrey Okoye University has witnessed 1.5 per cent increase in admission following the ASUU strike and may increase if the strike continues by October.
“Many parents have been asking us when we are starting new session as they want to bring their children to Godfrey Okoye University because of our impressive academic record.”
The Rev. Sister disclosed that the university has adequate capacity to absorb the surge of students from public universities, stressing: “Even at that we are adding more, especially now that some of our departments are moving to our Ugwuowu Campus. More facilities are being provided.”
The DVC also disclosed that the College of Medicine is starting up at the Ugwuowu Campus just like the College of Practical Skills, where they teach skills to Nigerian youths.
Speaking to Sunday Sun on the admission situation in the first private university in the state, Renaissance University, Ugbawka, a Senior Lecturer and Head, Department of Mass Communication of the institution, Dr Maxwell Ngene, confirmed an increase in admission.
He said: “The truth is that there is a significant increase in the number of people seeking admission for their children. Before now, we’ve had problems with low student enrollment. As a result different strategies were put in place to increase enrolment.
“However, our Faculty of Law is very attractive to the extent that the number of people interested in reading the course by far outnumbers the quota given to our university by the NUC.”
On capacity he said: “Renaissance University saw this coming and had gone ahead to expand its facilities by building eight classroom blocks that can take over 200 students each, procuring and installing modern ICT facilities for e-learning and research. The university is also commencing new programmes for Medical Laboratory Science, Software and Cyber Security this academic session.”
Ngene said that the school has also established its Nursing department.
In the face of the general belief that the prolonged ASUU strike has caused substantial increase in admission, the Chancellor of Arthur Jarvis University in Akpabuyo, Cross River, Mr Arthur-Jarvis Archibong, holds a different view as he argued that the lingering strike has not led to increase in student enrolments in private universities.
He explained that the harsh economic situation in the country has made the school fees in most private universities unaffordable to most families that would have loved to move their children to private universities, stating that the two factors were responsible for the lack of significant increase in addition rates.
His words: “The truth remains that 95 per cent of parents with wards in Nigerian public universities would wait for five years, if need be, for the strike to be called off. Students of public universities are now almost losing two sessions, following COVID-19 lockdown and the present ASUU strike.
Parents are not oblivious of this, but the economy of the nation does not encourage them to move their wards to private universities.
“In Nigeria parents who have the capacity to send their children abroad for education are not up to one per cent of the population. Those who can send their children to private universities are about five per cent of the population.”