The establishment of private universities in Nigeria has become something of a dog’s breakfast. Anybody can set up a university. And they don’t need the approval of the National Universities Commission (NUC). This is the stark message that followed the revelation by the NUC last week that there were at least 58 illegal universities operating in the country, before they were shut down.
This chaotic higher education environment has developed even as existing public universities lack basic facilities to advance teaching and learning, even as they lack qualified staff, and even as library facilities as well as well-equipped science and technology laboratories remain luxuries. Anyone who is committed to quality university education must feel outraged by what is happening in the higher education sector. Bogus universities are operating freely, unlicensed, and without proper supervision in an environment in which no one seems to be in charge.
We are living with a crumbling and crooked higher education system. It is a system that allows universities of all kinds to function and to employ academic staff with dodgy qualifications. It is a system that operates without restraints, without anyone checking to see whether the institutions have met the requirements stipulated for establishment of universities in the country. It is a mindless education system. We installed a system that allowed mediocre universities to emerge to serve our youth and the future generation half-baked, low-standard academic curriculum that cannot stand the benchmark for quality education. Look at how we undercut high standards in our education system.
The NUC shocked the nation last week when it revealed there were no fewer than 58 illegal private universities that ought not to be in the business of higher education. How did these fraudulent universities emerge in the presence of the NUC that is the recognised institution that grants licences for establishment of degree-awarding universities in the country? How did the NUC shut its eyes while these impostor institutions advertised their programmes, offered admission to students, and hired academic staff to teach?
These illegal universities did not conduct their businesses in the dark or in a secret environment or in a valley. The NUC, we must remind ourselves, is the agency of government that has the authority to approve establishment of universities in the country. It is also the sole recognised institution with the power to approve academic programmes in Nigerian universities.
In light of this troubling revelation, the question must, therefore, be posed: How could so many universities have the audacity to operate freely without approval of the NUC? Even as we express outrage over this situation, the true number of universities operating illegally in the country as of today could well swell above 100. There is something wrong somewhere in the NUC’s latest narrative about the discovery of the illegal universities. We must probe beyond mere numbers and ask critical questions about how the universities emerged, as well as ask questions about the government officials who gave the unlawful institutions the nod to commence business.
Mushrooming of private universities is a marker of the extent to which our higher education system has been commercialised. It is clear evidence of the collapse of university education in the country. Private university owners have always denied that profit is the sole motive for their entry into the higher education sector. They argue they are driven into the higher education sector because existing universities lack the capacity to accommodate millions of qualified students who are denied admission not because they lack the qualifications but because public universities have reached their maximum capacity for admission of new students.
The argument is self-serving. It is intended to portray private university owners as charitable, considerate, thoughtful, and selfless contributors to the development of universities in Nigeria. The argument is a sham. It is greed and selfishness masked to look like patriotism.
Prospective students trapped in the current impasse in public universities are likely to salute the establishment of a myriad of universities by private business owners and the Federal Government. The government is the worst offender. Through the NUC, the government has continued to grant licences for establishment of new universities. Unfortunately, new and ill-equipped universities do not necessarily constitute a solution to the current logjam in undergraduate admission.
In considering applications for establishment of new universities, government must first assess the quality and performance of existing universities. It must also consider how new universities with inadequate staff and facilities would assist students to achieve their learning objectives. To what extent, therefore, would new universities jeopardise the quality of education that would be offered to students?
I am prompted to ask the question: What manner of education would new universities offer to students in an environment in which many universities are struggling to survive without sufficient funds, basic facilities, and qualified academic staff? What kind of education would the universities offer when they lack efficient administrators, when they are without well equipped science and technology laboratories, when they do not have libraries with current and quality periodicals, texts, and computer facilities, not to mention inadequate lecture rooms? It is a nightmare.
Indiscriminate establishment of universities in Nigeria tells us the government and all agencies responsible for overseeing quality higher education are propagating a tertiary education system in which many students could watch in despair as their decade-long aspirations of quality university education disappear like a reverie. One major outcome of all this is that the products of our universities (old, new, private, and public) will become less competitive when matched against the products of universities in other countries.
Illegal universities cannot advance quality teaching and learning or foster a culture of research because they are also the products of an illegal education system. An environment in which fake universities proliferate can only lead to the production of an army of angry students and graduates. This country can no longer tolerate the existence of illegal private universities that devalue the quality of higher education.
The NUC must sit up and undertake reforms to halt the leakage in the system. Illegal universities are proliferating simply because the NUC has taken its eyes off the ball, so to say. The NUC has been lax. It has abdicated its responsibilities. Quality university education cannot be maintained or strengthened in the current flawed system for approving the establishment of private universities.
Re: Female legislators’ weird
From natural and physical perspective, the request of the female lawmakers to President Buhari appears bizarre. However, from the spiritual dimension, it may serve many good. How happy is Yemi Osinbajo serving in this government?
This is a government that has looked the other way, and refused to condemn the daily massacre of innocent and weak Nigerians in their homes at night, not to talk of going against the terrorists. Osinbajo is definitely at pains on what to do – as a scholar, God’s servant, and a professor — supervising the killings in Nigeria. Will he resign?
That would be the godly thing to do, but does he have the guts and courage?
Col. R.N. Oputa (rtd), Owerri