The Federal Executive Council (FEC) recently approved the establishment of 20 private universities in the bid to create more admission spaces for many prospective varsity students. The Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, who made the disclosure, revealed that the universities would receive their provisional licences from the National Universities Commission (NUC), which they would use for three years for monitoring and evaluation purposes. Nine of the universities are located in the North Central zone of the country, three in the South South, two in South East, five in North West and one in the South West. This brings the total number of private universities in the country to 99.
The advent of private universities is to open more spaces for growing number of admission seekers who cannot be accommodated by the existing universities. There are currently, 48 state universities and 43 federal universities in the country. The number of universities in the country is still low when compared with its population as well as some other countries across the world. For example, India has 4,354 universities, the United States, 3,228, China, 2,596 and Indonesia, 2,304.There is no doubt that the capacity of federal and state universities to admit the increasing number of admission seekers is very low. Currently, less than 50 per cent of candidates who sit for the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) annually get placements in the universities.
According to the World Education News and Review (WENR), only 30 per cent out of the 1.7 million candidates who wrote the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) were admitted in 2017. It also revealed that Nigeria’s higher education sector has been overburdened by strong population growth and a significant youth population explosion. The statistics have not improved significantly since the report.
With 60 per cent of the country’s estimated 200 million population said to be youths, the quest for university education is understandably high. The existing public universities are clearly unable to cope with the yearly increase in the number of applicants. The incessant disruption in the public universities due to strikes has warranted many students to prefer private varsities.
While the establishment of new universities to bridge the gap in admission is commendable, we hasten to add that quality must not be compromised on the altar of quantity. There is also need to guard against the proliferation of private universities. The democratisation of varsity education will be done cautiously to avoid bastardising the system. The quality of instruction and infrastructure in the new universities cannot be lowered because of exigencies. Therefore, the NUC must ensure that basic requirements for the establishment of universities are met before the accreditation of their programmes. The issue of recruiting quality academic staff for the universities must be equally addressed. Therefore, the recent report that fewer than 50 per cent of varsity lecturers in the country have the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree is quite disturbing. This is a pointer to the glaring shortage of qualified academic staff in some of these universities.
Some of the private universities are plagued with the problem of poor funding. Many of the private universities do not follow the stipulated rules and regulations in their operations. They lack adequate lecture rooms, well-equipped libraries and accommodation.
Most of the private universities cannot compete with the public ones in areas of qualified lecturers as they mostly rely on retired, visiting and part-time lecturers. The private universities also charge exorbitant fees.
Notwithstanding the lapses in the private universities, they have over the years contributed in opening access to tertiary education for the growing population of candidates seeking university education. The NUC must control and supervise the new universities to ensure that the system is not compromised. It is good that the new universities will be monitored by NUC in the first three years before final approval of their licences.