In apparent move to fulfill his campaign promise and create more admission spaces for prospective varsity students, President Muhammadu Buhari recently approved the sum of N18billion for the establishment of four new specialised universities before the end of 2021. Two of them are universities of technology to be sited in Jigawa and Akwa Ibom states and universities of health, nutrition and medical sciences to be located at Azare, Bauchi State and Ila Oragun, Osun State.
The government also promised to upgrade the four universities of technology in Yola, Akure, Owerri and Minna as well as establish a National Institute of Technology (NIT) in Abuja in 2022.
For a nation in dire need of technological transformation and breakthrough, the approval of the new universities is laudable. It is good that the incoming universities will address the dearth of technological knowledge and manpower development in the country.
Moreover, they will provide more admission places for prospective university students. It has been argued by some people that Nigeria’s 197 public and private universities are not enough for the large number of prospective candidates that qualify for admission each year. They have also asserted that the paucity of admission places in the existing varsities has encouraged education tourism to European and American universities. Moreover, those, who could not afford the cost of studying in UK or US, reportedly do so in some universities in Ghana, Benin Republic and other West African countries.
In spite of this, some Nigerians believe that the country cannot make any serious development in science and technology without investing so much in technological education. That is why the allure for new specialised technological varsities cannot be ignored. Again, in terms of our rising population, we need more universities to cater for the higher education needs of our young ones. It is also worth mentioning that the new universities will address the gap in admission into the universities.
In 2019, the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) declared that only 612,000 candidates could be admitted in our universities out of the over 1.8 million that sat for the examination. Many candidates are thus denied admission not necessarily because they were not qualified. While it is commendable to establish more universities, especially the specialised ones, there is also need to develop existing universities and adequately fund and equip them. The quality of existing universities, in terms of teaching and research, must be enhanced to enable them compete with world-class varsities in the world. Poor funding, dearth of research, dilapidated infrastructure and equipment and poor staff welfare, should be done away with. As centres of intellectual excellence, universities in Nigeria should begin to take the lead in transforming the nation through scientific and technological innovations. Our universities should be geared towards problem-solving and their researches must be tied to solving human problems as done in advanced countries the world over. In terms of research and development, the universities should relate with existing industries in the country. They should also produce the expertise needed in these industries. For this to happen, there should be a marriage between the gown and the town.
However, the government should in future consider the need to place a moratorium on establishing new varsities until the existing ones are adequately funded and equipped. We say this because having a few standard varsities is better than having too many that can be regarded as “glorified secondary schools.” The proliferation of universities based on political or economic consideration will not augur well for the country’s industrial and technological development. Unfortunately, almost all the existing public and private universities in the country cannot be said to be adequately funded and equipped at present. State and private universities are the worst hit in this regard. Let the quantitative expansion of varsities be matched with quality programmes, teaching and research.
For so long, the nation’s universities have been plagued by strikes, either by university teachers or other workers. The unending strikes have always led to unstable academic calendar and brain drain. Due to lack of facilities, students study in overcrowded and dingy lecture halls, and inconducive learning environment. In some universities, the available hostels are not enough for the students.
Considering the poor state of most of our public universities, we call on the federal and state governments to resist the temptation to establish new universities until the existing ones are fully developed, funded and equipped.