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NUC and nine new private universities - Nigerian Tribune

By The Citizen
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The National Universities Commission (NUC) has recently recommended the approval of nine more private universities to the Federal Government. This approval is in addition to the existing 50 private universities and is part of the reaction to the continuing gap in access to university education in Nigeria, occasioned by lack of space for over one million students with requisite qualifications.

According to Professor Julius Okojie, the Executive Secretary of the NUC, the continuing gap in access necessitates encouraging the private sector to participate actively in university education delivery, especially as it is recognised that the future of university education in Nigeria would be in the hands of the private sector.

We agree with Professor Okojie that there is a continuing gap in access to university education in Nigeria and it would be important for this gap to be plugged as a matter of deliberate policy for the country to maximise the returns on its human endowment for development. Yet, the point has to be made that the gap in access is not just in relation to the number of universities available in Nigeria, but is more related to the available human resources and power for effective university education.

The gap exists not because the extant universities in Nigeria could not be made to admit all the other qualified candidates, but because the Ivory Towers are already operating within the limits of their endowment in qualified teachers and personnel. This means that closing the access gap should be about increasing the crop of qualified personnel first and foremost and not about simply increasing the number of universities. The NUC itself recognised this imperative when it came up with the programme of increasing production of doctoral degree holders in the country by designating older universities as postgraduate study centers. The question to ask would be: what has been the effect of this programme and how far has the stock of doctorate degree holders increased in Nigeria?

We doubt whether there has been any significant improvement in the number of doctoral degree holders in the country in spite of the affirmative action of the NUC. And this would be the case because doctorate degree is not acquired on the sidelines or in one year, such that it would take time for the effect of this admirable programme to be felt. In which case, Nigeria still has the problem of inadequate personnel to power effective university education for those who are qualified.

The implication of this position would be that Nigeria is just intent at licensing private universities for its own sake as there do not seem to be enough teachers and personnel to power these universities. We are aware that even existing private universities are having problems sourcing adequate personnel for their functioning, as there are still many private and public universities with advertisements for teachers without adequate response. Many of the good hands in the existing new universities migrate there from the older universities thus creating gaps even in the older universities. We, therefore, do not see how the NUC wants to go about staffing these additional private universities in the context of inadequate staff even in existing ones.

A university is not just about facilities and adequate funds; it is more about the quality of its teaching and administrative personnel. It is not enough, therefore, for the NUC to speak to the inspection of the facilities available to intending universities in order to justify its unceasing licensing of new private universities. Rather, the NUC should speak to the recognised fact that the university system in Nigeria is still sorely lacking in adequate qualified personnel. We would expect the NUC to frown at a situation in which private universities are becoming artifacts of status symbol for the rich and religious organisations, just because the country has a problem of access to university education. The NUC must insist on the right requirements before recommending further licensing of universities.

While we recognise the continuing existence of a problem of access to university education in Nigeria and also see the need for the adequate involvement of the private sector in solving this problem, we believe that this should not justify the licensing of universities even in an atmosphere of inadequate staff. We would expect the NUC to ensure the success of its programme of producing more qualified staff before proceeding to licensing new universities. Working for the production of more qualified university staff would help fill the university access gap in the long run than simply offering universities without adequate staff through unceasing licensing of universities.