Universities: Funding, Not Numbers
With passion laced with logic, facts and data I write this piece about the dwindling fortunes of education in Nigeria especially at the university level. Universities are being treated as nursery schools by the federal and state governments. Universities are being established with reckless abandonment and more of a source of political patronage to the bigwigs in our societies. Instead of the rich and mighty to establish industries for the manufacturing of goods and to absorb the teaming graduates, they are drawn to the satanic intentions of establishing universities for the sole purpose of money making. Let the fact be stated here again and again, that education is a social service that is meant to prepare the mind so as to contribute to the development of the society but not so in Nigeria.
Recently, the federal executive council approved the establishment of twenty private universities bringing the number to ninety. There are many state universities and state governments which cannot pay salaries and pensions are more interested in establishing universities. These glorified nursery schools cannot really advance the progress and development of the nation. Universities, the world over, are centres of learning and research. Here the best minds are trained for the progress and development of society. A university should have enough qualified staff and equipment and should serve as centre of research, hence the concept of relationship between the gown and town. In other words, research in science and technology are not locked up in the universities cupboards but are made available to the larger society. That is why universities in Europe, America and China are in the forefront of developing vaccines for the dreaded COVID-19. Yet in Nigeria, universities are seen as mere political patronage where there is paucity of qualified staff. The NUC is busy contemplating its educational navel as one lecturer teaches in three or more universities and these people are really spreading themselves thin and could not contribute towards the advancement of learning and scholarship.
And ASUU has condemned the unchecked proliferation of universities be it private, federal or state owned. One reality in Nigeria is that each state boasts of at least one federal university and one state university. Let my readers not get me wrong. I am not against the establishment of more universities but these should not be scarified at the altar of merit. We should be concerned about the funding of these universities. If universities are well funded, one university can accommodate many students with qualified lecturers. We should be ashamed of always doing the wrong thing. As I write this piece, some universities workers who are not academic staff are threatening thunder and brimstone about strike. This is coming after the federal universities were shut last year for nine months by ASUU over some flimsy excuses.
Speaking recently about the proliferation of universities, Prof Monday Igbafen of the Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma maintained that it was a wrong step and doing more harm than good to the educational progress of the country. Said Igbafen: “How do you justify the existence of additional universities, when there is this cry that even the private universities that are running now lack proper monitoring, to see if they comply with the NUC guidelines and what is required to run a university. They are all just centres of where they collect people’s money. That is why most of us are getting worried about the education system in the country. ABU (Ahmadu Bello University) can cater for almost half the population of students we admit in this country, but there is nothing on ground to sustain an ideal university. When you carry out objective assessment of these universities, you discover that they are not really universities; they are just there to divert our attention where the rich ones can send their children, whereas they will not be properly trained in terms of developing minds. It is all about just dishing out degrees; not necessarily interested in the content and quality of the product`.
The point couldnot be better analyzed and that is the more reason the National Universities Commission should sit up and do the proper thing. It should go beyond mere approval for universities; the universities should be monitored for quality in terms of manpower and equipment. There is dearth of qualified lecturers in our universities and the moonlighting of lecturers should be stopped. Lecturers are free to go on sabbatical leave to other universities but I frown at the idea of one lecturer teaching in three or more universities at the same time. That is why the lecturers are against Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System. For they know that the system will only capture their salary details only once especially those at the federal universities.
Time was when top government officials made it a point of duty to establish universities in their villages and this column labored under that burden of `Where is my village university?`. Today universities are being treated like nursery schools where pupils rhyme `A` for apple and `B` for a boy. Those in political authority should move beyond ethnic sentiments and patronage and truly establish universities as centres for learning and research. We should not be producing certificated graduates but educated graduates who can be useful to themselves and the society. Japan is a great nation today because of the premium placed on quality education at the university level. Japan only boasts of human resources and today she sits on lap of technology and science and getting the necessary economic rewards. Let us not be carried away by the number of universities in the country but should be more enamored with funding so that in deed and in truth, our universities should be centres of quality learning and research.
Julius Oweh, a journalist, Asaba, Delta State.