The approval of 20 new private universities recently by the federal government, has generated divergent reactions from stakeholders and members of the public. While some blame the federal government for entrenching mediocrity in the system, others hail the exercise as a measure to close the gap neglected by government.
For a nation with over 65 per cent young population, one of the greatest challenges confronting the country is providing quality education to her teeming youths. At every level of learning, from primary to tertiary, there are hurdles before Nigeria can meet the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4, which entails inclusive and equitable quality education, and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all by 2030.
Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu
Available data shows that between 2010 and 2015, only 26 per cent of the 10 million applicants to Nigerian tertiary institutions gained admission. At least, one million students seeking admission through the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB), every year have failed to get slots, as the system cannot admit more than 600,000 in any given year. For 2016, a total of 1,589,175 registered, just as 1,736,571; 1,662,762; 1, 816, 254; and 1, 900,000 registered in 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020 respectively. This means that in the last five years, over one million applicants per year failed to gain admission into tertiary institutions.
The number of universities, including private and publicly owned is 171. While federal universities are 44, states have 48 and privately owned are 99. When compared with countries like India’s 4,354, United States 3,228, China’s 2,596, Indonesia’s 2,304 and Brazil’s 1, 335; analysts emphasise that the number of universities in the country, compared to its population, is grossly inadequate.
However, the new move by the federal government to create additional 20 private universities, which was announced last Wednesday, has generated mixed reactions from stakeholders. The Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, who made the announcement, said nine of the universities are located in North Central, three in South-South, two in South east, five in the North west and one in South west.
Former Rector of the Institute of Management and Technology (IMT), Enugu, Prof Mike Iloeje has blamed the continued shift in the management of university education by the federal government to private hands, saying the trend had continued to affect quality, competition, research and output in the educational sector. Iloeje stated that government, having realised its inability to meet citizens’ demand for access to university education, coupled with its unwillingness to increase funding of public universities; had resorted to passing the buck to the private sector.
“This development has therefore resulted in a roaring increase in the number of private universities, from only two in 1999 to 75 in 2019; and 99 as of February 2021.” Iloeje argued that an immediate result of the proliferation is low quality. To start with, he noted that these universities are poorly staffed and poorly equipped.
He said, ”Facilities are grossly inadequate; basic equipment, laboratory and library facilities are lacking. Their graduates are poorly trained. Their skills-base is shallow, pathetic and inadequate to meet demands of the technologically driven labour market. In the various fields of engineering, science and technology, these graduates are found critically unsuitable to be utilised immediately upon graduation. Many of them have to undergo further tutelage and training, for up to one additional year, before their employers can utilise them in their laboratories and on factory floors.
“Regrettably, available evidence confirms the fact that public universities have increased more quickly than the Nigerian economy can carry. Despite this scenario, some still advocate establishment of more institutions, when it is clear that government lacks the capacity to properly fund them.”
Taking an holistic review on how the National University Commission’s (NUC) licensed universities have increased in number, their enrollments, academic staff and funding, the erstwhile rector said the pitiable downside is that the increase in the number of universities and in student enrollment have not been matched with commensurate funding.
He said that the proliferation of private universities has increased competition for space in public universities, as according to him, the NUC data of July 10, 2018, indicated that of the total students’ population of two million; undergraduate enrollment was 1.7 million and postgraduate was 300, 000, adding that out of the figure, 62 per cent were enrolled in federal universities, 33 per cent in states and five per cent in private universities.
“These numbers show the obviously low absorptive capacity of Nigerian universities and also the inadequacy in the educational preparedness of prospective applicants,” he argued.
Dr Gbenga Jegede of Ekiti State University (EKSU) said the most important issue is the question of quality, sustainability and funding. He reminded that quality couldn’t be compromised because if the standard of the universities are low, it would affect the quality of graduates produced, and ultimately affect the economy of the country.”
On the other hand, Wole Balogun, a lecturer at the Federal University Oye Ekiti (FUOYE), said the approval of 20 new universities at this time came as a shock to many.
“This is because this is the same government that has been giving excuses for not being able to properly fund existing public universities. So, one wonders why the same government would approve the establishment of new universities?
While there is a huge market for university education in Nigeria as evidenced in the skyrocketing number of candidates who applied to study in tertiary institutions annually, Balogun lamented that poor management of entrepreneurship potentials of public universities by the Federal Government has been the only clog in the wheel of progress.
He appealed to the government to ensure that it does not just set up the universities, but also provide funds to revitalise them.
Another lecturer, who preferred anonymity said the approval of 20 new private universities, is a step in the right direction. He said the existence of these institutions would create both admission opportunities for students and employment opportunities for others. “I will advise government to support these institutions by giving them both financial and moral support. Government can also help by regulating policy decisions as most of them are only thinking about profit instead of quality services.
Dr Sola Balogun of the Department of Theatre Arts, FUOYE, was of the view that the approval of 20 private universities at this time is a pointer to the inconsistency on the part of the Federal Government as far as tertiary education is concerned in Nigeria. “The same government is yet to fulfill its promises to ASUU the umbrella association of lecturers in public institutions, who are still being owed arrears of their salaries while the issue of Earned Academic Allowance (EAA) is yet to be resolved. This shows  that federal hovernment is trying to kill public universities so that the newly established private ones can thrive. Unfortunately, those who would be at the receiving end are Nigerian masses and their wards who may not be able to afford fees being charged by the private universities.
Former Deputy Vice Chancellor (Academics), Bayero University, Kano, (BUK), Prof. Idris Adamu Tanko advocated strict adherence to minimum academic standard in running the newly licensed private universities. Although, the Professor of Geography was not against proliferation of private universities, citing increasing demand for admission and limited carrying capacity of public universities, he stressed the need for regulators to ensure availability of human and material resources at the new institutions before final take-off.
Prof Tanko noted that both existing public and private universities in the country are in dire need of structural upgrade, reevaluation of curriculum and retraining of academic staff to meet modern trends. Asked whether consideration should be placed on more universities or producing technically useful graduates, Tanko reminded that universities are expected to produce technically useful graduates at all times, adding that what is most essential is to see that universities have adequate provision for human and material resources that can adequately meet the aspirations of providing the technical skills and know-how.
“These are obviously not adequate. Indeed that’s always why trade unions in universities are at loggerheads with governments. Surely all our universities are lagging behind in terms of manpower, enrolments and infrastructure; the older institutions have crisis of outdated and archaic resources, members of staff are not adequately trained to meet contemporary global and local challenges.  “Considering the size of our population and available spaces Tanko said “the country obviously needs more universities.”
A former Head of Department of Mathematics, University of Ibadan (UI) Prof. Ezekiel Olusola Ayoola, accused government of playing politics by licensing more private universities when existing ones are not well funded. Ayoola said government has failed to realise that university education anywhere in the world, is a capital-intensive project, which must involve massive infusion of both material and human capital for positive results. He noted that existing private universities are still struggling to attract students, as prospective students and parents still prefer old generation public schools. He believed that government ought to develop existing public institutions so as to attract foreign students.
On her part, Prof. Victoria Adetunji of University of Ibadan stated that the demand for university education is very high, so the call for more universities is justifiable. She however cautioned that the universities should be well equipped to produce technically sound and worthy graduates.
Public affairs analyst and ace-broadcaster, Mr. Tony Abolo said the establishment of new universities across the country would throw up competition in terms of tuition and pricing for intakes. Abolo said the era of private universities charging exorbitant tuition may soon be history with the establishment of new universities.
He noted that government should as a matter of policy ensure that most of the private universities focus on specialisation to rejig the country’s education system like in the United States, where different universities are known for their flagship programmes either for Bachelor, Masters, Doctorate and Post-doctoral programmes.
Abolo added that world-class universities have done excellently in various specialisations for which it is popularly known. He said same is expected of private universities as the number increases, calling on stakeholders particularly the town and gown to break new grounds.
Also, state coordinator of National Council of Muslim Youth Organisations (NACOMYO) Edo state, Ibrahim Momoh, has stated that additional private universities in the country will put an end to struggle for admission by Nigerians seeking higher education in existing tertiary institutions. Momoh said with a population of about 206 million citizens, the total number of existing tertiary institutions is grossly inadequate. “For starters, only a fraction of applicants for the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examinations (UTME) get admitted due to what can be characterised as arbitrary cut-off marks, which are set to ensure that a school does not exceed the number of students it is permitted to admit,” Momoh added.
Professor of Environmental Sustainability and Deputy Vice Chancellor, Academic, Research, Innovations and Partnerships (ARIP), Osun State University, Prof. Anthony Kola-Olusanya, said despite the development, the country does not have enough private universities. He said for a nation with over 200 million citizens, with 60 per cent of the population as youths, more universities are required. “For instance, last year, we had one million and nine hundred (1.9M) candidates applying for university entrance. When you look at the number of matriculated candidates, the country’s universities will only accommodate about 500-600 candidates into the first year of study. This will translate to about 30 per cent of the candidates due to space constraints in the universities.
The deputy vice chancellor disagreed with the notion that most of the existing private universities lack the needed manpower and infrastructure and cannot even meet their quota in terms of enrollment. He said it is always typical for universities to start small and grow gradually over time, and as they grow, infrastructure is developed and put in place.
Dean, Faculty of Education, Lagos State University (LASU), Prof. Tunde Owolabi, said looking at the teeming youths who are desirous of university education, the country needed to provide access by establishing more universities.
He however agreed that the existing universities are struggling to meet their quota in terms of enrollment but not necessarily in terms of quality. Owolabi said no university is established without resource verification and later accreditation of programme. He argued that the performance of a university depends to a large extent on the quality of governance, which are beyond the dictates of government. The dean said, that a university has not met its vision should not deter others from coming on board at any time.
A faculty officer, Vocational and Technical education, Adeyemi College of Education, Balogun Ajibola, said where government failed to meet the educational need of youth by providing more universities, the private sector is bridging the gap.
He said the development showed how government has put its responsibility in the hands of private universities by refusing to give free or subsidised education to citizens.
He said: “It is not about having more universities. In recent years, many students have voiced their opinion on whether or not university has actually prepared them for the workplace, or the real world in general.  In fact, few respondents 13 per cent in a recent research, felt university has prepared them with the job function specific skills they need for the workplace.”
Ajibola said most of the existing private universities lack the needed manpower and infrastructure and cannot even meet their quota in terms of enrollment. As a result, he cautioned against approval of new private universities to allow older ones to mature. He urged the federal government to come up with modalities for assessing private universities for performance and quality.

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