• Criticisms trail Establishment of 3 new Universities In Nigeria

    LAST week’s approval by the Federal Executive Council (FEC) of the establishment of three more federal universities to be sited in Yobe, Kebbi and Zamfara states, has expectedly sparked off a debate that is likely to get more intense in the coming days.

    The Federal Government already had 40 largely underfunded universities across the country, nine of which were established only in 2011. The sum of N1.5 billion was approved as take-off grant for each of the nine, believed to have been taken from the already over-burdened Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund), but considered insufficient by tertiary education experts.

    Education Minister, Prof Ruqayyatu Rufai, who unsurprisingly justified the decision, claimed at a briefing in Abuja recently, that eight out of the nine federal universities had taken off, except the one in Bayelsa state, which, she assured, would take off next month.

    And in also justifying the federal government’s decision to set up the nine universities in 2011, Rufai had argued that it was informed “by the imperative of improving access to university education, in view of the large number of qualified candidates who are continually denied admission.” Besides, she had argued that the action “would go a long way in addressing the principle of equity in the distribution of federal universities.”

    Ironically, the same Rufai had presented the report of the Committee on Needs Assessment of Nigerian Public Universities to the National Economic Council on November 1, last year. In a no-holds-barred fashion, Rufai had reeled off depressing statistics of how badly hurt federal universities were at the moment, the extent of the damages caused by years of neglect and what needs to be done to fix the problems. The report had, among other things, revealed that federal universities were grossly understaffed, lacked suitable science laboratories for academic work and research; had deteriorating infrastructure across the board, with low access to modern information technology dynamics.

    Although, some state governors and senior state officials were rumoured to have shed tears at the briefing, as they absorbed the graphic description of the decay in federal universities, nothing has been done so far on the recommendations proposed by the committee.

    While the Minister was right about the high number of candidates who are denied admission to the universities yearly, opinions are divided on the right approach to widening access. While some academics advocate more resources for the existing federal universities to enable them admit more students, the federal government prefers setting up new ones, inspite of the huge expenses associated with the option.

    However, the immediate past Vice- Chancellor of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Osun State, Prof. Michael Faborode has picked holes in government’s decision. To him, establishing three new federal universities was ill-timed and could create more problems.  The Secretary-General of the Association of Vice Chancellors of Nigerian Universities (AVCNU) was of the view that in taking the decision, the federal government had shown that it lacked strategic thinking on how to set up universities.

    While Faborode is not against the idea of establishing more universities, he insisted on proper, strategic planning. He also asserted that the admission quota of existing universities ought to be expanded for a period of time to enable them train more staff.

    His words: “For instance, ask the six first generation universities to take additional 2,000 students per session for the next five years; ask the second generation universities to take more 1,000 students per session for the next five years.

    “You can be sure that if the six first generation universities and about the 12 second generation universities do that, you are going to have at least 24,000 new places for admission, in comparison to the 2,700 that the new nine federal universities have been able to add to the list.”

    He continued: “We are yet to recover from the deficit of academic staff; technical staff and other categories of staff for the nine universities and now we have added three more. I thought the logical thing to do would have been, okay, we want to solve the problem of access, why don’t we just provide more funds for the older universities to expand their intakes.

    “The three new universities are not going to add anything more than 1,500 intakes. So I really don’t feel that we are taking the right steps on this matter. What we are suggesting is that, while the older universities should be empowered to take in more candidates, they should be encouraged to create more spaces in the postgraduate colleges to produce more doctorate degree (PhD) holders, so that over the next three to five years, we are able to produce more teachers who would be available for the universities.

    “We should also allow the polytechnics to produce more of the technologists who will come on board so that we will be seen to be taking the logical steps, not to create additional problems for the system. You have some lecturers who are teachers in about three-to five places at the same time. That is not the right way to utilize the workforce because they would have no time for research, no time for digging deep with students and you begin to churn out graduates that are ill or half backed.”

    A retired Director of the Federal Inspectorate Service of the Federal Ministry of Education, Mr. Denis Okoro said: “Given the distressful report of the Needs Assessment Committee set up by the Federal Ministry of Education that visited 27 Federal Universities and 34 state-owned universities, it is inappropriate to establish any more universities now.

    “I have no doubt that if the three states concerned were consulted ab initio, they would have preferred other options. It is pertinent to note here that, when compared with the rest of the country, the enrolment numbers at the basic and senior secondary education levels of these three states are in a pretty bad shape.  The participation and enrolment ratios of primary and secondary age children are very low, especially among girls in the states.

    “One would have suggested that the Federal Government should intervene massively to raise not just enrolment but the quality of basic and secondary education in Kebbi, Zamfara and Yobe states. This will benefit a large majority of children and not building new universities that only a few can access. It is where the foundation level of education is guaranteed that university education makes sense.”

    Okoro also wondered whether President Goodluck Jonathan actually went through the Needs Assessment report before approving the three new universities. “If the answer is yes,” he observed, “why is the idea of setting up three new universities considered a priority issue over the commitment to find immediate solutions to the distress calls emanating from the public university system? Where will the staff of the three new universities come from?”

    Source: The Guardian NewsPaper

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