New Varsities: Mixed reactions over embargo call

Gabriel Dike and Fred Ezeh, Abuja

The recent call by the Registrar, Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB), Prof Is-haq Oloyede on the Federal Government to embargo establishment of new universities is generating ripples among stakeholders including students.

On Monday, April 15, the National Universities Commission (NUC), apex universities’ regulatory body held an empowerment meeting with proprietors of private universities in Nigeria. The meeting, which theme was, “Private university education delivery in Nigeria; Challenges and opportunities” was an opportunity for NUC, private university proprietors and other stakeholders to discuss issues that affect the education sector and service delivery.

Proprietors alongside their vice chancellors from across 79 private universities and other stakeholders participated in the summit held at NUC headquarters in Abuja.

Prof Oloyede, in his remarks did not hide his feelings and concerns about the activities of private universities in Nigeria. He came down hard on the proprietors, who he accused of not only aiding academic corruption and decadence in Nigerian, but also violating laws of university operation, particularly in areas of admissions and other academic works.

Oloyede also said that actions of some of the private universities, most often, make government regret ever opening the space for private operators.

“Government opened up the space few years ago for private operators to come complement efforts of government in providing university education to Nigerians, but it seems the aim is gradually being defeated.

“When you visit some of these universities, you will be ashamed. From the structures, you will know that something is wrong. If you take a deeper look, you will also discover more decadence and rot in their operations. Some of the proprietors run the universities like a family business and it ought not to be so.”

At the meeting, the NUC Executive Secretary, Prof. Abubakar Rasheed, revealed that there were over 300 applications from individuals, corporate organisations and faith-based organisations for establishment private universities.

As at June 25, 2019, there were 170 universities, made up of 43 federal universities, 48 state universities and 79 private universities. In 2015, 1,644,072 candidates applied for admissions, 2016, 1, 764,859 wrote UTME, 2017, 1,882, 559 sought for university admissions, 2018, 1, 793, 081 applied and in 2019, 1,989,682 candidates sat for the UTME.

The comment from JAMB registrar triggered murmuring and anger among the private universities proprietors. They were obviously unhappy with the position of Oloyede, but were forced to suppress their anger for undisclosed reasons. Some of them were said to have approached him privately to register their displeasure with the accusation.

Few weeks ago, Prof. Oloyede, was a guest at the fourth convocation lecture of Federal University, Dutse, Jigawa State. He used the opportunity to formally make a case against establishment of new universities in Nigeria pending when the existing ones receive adequate attention.

The JAMB boss suggested that the fund for the new tertiary institutions should be used to provide infrastructures, trained manpower, and strengthen the capacity of the existing institutions for improved performance and impact. He based his suggestion on the 2017 presidential retreat on education which recommended state of emergency in education sector, and advocated increased funding by at least 15 percent of annual budget or above to education sector.

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“A situation where universities are established to massage the ego of rich individuals and politicians is not healthy for educational development of Nigeria. Tertiary institutions are too crucial and precious to be reduced to commercial outfit or ego tripping venture.”

Oloyede’s statement has triggered mixed reactions.

Founder, Gregory University, Uturu, Abia State, Dr. Gregory Ibeh, rejected the position of the JAMB registrar, which he described as his personal opinion and not that of a generality of Nigerian.

“It could also be because he enjoys the seal and protection of government. He is aware of the stringent laws and guidelines for establishment of a university in Nigeria, in addition to strict operational instructions from the regulating body.

“It was easier for him to speak against private universities because he is on the other side. I am sure that if the table should turn, he will gladly join the services of private universities. I also know that if you give him the opportunity to own and run a private university, he will not hesitate to do that.
“For the records, he is not the head of NUC that regulates the activities of private universities, neither is he Nigeria’s president that has the power to close the door against establishment of private universities.
“He insulted our sensibility at the meeting we had with NUC in April, in Abuja. He made several unsubstantiated allegations against private universities. We were not happy but we had to swallow it for some reasons. But he has to stop that. He should guide his utterances and sentiment.”

He cautioned against such statements and actions that could worsen the state of education in Nigeria.

President of the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics, (ASUP), Usman Dutse pledged to join Oloyede in the campaign for an embargo on establishment of more tertiary institutions, given the obvious fact that existing ones are crying for attention.

“We took this position long ago. We had advised government several times to check the case of proliferation of universities. We asked that they concentrate on the existing ones, invest more resources to get the desired result.

“When we made the call, many argued that millions of students may be denied admission opportunity. But that is not true. If the existing universities are taken care of, they would have the capacity to accommodate more students and also give them quality education they need for global relevance, and not what we currently have in Nigeria today.

“Shamefully, the annual budgetary allocation to education has continued to drop. We have less than 10 percent this year, which is far below UNESCO recommendation, yet we are establishing new tertiary institutions. That could lead to crisis.”

Former Minister of Education, Chinwe Obaji also backed the JAMB registrar. She said facts have repeatedly confirmed that some of the newly established universities lack quality manpower, students and facilities that qualifies them as a university.

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She suggested that some of the institutions be merged with campuses at different locations to provide quality education to thousands of students using the available facilities and manpower.

Mr. Adewale Nurudeen, an educationist and proprietor of Smart Brain Academy, Surulere, however, faulted the position of Oloyede and urged the government to disregard his suggestion and approve more universities.

Nurudeen asked the JAMB Registrar what becomes of millions of secondary schools students after completing their secondary education and those who are unable to get admission in the previous years.

‘’Nigeria with a large population of youth requires more universities, so I don’t know why Oloyede is making such suggestion.’’

Mrs. Rosemary Nwachukwu, who has three children in secondary school advised government and the NUC to ignore Prof. Oloyede’s suggestion and establish more public universities to cater for the numerous candidates.

A staff of an oil firm in Lagos, she said Nigeria is big enough to have many universities to address the access problem and that the only area she agreed with the JAMB boss is high tuition fees in private universities and that many of such institutions were set up to massage the ego of the proprietors.

Co-founder, Michael and Cecelia Ibru University, Cecelia Ibru, also disagreed with the suggestion of the JAMB registrar.

‘’We need more universities to complement the efforts of existing others. By our population, we ought to have more universities than what we currently have.

“United States has over a thousand universities. Malaysia that is smaller than Nigeria in size and number has over 90 universities.”

She added: “The reasons for our poor performance is that employable persons are not properly positioned because they lack education. Many others are being wasted because of ignorance. If we can tackle the ignorance by providing education opportunity for our huge population, then we would begin the process of transformation and national development.”

President, National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), Danielson Akpan, said the reason for the proliferation of universities seems to have been defeated because of the inability of new universities to meet the desired needs of Nigerians, particularly in area of quality manpower.

He, however, cautioned against hasty action on the suggestion of Prof. Oloyede, expressing concerns that millions of Nigerians that seek admission into tertiary institutions could be badly affected.
Proprietor of Royal Academy, Ibadan, Chief Laide Oluwaseun, said statistics from JAMB indicated that every year, the number of candidates seeking university admissions is on the increase and the few universities cannot absorb them.

‘’If we have thousands of candidates every year chasing few available admission space in the university, then it is imperative for government to increase access by licensing more universities. Look at the number of final year students that write the May/June WASSCE, government and NUC should over look Oloyede’s comment.

‘’As long as we have numerous applicants seeking admission into the university and at the end of every admission exercise, only about 10 to 15 per cent are admitted, what happens to the remaining millions of candidates. Government must find space for them. We need more universities to absorb the many candidates produced by secondary schools.’’

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In his contribution, the Vice Chancellor, Christopher University, Mowe, Ogun State, Prof. Friday Ndubuisi, acknowledged that private universities have reduced pressure on public universities and have helped admission seekers and education-conscious Nigerians.

He observed that but the economic situation in the country has made it difficult for a lot of applicants that want to gain from it.

“This has resulted in many private universities not being able to fill their quota. To this extent, it might be wise to put a temporary stop on new ones.
‘’In a country where you have about 1.7 million candidates sitting for UTME every year, it is not true to say we have too many universities. Thousand of Nigerians are in universities of low quality in our neighbouring countries for reasons best known to them. And really, what government should do is to work out modality for education banks that will assist indigent students that really have need for university education.

‘’With such in place, the resources and infrastructural facilities invested in private universities will be adequately made use of. The advent of private universities in our educational system removed a lot of responsibility from the shoulder of the governments both at the state and federal levels.
‘’It does behoove on the government to put in place measures that will enhance their stability and position to serve the country better. The state governments can establish universities if they have special needs for such. But ironically, most states establish universities for political reasons not in response to needs.’’

He is of the view that with adequate assistance, admission seekers could access the opportunities in the private universities, thus reducing the degree of frustration prevalent among admission seekers.
President General of Unity School Old Students Association (USOSA), Mr. Lawrence Wilbert, described Oloyede’s comment as controversial.

He said Oloyede, as the JAMB boss has the figures and performance of candidates and that his position may be to filter the quality of candidates admitted into the universities, stating the  ‘’from this angle I support his call for government to place embargo on establishment of new universities.’’

He admitted that there are millions of candidates seeking admission into the universities but stressed that many parents send their wards abroad, noting ‘’we losing foreign currency to the other countries. We should reversal the trend and retain the foreign currency.’’

Evolution of University

Giving account of the evolution of university education in Nigeria, former Executive Secretary of National Universities Commission (NUC), Prof. Peter Okebukola, said the Ashby Commission Report in 1959 marked an important landmark in the growth and development of tertiary education.




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