The demand of Professor Ishaq Oloyede, Registrar of the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB), that the Federal Government place an embargo on the licensing of new universities in Nigeria does not seem to us as right.
Speaking during the fourth convocation lecture of the Federal University, Dutse, in Jigawa State, Professor Oloyede argued that “universities should not be established just to boost the ego of rich individuals and politicians” because it was not conducive to the development of an effective tertiary education system. He advised that Nigerians actively support the strengthening of the education sector and advocated the allocation of at least 15 per cent of the national budget to education.
As an ex-Vice Chancellor of the University of Ilorin and current JAMB registrar, Professor Oloyede is well placed to perceive many of the faults and shortcomings of Nigeria’s university system, especially the precipitous decline in standards of teaching and research. And with its 43 federal universities, 48 state-owned universities and 79 private universities, it does seem that Nigeria has more than enough universities to satisfy the needs of its citizens.
It is, however, incorrect to mistake number for adequacy. The 170 universities that we have may sound like an impressive statistic, but it actually conceals several important facts, many of which undercut Oloyede’s contentions.
The first of these has to do with the so-called crisis of access facing the country. In spite of their growing numbers, Nigeria’s universities simply cannot cope with the flood of candidates seeking admission. In 2017 and 2018, 1,736,571 and 1,662,762 candidates, respectively, registered for JAMB’s Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME). When these figures are set against the estimated 600,000 spaces which constitute the combined annual admission capacity of universities, it can be seen that a lot of candidates fail to obtain admission into tertiary educational institutions every year. Of course we know that not all these candidates had the minimum admission requirement of five credits, including English Language and Mathematics as at the time of sitting for the UTME, the number cannot be as huge as to come so low to 600,000 available spaces.
The second issue has to do with the notion that reduced numbers are synonymous with increased quality. Professor Oloyede clearly believes that placing an embargo on the continued establishment of universities is very likely to result in stronger institutions that are better focused on their core competencies.
In actual fact, the efficiency of any university depends on the quality of supervision of regulatory bodies like the National Universities Commission (NUC), whose oversight process is often riddled with anomalies. Universities repeatedly fail to measure up to their own mission statements and are let off without sanction. Schools routinely import mercenary lecturers to meet staffing quotas during accreditation and go unpunished. New departments are set up without meeting the minimum requirements of NUC resource verification teams and nothing happens to the institutions concerned.
The failure of regulation is one of the most important reasons for the steep drop in the quality of Nigeria’s universities. The overall number of schools is of less relevance than their adequate regulation; when universities are properly supervised, standards will be maintained, regardless of how many or how few they are.
Several countries with effective tertiary education systems are known to have many universities relative to their overall populations. They include the United States (5,758 universities); Japan (1,223); and France (1,062). These are all nations which understand that increased numbers are not necessarily indicative of low quality or poor performance.
It may indeed be true that many of the new universities arguably serve to boost the outsized egos of the prominent individuals who are their promoters, but this alone cannot be sufficient reason to deny licenses to institutions that have met the very detailed conditions required to set up a university in Nigeria. The Education (National Minimum Standards and Establishment of Institutions) Amendment Decree No. 9 of 1993 sets out guidelines that are so expensively exhaustive that only the most committed proprietor would even contemplate them.
Nigeria needs more universities. They are vital to ensuring that more candidates are able to acquire a university education. They are crucial to providing the human resources the country so desperately needs. Their overall number cannot be an inherent liability if laid-down regulatory and procedures are strictly adhered to.
Culled From Thenation Newspaper