Federal Government’s decision to establish six new universities in the country’s six geo-political zones, as justifiable as it might sound on paper, may not have gone down well with some stakeholders in the nation’s education sector, particularly those in the university system.
For those who oppose the decision, it really sounds absurd and defies common sense that a government that has not taken care of or improved the status of existing universities will now go ahead to float new ones just to satisfy some political interests.
The sorry state of our universities, especially the federal and state government-owned ones is so obvious and glaring that any right thinking Nigerian should not think of establishing new ones, rather should concentrate on how to better the standard of the existing ones which are in pathetic state.
Government’s resolve in this direction is not in consonance with the prevailing situation in most Nigerian universities. Our universities are really in a very sorry state. Perhaps, that accounts for the reason why most rich Nigerians now send their children and wards to other universities in other African countries such as Ghana, South Africa, just to name a few.
Infact, the number of Nigerian students studying in other parts of the world coupled with those in African countries have conservatively hit over 10 million students.
If our universities rank among the best in the comity of universities in the world, there will be no such flooding of our people to other universities around the globe.
It therefore behoves the authorities to check the trend before we wake up someday to discover that our Universities are just empty with only lecturers, but no students to teach. The only way out remains that we must equip the old universities and think less of building new ones for now.
Our university system needs thorough overhaul and adequate funding to be at par with other universities in the world. Though with a large population, Nigeria does not require more than 100 universities to have a breakthrough in science and technology or in any other discipline for that matter.
By the last count, we hear the country boasts of over 200 universities (public and privately owned ones inclusive), yet, we tend to be retrogressing everyday while we watch countries like Ghana, South Africa and other African countries advance to the next level in their education system.
What is required, for a turn-around, one may ask? The problems are, indeed, legion. For one, the budgetary allocation to the education sector, precisely the university system is grossly inadequate and infact below internationally acceptable standard. Thus, except there is radical appreciation in sectoral allocation to the sector, the pathetic situation of our universities will remain the same for a long time to come.
Worse still, is the policies sommersault in the sector. Though, a Nigerian problem, but education appears to be worst hit in terms of policy inconsistency leading to hazard implementation of policies and programmes.
It is on record that the Federal Ministry of Education has had over 15 ministers of education in the past decade, a development which stakeholders not only decry but describe as worrisome and unacceptable in a civilised world.
Perhaps, due to the frequent change of baton in the Ministry with its attendant policy sommersaults, industrial disputes often leading to strikes have remained the hallmark of our university system. This, obviously, has become the biggest threat to the development and advancement of education to the next level.
Funds, indeed ,lack of it in the university system also constitutes a cog in the wheel of progress. Research grants are not released as at when due, facilities are in dilapidating conditions, dearth of equiptment in the laboratories, outdated books in the libraries, infrastructural decay of the entire system, all characterise Nigerian university system.
A situation where a councillor in a local government council with a pass in West African School Certificate (WASC) earns much more than a professor with over 30 years in the university system is just pathetic and does not motivate men in the ivory tower to put in their best.
Considering all these hic-cups in the old and existing universities, it, therefore, makes no sense for establishing new ones which by all calculations is done to score cheap political points.
The magnitude of ‘wahala’ that has undermined and continues to hinder quality education is such that our policy makers and leaders should rather concentrate on how best to upgrade the old universities by sufficiently funding and equipping them. Consolidation principle should apply. The answer obviously is not to float new ones.
The hollow argument put forward by the authorities to justify the new universities is so flimsy and laughable.
Education Minister, Ruqayyatu Rufai in her desperate bid to justify the new universities said the move was to ease off the high demand for limited places (spaces) at the undergraduate level in the universities.
According to her, 84 per cent of eligible undergraduate applicants are rejected by the universities because the existing universities can not exceed their capacity.
The Minister, perhaps, may have forgotten that the facilities in the old universities can be expanded to accommodate more students and enhance learning, teaching and research rather than build brand new ones on virgin environment.
The financial outlay for one new university, not to talk of six, is enough to provide facilities and infrastructure that will accommodate thousands of eligible candidates seeking university admission.
Did the Minister really consider the financial implications of the new universities from take-off till they stablise? The minister ought to reflect on this before justifying the reason for establishing new universities.
Methinks that her argument sounds illogical and unjustifiable, especially against the background that our universities are at the crossroads and at the brink of collapse.
Rufai’s predecessors in the Ministry had adopted so much cost-saving strategies in our university system, yet no tangible results were achieved. So, if she now tells Nigerians that the new universities will be cost-effective in terms of project and programmes implementation, she is only stating the obvious which is no longer news to most observers and stakeholdes in the university system.