The Federal Government approved 20 new private universities last week. When it was reported that 14 of those universities were in the North and one of them in my hometown of Bida, I realized that day was the best day of 2021 and the best news of 2021 so far.
And I’ve now discovered three new heroes who number among the founders of the new universities. I will tell you more about them shortly.
I was overjoyed, so I shared the sentiment in a social media post. Surprisingly, not many shared my enthusiasm. Indeed, only 35 people liked the post and only seven followers shared it on Facebook. Also, only five readers bothered to comment – mostly with lukewarm phrases like “good news indeed.” That is a miserable haul for anyone used to hundreds of engagements.
But this is great news. Why can’t people see that?
I soon found my answer when ASUU members started commenting in the Prof. Brainy WhatsApp group.
Abdullahi Kawu said:
“The ASUU in me cringes. So, without holding brief for ASUU, the problem they fear is akin to what has now played out in the secondary schools. With the proliferation of more universities, standards could be compromised in many situations, such that we have miracle universities too among them. Also, there is the concern for indigent students, who may not be able to afford it after all.”
So they are worried that since private primary and secondary schools killed the public schools, private universities would kill public universities which would make university education unaffordable for the poor man.
There is a lot to unpack from this assumption. But first, private primary and secondary schools didn’t kill public schools. The government killed government schools.
It is my opinion – and this I say advisedly – that the private schools actually saved our education. And now that we have many of them, they are affordable even to the poor. I see the same future at the tertiary level. Already, two private universities in the north are almost as affordable as the public ones.
To continue to attribute the failure of schools to the private sector means that we can blame the private sector for the failure of every government institution. But there are government institutions that do not have any private sector equivalents. Can we blame the decades-old failure of our rail system on the private sector? No, because there’s no private rail. What about our poor road network? Is that also due to competition from private roads?
I believe that even if there were no private schools in the country, the public schools would still be as bad. Therefore, this is benefit number one: the new private universities will make education affordable to the poor.
Two, the fact that some of the founders of these new universities are relatively young gives the youth hope and inspiration that they can do it too.
Professor Adamu Abubakar-Gwarzo, the founder of the Maryam Abacha American University of Nigeria, is only 43 years old. The university is an expansion of the Maryam Abacha American University of Niger which is the first English University in the Niger Republic founded in 2012.
Al Istiqama University Kano, was founded by the youthful Hon. Suleiman Abdulrahman Kawu Sumaila, a former Deputy Minority Leader of the House of Representatives. He represented Takai Sumaila Federal Constituency from Kano. He also served as Senior Special Assistant to President Buhari on National Assembly Matters (House of Reps). As a political leader, this is a huge legacy he is going to leave behind for his people.
The Edusoko University in Bida is owned by Malam Aliyu Ndagi. The 56 years old oil and gas businessman and farmer conceived the idea in 2009.
Now, the university sits on 220 hectares of land. While 100 hectares are for the university, 120 hectares are for commercial agriculture to sustain the university – which is a neat arrangement. Malam Ndagi also counts as the first person to found a private university in the entire Nupe speaking zone of Niger State.
“My dream is to reduce unemployment,” Ndagi said, “by offering quality and affordable education to our people.”
Three, universities make cities great. “Big, high-quality research universities have been essential for creating technology clusters in Austin, Raleigh, and San Diego,” wrote Noah Smith for Bloomberg. “But even small colleges in rural areas can have big benefits for the surrounding area.”
This is true. I remember that one of the universities I attended in Malaysia caused the city around it. The story is the same here in Nigeria. In Minna, the Federal University of Technology has turned Gidan Kwano village into a city.
Four, universities increase wages, productivity, and educated workforce.
“At first glance, evidence would seem to bear this out,” Smith wrote. “Economist Enrico Moretti has found that an increase in the supply of college graduates in an area results in higher wages for workers of all education levels. Other studies generally conclude that a more educated populace leads to higher productivity. Moretti finds that places where the U.S. government gave land grants for colleges over a century ago have more educated workforces to this day.”
What this means is that because of the presence of these new universities, the host communities would benefit from a better-educated workforce overall.
Five, we don’t have enough universities in Nigeria. The US News says “the U.S. Department of Education lists more than 4,000 degree-granting academic institutions.”
In Nigeria however, we have 99 private universities if we count the 20 new ones.
Therefore, I agree with Professor Nasiru Medugu Idris who said that we need more universities. “In developed countries, there are so many universities to accommodate many students after graduating from secondary schools and in Nigeria, it is not,” he told Daily Trust.
“In Abuja for example there is only one public university and few privates, we are supposed to have 40 universities within the federal capital,” he said.
In sum, let’s not turn our backs on the universities. We need them; and they benefit all concerned through creating more jobs, energizing our economy, and inspiring more entrepreneurs.