Experts and stakeholders have expressed concern over quality after the National Universities Commission (NUC) disclosed yesterday that it is currently processing 303 applications for the establishment of more private universities in the country.
The Executive Secretary of NUC Prof Abubakar Rasheed, speaking at a two day National Summit on Private Universities, said the applications were received from group of individuals, corporate and faith-based organizations across the country.
He said the summit with the theme “Private University Education Delivery in Nigeria: Challenges and Opportunities” was aimed at supporting Nigerian government’s effort at developing the higher education sub-sector “to enable it compete effectively and be relevant in an increasingly knowledge-driven economy”.
According to him, the commission is working with the National Assembly to review the guidelines for the establishment of private varsities, noting that it is no longer realistic to say a university must be built on a 100 hectare land.
He, however, expressed dissatisfaction on inflation of unhealthy parallel grades by private varsities, saying, in spite of the challenges they have done well in assisting government in providing university education.
The NUC boss said the Nigerian university system has risen through the application of private resources, from 30 universities in 1996 to 170 universities in 2019. He said out of the number, 79 were private with 38, representing 48.11 per cent owned by faith-based organisations.
He said 41 universities, representing 51.89 per cent were owned by corporate bodies, foundations or individuals.
He noted that although there were many private universities in the country, most of them were still unable to fulfil their admission quotas as they admitted barely 6 per cent of the total university admissions in the country per session.
He urged the institutions to adhere to admission requirements and address the issue of their inability to fill the admission quota allocated to them, noting that at the centre of the crisis was the relatively higher fees that they charge.
He also tasked them on adherence to extant guidelines and regulations of the NUC, good university governance as well as adequate and sustainable funding.
Private varsities complicating matters – JAMB
Speaking at the event, the Registrar of Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB), Prof. Ishaq Oloyede, said some private universities have fallen short of expectation.
“We complained about our public institutions that they have challenges, we thought private institutions will come through to help, we must tell ourselves the truth, they have come to complicate matters rather than eliminate those challenges we have with public institutions,” he said.
He said inasmuch as there are first class private universities, many have brought corruption tendency into private universities system, urging them to look beyond profit making as they cannot depend on the university until it grows.
The Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, represented by the Permanent Secretary Arc Sonny Echono, said private varsities are faced with numerous challenges of inadequate funding, proprietor influence, staffing, and students’ admission quota, among others.
He said there is need to do more to attract best brain in the world to come and teach in Nigerian varsities as well as foreign students as well.
The Founder of Pamo University of Medical sciences, Port Harcourt, Peter Odili who spoke on behalf of the Proprietors expressed gratitude to the federal government for making it possible for private universities to operate legally.
He said the key to the success of their effort in filling the gap in the university education in the country is focus on the important aspect of the certificate they offer by ensuring students acquired the required character and discipline.
‘Don’t rush to overflood the system’
Also reacting to the development, the Pro Chancellor of Baze University, Abuja, Sen Yusuf Datti Baba Ahmed said: “Nigerian existing private universities should be helped till they reach their respective full operating capacities, instead of a rush to overflood the system with so many operating below capacity with consequences on quality.”
He said, to help the existing institutions, Nigerian families have to give education its budget priority and change the mentality that anything Nigerian is substandard, and “realising the quality of education in some like Baze proven with records to be far higher than other destinations they spend dollars on.”
According to him, running a private university in Nigeria requires enormous financial resources, adding that the cooperation of all stakeholders, excellent strategy, careful planning and diligent implementation are also required to run a successful private university in the country.
‘Some varsities run like family businesses’
Professor Nasiru Idris, the Dean, Faculty of Environmental Sciences, Nasarawa State University, Keffi, said a lot of private proprietors were passionate about education.
He said, “The essence of establishing private universities is to complement government effort in providing university education to Nigerians, but it seems the aim is defeated as some owners choose to run them like a family business and finally the quality and standard of education is compromised.
He said private universities are expected to support the public universities; instead, they come with a lot of problems.
“You may wish to know that most private universities in Nigeria are getting support from public universities in terms of staff strength through visiting lectureship,” he said.
He further said quite a lot of promoters scramble to build private universities to make gain as the cost of higher education escalates. “It shouldn’t be the case, private universities should be as cheap as the public ones as obtainable in some countries,” he said.
‘Quality must be maintained’
Also commenting, former Vice Chancellor of Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University, Bauchi, (ATBU), Professor Saminu Ibrahim said there is access gap to higher education due to insufficient spaces for admission seekers in universities thus many proprietors establish universities to accommodate the teeming candidates.
He said “Each year, the number of candidates seeking university education through the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) nationwide is between 1.7 and 1.8 million and there are only about 500,000 vacancies in the universities. This shows that the number of applicants is higher.”
He said about 12,000 candidates applied for various programmes in ATBU in the previous session but the university was only able to admit 4,000.
He also said a number of private promoters established universities to make profit, adding that as more universities are being licensed, attempt should also be made to improve the efficiency and quality of university education.