The Minister of Education, Malam Adamu Adamu, recently announced approval for the establishment of 20 new private universities in the country. He made the announcement while briefing State House reporters after the 32nd virtual Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting presided over by President Muhammadu Buhari. Malam Adamu said the approved universities would get their provisional licenses from the National Universities Commission (NUC); adding that the licenses would be used for the next three years while monitoring and evaluation continue.
The approved universities include Topfaith University, Mkpatak, Akwa Ibom State; Thomas Adewumi University, Oko-Irese, Kwara State; Maranathan University, Mgbidi, Imo State; Ave Maria University, Piyanko, Nasarawa State; Al-Istiqama University, Sumaila, Kano State; Mudiame University, Irrua, Edo State; Havilla University, Nde-Ikom, Cross River State; Claretian University of Nigeria, Nekede, Imo State; NOK University, Kachia, Kaduna State and Karl-Kumm University, Vom, Plateau State.
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Others are James Hope University, Lagos, Lagos State; Maryam Abacha American University of Nigeria, Kano, Kano State; Capital City University, Kano, Kano State; Ahman Pategi University, Pategi, Kwara State; University of Offa, Offa, Kwara State; Mewar University, Masaka, Nasarawa State; Edusoko University, Bida, Niger State; Philomath University, Kuje, Abuja; Khadija University, Majia, Jigawa State; and Anan University, Kwall, Plateau State. While nine of the private universities are located in North-Central Nigeria, three are in South-South, two in South-East, five in the North-West and one in South-West.
Some university administrators and senior academics have described the licensing as a good development; urging regulatory institutions not to compromise standards. Reacting to the fresh licensing, former Executive Secretary of the NUC, Professor Munzali Jibril, described the proliferation of private universities as a healthy development, even as he called for strict quality control. Prof Jibril, who supervised the issuance of the first set of licenses to private universities in Nigeria while heading the NUC, said the worry should not be in the number of the universities but in their quality and governance. He said Nigeria still lags behind in providing higher education. Jibril explained that Nigeria has only about 12 percent of its population as graduates, while some developed countries have about 80 to 90 percent of the population.
He argued that since the government does not have the capacity to bridge the gap, private players should be given the opportunity.
Within the context of the country’s population as well as global best practices, the establishment of more private universities is, in the meantime, a step in the right direction. What matters most is the quality of knowledge handed down to students in private universities, not their number. Those who expressed measured commendation over the growing number of private universities hinged their views on the fact that many existing private universities source their manpower from public universities that do not even have enough.
Some lecturers in public universities serve as visiting lecturers to many private universities at a time. Some of such visiting lecturers carry out their duties outside of the NUC regulation, which allows a lecturer to visit not more than one other university at a time, which must not be more than 200km from his university of domicile. The quality of knowledge in private universities becomes critical when the majority of the staff are visiting or part-time lecturers whose workloads in their primary places of assignment often hinder optimum performance.
The NUC is urged to properly monitor private universities so that rules governing staff employment are strictly adhered to. Licenses should be withdrawn from private universities that fail to comply with operational guidelines including fulfilling the requirements for accrediting academic programmes. Licenses should also be withdrawn when a private university refuses to develop the institution after a specified probation period.
To cater for those who cannot afford the cost of sending their children to private universities, the government is encouraged to make university education qualitative and accessible to every Nigerian youth by equipping public universities and averting incessant strike actions by university lecturers and workers.
Worsening standards and resource inadequacies are the most critical factors that have made private varsities attractive in the country. Value should be added to public universities and make them competitive.