Privately owned universities have, no doubt, filled in the yawning gap between Nigerian youths seeking admission and the limited spaces in the state and federal government tertiary institutions.
Annually, the total number of Nigerian university students continue to grow – from 15,000 in 1970 to 1.2 million in 2016 and last year, 2017, 1.7 million students registered for Nigeria’s centralized tertiary education examinations contending for slightly above half a million spaces available in the nation’s universities.
Even with this development, hundreds of thousands of tertiary education – thirsty youth will be without university space this year. This is in spite of 158 universities operating in the country. According to the Association of Pro-Chancellors of Private Universities, in Nigeria, the situation could have been dire without their intervention which has helped to grow the number of Nigerian universities from 51 in 2005 to 158 in 2018.
With 70 private universities and 88 federal and state universities, it is impossible to ignore the significance and contribution of private universities in Nigeria. Without this category of schools, the country would definitely have been unable to cope with the rising demand for higher education. This situation would also have been made worse when it is realised that the capacity for higher education is grossly insufficient with only 14.7 per cent of qualified applicants able to enrol in the nation’s tertiary institutions.
There is no denying the fact that there is an upsurge in the demand for university education just as Nigeria’s school system is managing to cope with the effort to educate a large percentage of her youth. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), by its All Global Monitoring Report, attributes the problem to the country’s rapidly growing population of below the age of 24 and a high average annual relative growth rate of 3.24. That world body avers that it is the highest growth rate in Africa, and one of the highest in the world.
UNESCO is worried that by 2050, Nigeria will be the third most populated country in the world. What this entails is that there is an urgent task for all concerned to prepare the school system and the universities for the jobs and challenges that may not be apparent now but which, in the next few years, may become crucial for the country’s survival. While recognizing the role of the private tertiary institutions in the bid to complement government’s efforts in educating the youth, this newspaper, however, laments the poor quality work being carried out in the process.
There are reports of shoddiness in the education of the students in some of these privately-owned institutions that calls to question the integrity and quality of certificates being issued at the end of the day. For instance, a professor of Anatomy resigned from one of the private universities citing several irregularities.
Apart from the fact that many of the lecturers are not qualified to teach, they also have unwritten and unspoken rule not to fail any of the students in view of the exorbitant fees they pay for tuition. That, obviously, is the reason why the number of first class graduates have somewhat increased astronomically in these private varsities.
That, in our opinion, may also explain why many of the graduates are half-baked and allegedly unemployable. These challenges could have been tackled headlong and probably nipped in the bud earlier than now, if the regulatory agency saddled with such responsibility, the Nigeria University Commission (NUC), was living up to its mandate.
On this issue, it is obvious that Nigeria has good, credible policy in place but only lacks the will to implement same. However, in our view, there must be strict policy implementation as the nation cannot afford to play the ostrich when it is perceptible that things have gone awry in the universities.
The NUC must be aware that many of these schools use professors and other cadres of lecturers from public tertiary institutions to get accreditation. For this reason, there is need for NUC to monitor these private schools, including public ones, on a regular basis to ensure that standards are maintained. This will also involve all stakeholders from the federal and state governments as well as non-state actors to forge a common front to tackle the challenges in the sector. The situation requires a concerted and urgent approach.
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