The advent of private varsities was widely expected to address the recurring problem of limited access to university education.
But it appears that the relief envisaged is now short-lived as recent investigations reveal that rather than abate, the problem seems to have taken a life of its own as the number of those who succeed in obtaining admission from both public and private universities remain grossly inadequate. Emmanuel Edukugho reports.
GROSSLYÂ inadequate access to university education has been a serious problem confronting the tertiary system for long as more and more candidates seek admission while spaces are just not enough.
Before private organisations and individuals were granted licences by the Federal Government to operate universities beginning from 1999 which eased admission pressure on public or government – owned universities, less than 10 percent of over one million candidates who applied for admission through the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board, JAMB, were admitted.
The coming of private universities helped to enhance admission so that in the 2005/2006 session, placements was improved.
At that time, 901,003, applications for admission through JAMB were received. But the National Universities Commission (NUC) said the total available spaces were 147,323 in 75 universities, meaning that about 16.35 percent of candidates will be admitted.
In 2008, about 1,054,053Â sat for JAMB, while NUC affirmed that less than 20 percent of the candidates will get admission. This showed another improvement in admission from the previous session.
NUC executive secretary, Professor Julius Okojie had acknowledged that, every year, there is always the problem of access to university education in the country and that with over one million taking the University Matriculation Examination, â€œitâ€™s unfortunate we have placement for only 200,000.â€
He added: â€œMeanwhile, places in Colleges of Education and Polytechnics are usually under subscribed because everybody wants to go to the universities.â€
JAMB Registrar, Professor Dibu Ojerinde, had also confirmed Okojieâ€™s assertion, saying: â€œWe can only take first 200,000 because of the capacities of the Universities,â€ adding, â€œevery year, the number of candidates taking the University Matriculation Examination keeps on increasing, but the spaces are limited.â€
Even the introduction of Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) meant to liberalise admission into tertiary institutions and take off some pressure from the universities in order for candidates to subscribe toÂ Colleges of Education and polytechnics have not been realised so far.
It should be clearly understood that the ultimate preference of candidates is the university or nothing, as Colleges of Education and polytechnics are merely the last option for many, probably stepping stone to university and are ready to wait endlessly till the chance comes.
ForÂ Ojerinde and those who introduced the UTME, it is a pyrrhic victory, as it has not stemmed the tide in tertiary towards university education.
The JAMB Registrar had reportedly claimed recently that one of the beauties of the UTME is that, â€œwe have brought them together and we are saying that they can go to any institution.â€
He went further: â€œIf University doesnâ€™t work, College of Education may work, if not polytechnics may work. But I am not saying that it is to be for everybody because the spaces available are still not sufficient.â€
But the truth is that, according to Prof. Okojie, â€œeverybody wants to go to the universities.â€
Matters were worsened recently by the Head of Service, Federal Government of Nigeria, Mr. Steve Oronsaye who asserted that one cannot equate a university degree with HND.
His pronouncement not only dampened the desire ofÂ Â youths for polytechnic education perceived as inferior to that of university, but has worsened the dichotomy crisis between university degree and HND holders.
So the question is: Where does this situation leave the nation?
Speaking with newsmen during the combined technical committee meeting on admission to Degree, National Diploma, Nigeria Certificate of Education (NCE) and Higher National Diploma awarding institutions held at Kaduna Polytechnic, Ojerinde was reported as saying that unless access to tertiary institutions was increased, we will continue to have this whole lot of people waiting endlessly for admissions.
According to him, 867,000 candidates passed this maiden UTME by scoring the cut-off marks of 180 and above, eligible for admission to tertiary institutions.
â€œWith this 180 cut-off points, we have about 867,000 candidates who made 180 and above, and yet the available space is just about 527,000, so the remaining 340,000 candidates will have no place to go. That is the point, except access to tertiary institutions is increased, we will continue to have this lot of people waiting endlessly for admission.â€
He noted that most candidates did not apply for admission into some private institutions because of the high fees charged in such institutions. Even some private institutions do not have candidates seeking admission into them due to prohibitive fees being charged. However Ojerinde believed that desperate candidates without any other place to go, will be compelled to look for placements in those high-fee paying institutions at any cost.
As at last count, there are over 40 private universities in the country licensed and operating with other several polytechnics and few colleges of education privately owned.
For the top-flight private universities which are in first category such as Babcock University, Ilishan, Covenant University, Ota, ABTI-American University, Igbinedion University, Okada, Benin City, Caleb University, Lagos, Redeemer University, Nigerian Turkish Nile University, Abuja, Bowen University, Iwo, Bells University of Technology, Ota, Crescent University, Abeokuta, lead City University, Ibadan, Crawford University, Igbesa, among others, these charge between N300,000 to N1 million and above per session.
In fact, no private university in the country has minimum fees of less than between N300,000 and N500,000.
Accommodation is available and standard in all campuses, with excellent cafeteria system. Academic calendar is stable with no disruption of teaching activities like it isÂ in public universities which isÂ plagued by incessant lecturers’ strikes.
Most of the campuses are peaceful, serene, while the environments are highly conducive for learning, teaching and research. Facilities, equipment, laboratories, libraries, classrooms are up to date,and are mostly state-of-the art.
Internet facilities, electronic libraries, computer/laptop acquisition for students, electronic white boards for teaching and all other modern aids that facilitate effective teaching are available in some of the private universities.
However, some are still struggling to catch up and meet with prescribed NUC standards in all facets of university education. Proliferation has crept in as establishing universities has become aÂ business venture for those who have the money to invest.
Education experts are of the view that, there is need to strengthen the regulatory mechanism of NUC in respect of fees charged in these private institutions.
â€œA situation in which private universities charge exhorbitant fees far beyond the reach of average parents make them ultra-elitist and meant only for the wealthy people,â€Â a manager in an oil company whose daughter attends Covenant University told Vanguard Features, VF.
â€œIf government can place a ceiling on fees, based on the average earning power of workers across the nation, it could likely open the gates of more private universities to many people who presently cannot afford the fees,â€ he noted.
In terms of standards, all may not be well with private universities. Recently, the NUC had slammed universities, especially the privately owned ones for employing half-baked lecturers, stating that the employment of unqualified lecturers contributed to the declining standard of education in the country. It also accused private universities of running illegal postgraduate programmes.
According to Prof. Okojie, there is need to streamline the requirement for postgraduate programmes and qualifications for teaching in the universities. Non-standardisation of the benchmarks minimum academic standard for PG programmes has led to several sharp practicesÂ and indiscipline in the University system.
â€œYou have people doing on-line postgraduate programmes and universities are allowing people without ordinary degrees to pass through the system to teach in the universities. The situation is even worse with private universities.
How can universities that haveÂ been in existence for aboutÂ three years run postgraduate programmes?â€, the NUC scribe asked.
There will continue to be need for more universities, whether public or private. Most governments in Nigeria, states and federal alike, have built universities, and are no longer looking at that direction. Only through private investment can more universities be established. Churches, wealthy individuals are the ones now investing in tertiary institutions to soak up the admission pressure.
The stringent NUC guidelines are no barriers.
InvestigationÂ reveals that a prospective promoter of a university is required to pay N2.25m for application and processing fees.
Must provide a sustainable framework for funding, hence the promoter will pay the amount of N200m, a non-refundable deposit as surety for defaults in the course of establishing and running the university.
Promoters are expected to spend about N40m for organising conference of experts, curriculum development andÂ options and the production of three strategic Documents (Academic Brief Vols 1 and 11, Draft law and the masterplan).
NUC verification visits as many as possible towards approval will likely cost a minimum of N15m.
The capital and recurrent expenditure on facilities prior to NUC approval is in the range of N800m.
Also to be considered are the character of the academic profile, course structure/content. All the programmes must be those for which there are NUC Benchmark Minimum Academic Standards (BMAS), important for programme accreditation purposes.
It has been found that to get accreditation for academic programmes and course, some of the universities are involved in all kinds of malpractices bordering on corruption. Equipments are brought or hired from other institutions for accreditation purpose during NUC visitation.
â€œSome of them borrow equipment and promote staff once they know we are coming for the accreditation of their programmes. How can you explain it? This is how bad it isâ€, Prof. Okojie revealed.
He said some time ago, that no private university had been permitted to run any postgraduate programme if such a university had not graduated students from that programme and had full accreditation for such programme.
In their desperation, it has become commonplace for these universities to â€œrecruitâ€ professors temporarily for departments and faculties with programmes seeking accreditation to satisfy academic staff requirements as stipulated by NUC. After the exercise is over, these borrowed professors returned to their universities.
Again, the NUC Accreditation Panel members are drawn from various universities may compromise and approve, whether full, interim accreditation of programmes with the promise that such people will be offered appointments as deans and heads of departments.
For the medical schools, even corpses for practicals used by the students are not available, but these are arranged to be supplied and brought in for the accreditation exercise.
Even though NUC guidelines seemed tough, scrutiny of prospective promoters may not be thorough enough before licences are granted and approved by the Federal Government. This situation, to some reasonable extent, account for the proliferation of private universities in the country.
Standards are dropping due to ineffective regulatory mechanism.
Most of these universities lacked qualified,Â vibrant, youthful, dynamic academic personnel to occupy vital teaching positions.
Some have supplied fictitious evidence to get approval. The most recent case is that of the University of Education, Ikere-Ekiti where the NUC Investigate Panel that visited the institution found that the stated infrastructural facilities which were listed along with the application did not exist at the location.
The Proprietors of the University of Education, Ikere-Ekiti, were given a very short time to sort out the seeming misunderstanding on the location of the institution and if unable to meet the conditions under which the recognition to operate as a degree-awarding institution was given in January 2008, the recognition will be withdrawn by NUC.
For the Ondo State University of Science and Technology (OSUTECH), Okitipupa, NUC has withdrawn the operational license because the institution had not commenced academic activities since it was approved in 2008.
â€œHaving waited for two academic sessions with no activity taking place, it has become obvious that the university is not ready to commence academic activities,â€ NUC executive secretary was quoted as saying.