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Universities @ N1.66bn

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THE Federal Government thinks that any solution would clear the backlog of millions of candidates, who cannot get places in universities. Only 23 per cent of 1.3 million candidates, who apply for places are admitted annually. The waiting list stretches with the years.

Plans have been concluded for full academic activities next year in six new federal universities. The universities are supposed to be specialised institutions in each of the six geo-political zones of the country. States that do not have federal universities are the likely choices.

According to government, new universities will create more admission places. It is difficult to understand, why the government thinks that everything can be lowered to base politics. The compromises from such stance are manifesting. Already, a fight is brewing in Kogi State, where some communities want to be the site of the proposed university for the North Central zone.

Equally mysterious is that Bayelsa and Jigawa states have already identified sites for the universities. Mr. Kenneth Gbagi, Minister of State for Education confirmed this. Bayelsa will claim the spot for the South-South zone and Jigawa, the North-West zone. The explanation for their choice is that they do not have federal universities.

Nothing would have been wrong with the paced readiness of the two states except that the President is from Bayelsa and the Minister of Education is from Jigawa. This gives the impression that the project is more about politics than education, no matter how well intentioned the decision of the Federal Executive Council, FEC, may seem. FEC has directed that a committee be set up to work out modalities for establishing the specialised institutions.

Government has made available N10 billion for the start of the new schools. It has released N1.5 billion to the committee for all pre-commencement activities. Gbagi said the money will be spent on clearing the sites and providing take-off facilities.

How far can N10 billion do for six new universities? What really informed the establishment of these schools and what quality of facilities and faculties does government expect them to procure with N10 billion? Is this one more government venture to massage the ego of some of its members and provide money for the boys?

Ordinarily, N10 billion sounds like a lot of money, but it is the same amount that government spent in celebrating 50th anniversary of Nigeria’s independence. Do we equate the importance of the anniversary to education? What type of universities would N1.66 billion establish?

We think there are alternatives available government should consider. Instead of spending this money in “clearing sites,” it should be used to upgrade some existing higher institutions in those zones. Could the money not be spent in expanding facilities in existing universities?

There are 27 federal universities, located in 21 states and Abuja. Some states without federal universities are Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Ebonyi, Ekiti, Gombe, Jigawa, Katsina, Kebbi, Kogi, Nasarawa, Taraba, Yobe and Zamfara.

What type of education do the existing universities provide? Is nearness of universities to people more important than the quality of education they provide? How well is government funding universities that it wants to add the burden of another six?

Professor Okojie sounds confusing about reasons for the new universities. Universities, he said, enhance development. He also expects new universities will address the problem of illegal tertiary educations. How does the NUC intend to achieve this when states with universities are the hubs of illegal higher institutions?

At a time emphasis should be on the quality of education, government is injecting more uncertainties into the future of education.

The sad thing is that government knows N10 billion cannot fund six new universities but it wants to give Nigerians inferior universities that children of government officials will never attend.

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