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Varsities Talk: Private one-man universities can also fold up-2

Dele Sobowale

Continues from last week
We have been told that our world now generates more knowledge every 10 years than in the first 50,000 years of human history. Many of these end up in the curriculum. Sometimes, it costs a fortune to acquire them and make them available to the students. The best Nigerian example, for me, is still the E-library established by the American University of Nigeria, AUN, Yola.

I have also visited other private universities which are splendid – Elizade, Babcock, Madonna etc – and the enormous investment made by their founders are astonishing and frightening. Frightening in the sense that, once, during my 10 years stay in the United States, a university in the state of Maine, in the Northeast of America, was threatened with closure for lack of adequate funds to operate it.

That was my first time of learning that universities do close down. Like most young people in those days, in the 1960s, I had assumed that university, once established, was there to stay until the world ends – if it ever does. The world, for me, looked different from that day; until another shocker came two years after. A Church in one rural area of New York State was closing for lack of congregation.

Since then, I had paid close attention to the matter of private universities and their sources of funding. Even the wisest of men cannot predict 20 or 30 years into the future. Yet, investment in a university by any individual amounts to placing a bet that the legacy will be maintained for, how long?

If you ask any of the founders of the private universities in Nigeria today why they think the dream will be sustainable long after they are gone, (incidentally none of them is less than 60), they expect the university to last. The answer will probably be “for ever.” If you are polite, you will not laugh. Just ask the next question: who will ensure that the university stays open for long after his departure.

Then, you will receive an answer about a Board of Trustees, Governing Council and perhaps a son or daughter. An answer such as that prompted me to take a quick look at the people on the Board and Council; and predictably, they were all in their late 60s and middle 70s. Undoubtedly, they are all solid citizens, either of Nigeria or other countries.

But, none of them will be around 20 years from now, and, if alive, will need wheelchairs to get to meetings. It is doubtful if a growing university needs people who are at death’s door for it to thrive.
Meanwhile, the inheritors i.e. sons and daughters of the founder of a Nigerian university, will face problems which their counterparts in the US don’t even contemplate. When the BIG man dies, a great war starts among the children, born to him by different wives, over the estate. Funding the university might be the last thing on their minds for years.

Yet, a university is like the rascal called stomach, it must be fed daily – non-stop. Otherwise trouble starts. Who among today’s founders can look down the road and guarantee that the second generation will hold the investment long enough to pass it on to the next generation? Surely, nobody will attempt to state what a grandchild will do with it.

Some of the present generation of university students might, by the end of their days, have attended a university which no longer existed.

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