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Varsities Talk: Who will teach economics in the North-East? (1)

“Only 18,667 out of the over 1.6 million candidates who applied for this year’s Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination, UTME, are seeking admission to the nation’s private universities…
PUNCH, April 29, 2014. p 49.

By Dele Sobowale

The story by Niyi Odebode and Charles Abah listed the number of applicants to private and public universities in the country, in general, and the North-East, in particular. Not surprisingly, the American University of Nigeria, AUN, owned by former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, had the largest number of applicants among private universities in the zone.

Other universities, as well as Colleges of Education, Science and Technology had as few as four applicants. Some universities in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states had no applicants at all.
Even the formerly, very popular University of Maiduguri, UNIMAID, had only 20,428 applicants among candidates – not all of who will qualify to be admitted or show up if offered admission.

The low number of applicants to various institutions of higher learning in the North-East, which had traditionally been the least favoured, among all the six zones, was understandable, the precipitous decline in number of applicants, given the insurgency in the zone, has raised a lot of issues for those in charge of education, or indeed, all concerned Nigerians to start thinking about. Scarcity of students, like all cases of scarcity of service receivers, invariably results in loss of service providers for several reasons.

Enrolment is directly variable with revenue; the higher the enrolment, the more revenue the institution can generate internally. Low enrolment obviously means low internally generated revenue and the need for subsidy by either the proprietor (in the case of private institutions) or governments (where public institutions are concerned). At the moment, both the owners of private universities and the public sector are being called upon to dip their hands in their pockets, more than they ever envisaged, in order to keep their institutions afloat.

Unfortunately, that will be the situation for years to come – even if the insurgency ended today. Feelings of insecurity don’t disappear immediately the terrorists agree to a ceasefire. It will take years after the last bomb had been exploded, the last shot fired and the last hostage taken before students will again confidently apply to those institutions.

Sad as the low enrolment is, it had created an even more dispiriting situation – the scarcity of lecturers, tutors and instructors. The question raised — ‘Who will teach economics in the North-East?’ — could be asked about any subject. Economics had merely been used to serve as proxy for other disciplines such as the sciences, engineering, law, mathematics etc – because I am an economist and because it is one matter that binds the whole world together.

The mightiest and the tiniest nations are united in what has now become known as the Global Economy. It also underlies all activities from the ward levels to Local Governments, States, the nation, the ECOWAS region and the world. Even the Boko Haram insurgents, who want ‘Western education’ eradicated, are caught up in the universal economy – somebody pays for the arms they use and pays for the food they eat. Till eternity, Napoleon, 1769-1821, will prove to be correct when he declared that: “An army marches on its stomach.”  Feeding all those Boko Haram stomachs, on the move now, is subject to the basic principles of supply and demand.

As students are fleeing from the zone, instructors, lecturers, tutors, administrators, bursars, games masters, etc, are also moving away — leaving whole departments of institutions without teachers. A reader/friend who just returned to Lagos, after securing an appointment with a school, after spending over 20 years in the North-East, where he had a house, as well as a thriving business, abandoned everything when his wife and kids were slaughtered in a church attack. That he failed to drop everything and flee, when other tutors were leaving two years ago, was his major regret.

To be continued next week


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