The Federal Government recently approved the establishment of eight more universities in the country. Since former President Olusegun Obasanjo approved the pioneer three private universities – Babcock, Igbinedion and Madonna – every successive president has done the same.
Three years ago, Vanguard Education had raised the alarm that with the rapid increase in public and private universities we had reached the point of glut. When President Goodluck Jonathan established twelve new Federal Universities in 2011, he tipped the scale and drove us to excess.
Vanguard in 2013 reported the admissions to universities as published by the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) Board. Only five out of thirty-eight private universities had applications from more than one hundred students; some received as low as three. In that same year, visits to some universities, including the Federal-owned University of Otuoke, Bayelsa State, revealed that some classes were ninety per cent empty – especially in the Faculties of Mathematics and Sciences. One private university had two students in its Mathematics Department. That was the picture in 2013. It is even worse today.
Recently, Professor Ishaq Oloyede, Registrar/Chief Executive of the Joint Admissions and Matriculations Board (JAMB) disclosed to a Senate Committee: “Every year we do not meet 70 per cent of the quota, contrary to what people think that there are more (prospective students) than the existing places. We have in the last five years not filled 70 per cent of the quota”.
JAMB had set a minimum score of 180 for admission. But, according to Oloyede, the universities “will now go through the backdoor and recruit people with 160, 150, 140 and some (who did not sit for) JAMB at all”. Despite the pervasive corruption in the nation’s university system, there are still more vacancies than admissions in our universities.
We strongly urge the Federal Government to impose a moratorium; that no new universities, public or private, should be approved for at least the next five years. In the interim, a comprehensive national study should be undertaken to obtain authentic information with which we can plan the future of university education in Nigeria.
The situation of private universities is worrisome. Run as businesses, some of them still depend on the goodwill of their founders who, invariably, have tremendous wealth. The rise and fall of great private businesses owned by individuals should be a lesson to us. In Nigeria, most businesses collapse when the founder dies.
There is no reason to believe the same fate cannot befall some of our private universities. Many of our children now attending them might discover that their alma mata no longer exist by the time they are old. That is only one of several problems ahead.