By Afe Babalola
IN conclusion of my examination of the push to establish 80 new Federal institutions of Higher learning, I will this week, highlight how private universities emerged to complement public universities and why the focus should now be on encouraging the establishment of more private Universities.
Public Universities in Nigeria:
I am of the view that Nigeria started to establish public universities on a wrong note following the Elliot recommendation after which government established and funded the first university (University of Ibadan) in 1948 while the nation’s second generation universities like University of Ife, University of Lagos, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria and University of Benin among many others followed suit. Unfortunately, the impression given by government to the people, and which the people believed and still believe till today, is that it is the duty of the government to establish universities and fund them.
Performance of public universities in Nigeria:
Up to the time the military took over the reign of government in 1966, Nigeria’s public universities were well funded by government and they were doing well. The truth is that Education in Nigeria has been badly affected due to paucity of funds thereby negating the thinking of one of the world’s most famous philosophers, Aristotle, who once said that: “education is the creation of a sound mind in a sound body. It develops man’s faculty, especially his mind so that he may be able to enjoy the contemplation of supreme truth, goodness and beauty of which perfect happiness essentially consists”.
The incontrovertible fact is that quality education is a very expensive enterprise. When education is not properly funded, institutions of learning will be ill-equipped in terms of teaching facilities and staff while the products of such poorly funded institutions are bound to be poor materials. This is the void that the mission and private universities have come to fill and I make bold to say that they are filling effectively.
Commencement of private universities in Nigeria:
Consequent upon the failure of public Universities to fully accommodate a majority of qualified candidates, Licenses were granted to private individuals and organizations to establish Private Universities in 1999. With the passage of time, the number of such private Universities has increased steadily. As at the time of writing, we have 68 private universities.
However despite the fact that private Universities offer a viable alternative to public institutions and even complement and aid the drive of the Government to increase the accessibility and quality of education, private Universities do not receive any form of funding or assistance from the Tertiary Education Trust Fund. To me such treatment is intolerable, improper, discriminatory and unconstitutional.
Private Universities: Not a Profitable Enterprise
It must be stated here that the whole essence of anyone going into the establishment of a private university is to help humanity because it is an enterprise where their Founders should not expect profit in monetary form as they will keep on spending and spending on such things as infrastructure, expansion, research and salaries and other overheads as the institution continues to grow. It is a venture where it is difficult to break even! I urge the government and NUC to desist from granting licenses to those who want to register Private University as a Limited Liability for profit and direct private universities registered as Limited Liability Companies to re-register as companies registered by guarantee.
Afe Babalola University registered as non-profit university
With all of these at the back of my mind and particularly because of my belief in quality and functional education, I established Afe Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti (ABUAD) nine years ago and registered it as a non-profit university which is still funded mostly by me. The rest is now history as the university has continued to demonstrate, through the performance of its students, just what can be achieved by adequate attention to all that is required to make a first class university. The latest of these occurred a few weeks ago when 12 graduates of the University graduated with first class degrees from the Nigerian law School. Additionally, the overall best student out of about 6000 was from ABUAD. Most importantly, ABUAD carted away 24 prizes out of total of 36.
This feat was a first for a private university in Nigeria and did not escape the attention of stakeholders including the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ibadan, Professor Idowu Olayinka who after analysing the overall results concluded as follows:
“Afe Babalola University (ABUAD), a private university established less than 15 years ago, is clearly a star, with the outstanding performance of having a dozen first class. This is what you get when there is strategic investment in human an material resources. For this we warmly congratulate the founder and proprietor, Aare Afe Babalola, SAN.
Some of the people in public universities, both staff and students have the habit of dismissing the private universities. This is not supported by hard empirical facts as seen in the example of Afe Babalola University. ABUAD has clearly distinguished itself as confirmed by the league table of performance at the Nigerian Law School. As can be observed only two long established Federal Universities, Lagos and Nsukka were able to outperform ABUAD.”
Many reasons can and have been adduced for the good performance of private universities. However the factor I consider to be of utmost importance is the difference in the nature and roles of the Visitor in both institutions. In contrast to a public University, a private university usually has an active and known owner who has a purpose, mission and goal. He takes personal and passionate charge. He is passionately interested in the success of his enterprise. In private universities, such virtues like discipline, punctuality, regular attendance and high standards, of productivity form the yardstick for promotions increments as against the trend in the public sector where rank, cadre, number of years in service and mere paper qualifications count the most. It is not unusual in public institutions that lecturers who had transferred their services or even left the country for permanent residency in other countries can still be on the pay roll of those institutions.
The stakes are usually very high for the private institutions because their level of patronage is a direct function of the performance they put up. This is why in the United States of America, today most of the leading universities are those privately owned and run, and they feature prominently in the first 200 best universities in the world.
The private universities are generally not vulnerable to the many common ills of public universities. There is no place for strike actions in private institutions. Students and staff are strictly bound by the undertakings they would have made at the inception of their engagements. The proprietors, not bound by any stereotype grading of remuneration are also afforded wide latitudes to appoint or employ their lecturers and pay salaries commensurate with their ascertained capacities and productivity.
In the absence of strikes, there would hardly be any interruption of academic calendars. So, if the duration of programmes as well as their standards or quality are predictable, why then would any student who has a modicum of regard for time and standard look elsewhere other than private university.
Government interest and intervention in the running of Universities:
I have addressed the issue of poor funding of education over the years. While some dispute the claim that UNESCO recommends that at least 25% of the national budget of every country should be dedicated to education, what cannot be disputed is that the current level of funding is less than adequate. The unpalatable reality in this country is that budgetary allocation by successive governments over the years has always been about a third of UNESCO’s recommendation. As a matter of fact, the average budgetary allocation for education by the Federal Government of Nigeria has always been about 7% which is the least in Africa. This is rather lamentable if not out-rightly ridiculous.
I therefore state that because of the void private Universities have come to fill, government should put in place additional measures to encourage the establishment of more of private institutions. They should also be supported and encouraged by well to do Nigerians, philanthropists and industries by way of endowments, gifts and donations as well as grants. They should support and donate towards research and endow professorial chairs. This is the ONLY way our universities (public or private) can develop to the level of great universities in the world. It is surely not by the creation of additional 80 Federal Institutions.