By Aare Afe Babalola,
In concluding the series, it is pertinent to consider the statutory role of the National Universities Commission in the creation of tertiary institutions.
The establishment and functions of the National Universities Commission. The National Universities Commission (the Commission) was established in 1974 by the National Universities Commission Act to advise the Federal and state governments of all aspects of university education and the general development of universities in Nigeria.
One of the functions of the Commission, pursuant to Section 4(1)(e) of the Act is to: “inquire into and advise the Federal Government on the financial needs of, both recurrent and capital, of university education in Nigeria and, in particular, to investigate and study the financial needs of university research and ensure that adequate provision is made for this in the universities.” Clearly, the actualisation of the afore-referenced function of the Commission remains much to be seen today, particularly in light of the deplorable state of our universities in terms of infrastructure, research, and educational standard.
Another important function of the Commission, as provided under Section 4(1)(a), is to advise the President and the Governors on the creation of new universities and other degree-granting institutions in Nigeria. Having due consideration to these functions, i.e., of advising the President and Governors on the creation of new institutions, and of ensuring that adequate financial provisions are made for the tertiary institutions, can it then be said that the Commission effectively performed its statutory duty to advise the Federal Government on the creation of new universities, particularly in view of the revelation by the Minister of State for Education that the government lacks the resources to fund the revival of the country’s education system? I do not think so.
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The Commission has no control over the creation of universities, Section 10 of the Education (National Minimum Standards and Establishment of Institutions) Act empowers the Commission to lay down the minimum requirements necessary for the establishment of universities, including academic programs to be run by them. However, education falls into the concurrent legislative list as contained in Part II of the 2nd Schedule of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999. Paragraphs 27, 28, 29, and 30 of the said Schedule provides as follows:
“27. The National Assembly shall have power to make laws for the Federation or any part thereof with respect to university education, technological education, or such professional education as may from time to time be designated by the National Assembly. The power conferred on the National Assembly under paragraph 27 of this item shall include the power to establish an institution for the purposes of university, post-primary, technological or professional education
Subject as herein provided, a House of Assembly shall have power to make laws for the State with respect to the establishment of an institution for purposes of university, technological or professional education. Nothing in the foregoing paragraphs of this item shall be construed so as to limit the powers of a House of Assembly to make laws for the State with respect to technical, vocational, post-primary, primary or other forms of education, including the establishment of institutions for the pursuit of such education.”
Pursuant to the above, both the Federal and state government have legislative competence over the issue of universities and can both establish Federal and state universities, respectively. What is, however, clear from a combined reading of the above-stated provisions is that NUC which is itself a creation of the Federal Government has no power to stop a state government from establishing a university. Indeed, by virtue of Section 4 of the NUC Act, the role of the Commission is merely to advise the President and the Governors on the creation of new universities.
The power of the states to create universities as they deem fit remains unaffected and extant. Interestingly, the full effect of the powers of the NUC in relation to the establishment and location of a university are only felt in the case of private universities. As a result, therefore, most state governments establish universities with little or no regard for the provision of adequate infrastructure and facilities. Universities are established by the states and sited, based on political rather than educational and logistical considerations in often obscure and undeveloped locations with little or no facility to accommodate the take-off of the universities.
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In order to make themselves popular in their constituencies, some establish universities and multiple campuses in their hamlets or villages which lack infrastructure like electricity, water and accommodation. Some use abandoned modern school buildings as universities, while some have little or no provision for accommodation, leaving students to fend for themselves in that regard. The Nation Newspaper issue of Thursday, April 29, 2010, in its column on education reported the difficulties encountered by students of one of the universities established by one of the South-West states.
It was reported that some students of the institution in order to beat the accommodation problem had taken up residence in houses originally earmarked by the indigenes of the town to keep their livestock, including goats. Likewise, the laboratories and other teaching facilities in some of the universities are below the standard expected in secondary schools. There was the case of a graduate in Engineering who never saw an engineering laboratory throughout his university days.
As earlier noted, despite the fact that the NUC is statutorily responsible for the licensing/ accreditation of universities and their programmes, many state governments and indeed the Federal Government mostly establish universities based on political rather than educational considerations. A university is often established with multiple campuses in undeveloped and extremely rural communities simply to reward a particular community or politician deemed as favourably disposed to the government in power. The effect is that some state universities are often sited in villages or hamlets with little or no facilities for proper impartation of knowledge.
First, I advocate a system in which all universities from inception are mandated to operate from their permanent site. In this regard, the facilities put in place by the promoters of the university at the point of seeking the grant of the license should determine the number of programmes for which the university would be accredited and the number of students it would be permitted to admit into those programmes.
A situation in which a university operating from its permanent site with developed infrastructure is allowed only the same number of accredited programmes permitted a university operating from rented accommodation is to say the very least, capable of encouraging the establishment of ill-equipped universities while at the same time discouraging those who had gone the extra mile to ensure that their university at inception, operates from its permanent site.
Further, to redress the anomaly of the arbitrary creation of universities, it is my suggestion that the NUC should play a more visible role prior to the establishment of universities by state and Federal governments. I should not be mistaken as saying that the NUC should only be more stringent in its accreditation of the courses offered by these government-sponsored universities. What I advocate is increased direct involvement of the NUC before any state government or even the Federal Government takes a decision as to whether a new university should be allowed to come into existence or not. A constitutional amendment is necessary to subject the establishment of any university by Federal and state government to approval by NUC.
Undoubtedly, the revival of the educational sector is paramount to the progress of this country. If, however, the government accords more priority to the creation of more universities than the funding and maintenance of the existing ones, such will be counterproductive and inimical to the progression of our society. In the words of Malcolm X, education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today!!!