By Aare Afe Babalola

THE Lagos State Government recently assented a Bill for the creation of two new universities in the state: the Lagos State University of Education (being a merger and upgrade of the existing Adeniran Ogunsanya College of Education, Ijanikin and Michael Otedola College of Primary Education, Epe to a University), and the Lagos State University of Science and Technology (being an upgrade of the existing Lagos State Polytechnic in Ikorodu, Isolo and Surulere).

While this step may seem laudable, the move for the creation of these two new universities yet calls for concern by discerning minds not only against the backdrop of the government’s confessed inability to revive the education sector, but also considering the proliferation of state-owned universities scattered across the nation without proper funding, adequate payment of academic and non-academic staff, deplorable state of infrastructure.

Of course, there is also the looming threat of ASUU strike for non-implementation of the terms of the 2021 Memorandum of Action. In this edition, therefore, I consider it important to discuss the proliferation of tertiary institutions in Nigeria with the commensurate attention of government as regard funding, infrastructural development and maintenance, amongst other important considerations.

I recall the comments of the National President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, Professor Emmanuel Osodeke, whose opinions on the creation of more universities, in view of the poor funding of universities and non-payment of lecturers’ salaries, are synonymous with mine.

He said: “Our position on that had been that the Federal Government is toying with the future of the society. They are turning universities into constituency projects, where every village must have a higher institution; the purpose is not to have good universities and a good environment for academic excellence.

Every politician wants to have a university in his village. This is not how a system is run. They are establishing a university of medical sciences and other specialised institutions, why not go and fund those old universities so that you can upgrade the Faculty of Medical Sciences to professional standards, so that the Nigerian politician, including the President, who usually go outside the country for medical attention, will have their medical issues solved here. But we will not do that; rather, the Federal and state governments are busy establishing mushroom universities. It is very unfortunate”.

I could not agree more with the foregoing. The development of a sound educational system requires the allocation of adequate budgetary funding towards research, infrastructural development, and the implementation of sound educational development system.

Rather, it seems that our politicians are pre-occupied with the creation of tertiary institutions with little or no capability to impart knowledge, and with no long-term plans for sustainability. At the current unchecked rate of establishment, one cannot but concede that universities are relegated to mere constituency projects of politicians, and perhaps as a tool to immortalise them.

The establishment of the National Universities Commission in 1974 was to advise the Federal and state governments on 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, that is 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 or state governments on the creation of new universities?

Though after the assent to the Bills for the creation of the two universities for Lagos State, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu reportedly noted his belief that the NUC will ‘do their due diligence’, one cannot but wonder whether the NUC will indeed carry out its statutory duty to make recommendations to the Lagos State government relating to the proposed universities “as the Commission may consider to be in the national interest”, in line with Section 4(1)(d) of the NUC’s enabling law.

Going by the antecedent of the previously created universities which now lack the capacity for adequate funding and sustainable infrastructural development, more needs to be done concerning the powers of the (NUC) to checkmate the creation of universities and to effectively oversee the prompt withdrawal of the licenses of universities falling below the minimum standard of infrastructural development and financing.

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.

Either by way of amending the extant laws, or by executive fiat, the NUC should be empowered to participate more effectively in the establishment of universities either by the state or Federal Government.

I advocate 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 may be necessary, by curtailing the powers of a state to establish universities without the approval of the NUC. The powers of the NUC should not be limited to refusing or withdrawing accreditation from universities (private or public) that overshoot their approved enrolment capacities; those in charge of the administration and control of such universities that end up pilling backlogs of “graduates” who cannot graduate or find slots for national service several years after “graduation” should be made to face criminal sanctions.

For example, the owner(s) and the Vice Chancellor should be sentenced to two years imprisonment. This will reduce the number of profiteers who use universities as commercial ventures as against its pure charitable or humanitarian thrust.

In addition, 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 programs.

To be concluded…

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