By Afe Babalola
ILLEGAL School: The National Universities Commission published on its website, a list of 58 illegal universities operating in the country. These universities are located in virtually all parts of the country. Many indeed have very curious sounding names which reasonably should have alerted discerning minds to the fraud represented by the institution.
I am of the view that the increasing number of such schools shows that much more still needs to be done by governments and the regulatory agencies. It is on record that after USA, Nigeria has the largest number of illegal universities in the world. The question then is: how do we get out of this embarrassing quagmire?
The answer is that government should urgently and immediately amend the NUC law and give the commission sufficient powers of immediate and outright closure of illegal universities with further powers of severe sanctions, including forfeiture of the university’s properties to government while the promoters, founders, councils and teachers of such illegality should face life imprisonment.
Curriculums and sustainable education: Since its establishment, the NUC has been responsible for maintaining a minimum standard in Nigerian universities vis-à-vis curriculum development. Without the NUC’s approval, no university can undertake academic programmes in any course.
Whilst the NUC has meticulously carried out this important aspect of its statutory duty, the effect has been that most universities have been satisfied with maintaining the minimum standards permissible so as to meet accreditation requirements when with some measure of policy planning and implementation, they could aim for and achieve much more in the area of curriculum development.
This explains why for decades now the same courses have been taught in much the same manner in Nigerian universities with little or no improvement in course content or outline to meet modern realities and demands. Many lecturers still teach their students with the same lecture notes with which they received instructions themselves as students.
Such a scenario cannot aid the development of a country or the sustainability of education. Curriculum development must move with the times. I, therefore, advocate a situation in which the universities would be given autonomy in the area of curriculum development. Where this is done, I am sure that most universities will develop programmes that will aid sustainable education.
At ABUAD, motivated by such ideals, we successfully started programmes such as Social Justice, Intelligence and Security Studies, Mechatronics, Human Biology, Events Management as part of Tourism and Media as part of Communication Studies. The Nigeria Police, in particular, as an institution, has been quick to afford its officers and men the opportunity to partake in our programmes on Social Justice.
Education Trust Fund: By virtue of Education Tax Law Cap 34, companies operating in Nigeria are required to pay annual education tax at the rate of two per cent on the assessable profit. An education fund was also established for the establishment and consolidation of education in Nigeria which shall be managed by the Board of Trustees. Under Section 6 of the Act, the Board is empowered to disburse the money to “various levels and categories of education”. However, in Section 7 of the Act, the Board shall administer the amount in the fund to Federal, State and Local Government educational institutions, including primary and secondary schools.
First, it seems to me that Section 7 contradicts Section 6 of the Act. Section 6 of the Act specifically empowers the Board to disburse the money to various levels and categories of education. Whereas in the management and administration of fund under Section 7, the educational institutions which were made beneficiaries of the fund were limited to Federal, States and Local Government Institutions. The intention of the law makers is to provide funds for advancement of education to various levels and categories of education. It does not allow for discrimination. Further, those who provide education for Nigeria are not limited to Federal, States and Local Governments.
There is no reason, therefore, why the Education Trust Fund, ETF, should be made the property of the Federal Government institutions alone. Moreover, the fund is collected from private sectors and no part of it is contributed by the Federal Government. In view of the admission of the Federal Government that the emergence of private universities is a logical response to fill the demand gap located by the inability of the governments to meet the number of the universities required, it is only logical that the fund be shared among public and private universities who are providing education to the public. This is more so, if as I have suggested, the proprietors of private universities are not permitted to make or demand profit from university account. If there is any doubt about the legal validity of my submission, there can be no doubt about the logicality of it.
Recapitulation and suggestions for sustainable education in Nigeria: The Council of Vice Chancellors should call on the Federal Government, the state governments and all stakeholders to address the worrisome deterioration in the standard of primary and secondary education to ensure that Nigeria produce high-quality materials for universities.
The Higher School Certificate, HSC, a two-year course which is equivalent to GCE Advanced Level in England should be resuscitated. HSC and GCE Advanced Level should be made the requisite entry qualification to universities as it is done in advanced countries, including England, thereby ensuring that only mature students are admitted to universities. That was the practice in Nigeria before it was abolished by the military.
The committee is advised to note and adopt the marked difference between the attitude to work by teachers in public universities and the attitude to work in private universities. In public universities, detachment attitude and civil service culture is prevalent. Whereas, the philosophy and attitude in private universities is one of absolute loyalty, industry, commitment, integrity, punctuality and strict discipline. There is imperative need to amend the portion of the Constitution on the concurrent power of state governments to establish universities. The amendment should provide that before a license is issued by NUC, there should be clear evidence of adequate structures and facilities, including modern teaching aids.
The numerous state universities which are making use of abandoned secondary schools, rented apartments and operating without requisite facilities like library, laboratory and classrooms and relevant teaching facility should be closed down immediately by NUC. The NUC should ensure that there is full compliance with the law which makes it mandatory for any proprietor, state or Federal Government to acquire permanent site and have enough structure and facilities on it before commencing academic programme.
The multifarious so-called university campuses established by state governments all over the country should be scrapped. These so-called campuses were ill-equipped and poorly staffed. The damage done to education by these campuses is better imagined.
Public universities are weighed down by the bureaucratic demands, thereby preventing capacity to innovation. The appointments and decisions made from outside the university, are in most cases influenced by nepotism, godfatherism, lobbying and political patronage. Therefore, the enabling laws which vest government with undue influence and control over routine university matters should be amended. The Chancellor, Pro-Chancellor, Chairman of Governing Council, Vice Chancellor and Members of Councils should be elected by the staff, students and other stakeholders without any input by the government.
University authorities must be given the freedom to chart their own academic programmes and implement them without undue interference by government. Universities must have budget freedom and financial independence to be able to attract the best brains from anywhere in the world, embark on meaningful research programmes and distribute their fund according to their problems and need. The Governing Council should be free from undue governmental influence and be given the freedom to formulate growth strategies for the universities.
Nigeria universities must be free to decide and distribute their funding, including ETF fund internally according to their priorities, needs without restrictions. To avoid any legal technicality, the vice-chancellors are advised to call on government to amend the Education Tax Act Cap. E4 Section 7, Laws of Federation of Nigeria, LFN, 2004 to include private universities.
Education and security: In the past, Nigeria was a safe place where all Nigerians were able to move freely, travel at any time of the day and night and study, work or register in any university in any part of the country. Unfortunately, however, things have changed dramatically in recent times due to the prevalence of killings and in particular the kidnapping of students as a result of which parents are now withdrawing their children/wards from schools, colleges and universities in some parts of Northern Nigeria, while some schools have closed down.
It goes without saying that if one is properly educated, he will be healed of the virus of the palpable ignorance demonstrated by those who assert that Western education is a sin or that a citizen who does not share one’s belief should be murdered. The government and the vice chancellors together or severally must share the greater share of the blame. I suggest that the Vice Chancellors of Nigerian universities should call on the Federal Government to properly address the problems all of us had wittingly or unwittingly created for ourselves in not tackling the critically important issues of quality education either seriously and or adequately.
Conclusion: In summary, the education system with particular reference to public universities need urgent and drastic total overhauling and total insulation from political interference. Since such overhauling of our education system can only be addressed meaningfully where peace and safety of life and property reign supreme, there is urgent need to first tackle the issue of security to be followed by education summit by the Federal Government to consider the pressing issue of overhauling of our education system.