By ANAYO ONUKWUGHA, Patrick Ochoga, Victor Okeke
Many states in Nigeria today are in a race to a championship over who will own the highest number of universities. First it was Ondo State, parading three specialised universities from its three senatorial districts – the Ondo State University of Science & Technology, Okitipupa, University of Medical Sciences, Ondo and Adekunle Ajasin University (AAUA), Akungba Akoko, Ondo State.
Rivers State also has two state-owned universities: Rivers State University (RSU), and the Ignatius Ajuru University of Education (IAUE). Then same story goes for Ogun State where they have the Tai Solarin University of Education, Ijebu-Ode and Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago Iwoye, which is a state university in Ago Iwoye, Ogun State. In fact, aside the state government-funded universities, Ogun has the largest number of private universities in Nigeria, standing at over 15. Currently, reports have it that plans are underway by the Enugu State government to convert the famous Institute of Management and Technology, Enugu to university.
However, data shows that there are no private universities in states like Zamfara, Borno, Sokoto, Kano, Kaduna, Kebbi, Nasarawa, Plateau, Gombe, Bauchi, Yobe and Jigawa. While the Al-Qalam University, founded in 2005, is in Katsina, the American University of Nigeria, owned by a former vice-president in 2003, is in Yola, Adamawa State.
Also, in Edo State, which prides itself as one of the pioneer states to establish the first privately owned university, Igbinedion University Okada (IOU), with the sole aim of providing world standard quality education for Nigerians, there also some other new small universities sprouting. Since the establishment of the first premier University in 1999, thereby setting the pace for the proliferation of Universities in Nigeria, Edo State, today boasts of seven universities. It would be recalled that the immediate past administration in Edo State, shortly before leaving office, established the Edo University, Iyamo, in Etsako West Local Government Area of Edo State.
According to public policy analysts, Francis Akhigbe, considering the present financial position of the state government and the total neglect of the already existing government tertiary institutions, one can only conclude that the establishment of Edo University, Iyamo, “is not just uncalled for, it is retrogressive, untimely, a misplacement of priority and meant to serve the personal interest of the Comrade Governor.”
Presently, Edo State has a state owned university (Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma); School of Technology and Management Sciences, Usen; College of Agriculture, Iguoriakhi; Michael Imoudu Institute of Physical Education, Afuze; School of Health Technology, Benin City; College of Education (Tayo Akpata University of Education), Ekiadolor; College of Education, Igueben; and School of Nursing and Midwifery, Benin City.
Apart from these state-owned tertiary institutions, there are federal institutions like the University of Benin (UNIBEN); Federal Polytechnic, Auchi; Federal Institute of Construction Technology, Uromi; and some privately-owned ones such as Igbinedion University, Okada; Benson Idahosa University; Samuel Adegboyega University, Ogwa; Shaka Polytechnic; and Light House Polytechnic, all in Edo State.
“For a governor to even contemplate establishing another university where you already have five, three Polytechnics, two Colleges of Education, five Schools of Nursing and Midwifery, one School of Physical Education, one Institute of Construction Technology means that the governor not only lacks direction and focus, but is also clannish, wasteful and insensitive to the needs of the people,” Akhigbe said. He observed that when the management of Ambrose Alli University requested N1.26 billion from Edo State Government for the accreditation of all the courses in the university and upgrade of teaching facilities, Oshiomhole gave out a paltry N120 million. As at today, all the courses in education at AAU failed accreditation and those that were fully accredited before now have been reduced to the status of interim accreditation as a result of lack of facilities and manpower.
Ejike Nwaogu, a post graduate student at the University of Nigeria added that for the state government to establish a new university where the existing tertiary institutions are in shambles and staff salaries and allowances not paid as at when due, is callous. Nwaogu noted that instead of creating “pocket-sized universities with no specialties, state governments should focus on expanding the faculties of the existing universities to bring them at par with other globally renowned institutions like the University of London.” For example, the London School of Economics (LSE), teaches several other courses and it is part of the omnibus University of London, which has other colleges, campuses and specialties like School of Oriental and African Studies, SOAS, Queen Mary College, Imperial College, Kings College, St Barths, Guys Hospital, etc.
The infrastructure inadequacies in the state universities, is another area that poses hindrance to learning and research work. “Unfortunately, today’s students are learning in dilapidated buildings, environmentally depressing and learning disabling situations and yet some of these students are still excelling” Nwaogu said. For students, it is simply a means to acquire certificates, and not the development of their cognitive and social powers. Indeed, the mission of Nigerian universities should not be limited to these goals alone. They have to take into consideration the larger society’s needs and the construction of knowledge.
Higher education must therefore shape its curricular offerings to fit the demands of the market in a particular context and period, without losing sight of encouraging full human development. They cannot be confined to provide the human resource demands by the market. To do so would be to limit the social relevance of higher education. The challenge to Nigerian universities is to conduct the university’s affairs in a way that is relevant to a historical moment gripped by rapid change.
Despite the increasing value of research in the world economy, based on the supremacy of knowledge, and constant technological change, budgetary constraints and the belief that research is costly have resulted in the virtual disappearance of research centres in Nigerian universities. There is need to seek alternative source of financing research through private and public sectors. In doing so, the universities need to talk about the benefits to students of linking teaching and learning with scientific research. Nigerian educational system should be tailored to match international standards.
For Tayo Akpata University, formerly College of Education, Ekiadolor, the story is pathetic following the unending face-off between the state government and Academic Staff Union on one hand over unpaid salaries, lack of befitting infrastructure for a university status and growing discontentment owing to lack of welfare for both non and academic staff. The Academic Staff Union of the institution had faulted the state government decision to halt admission of students into the National Certificate of Education (NCE), this led to the students lamenting and it grounded activities in the institution.
The members of the Union equally lamented that since the College of Education was converted into a university, there is no law whatsoever backing it and expressed fears that the way the state government is going about the institution, was a pointer to plans to systematically relieve staff of their work. Chairman of the Union, Comrade Fred Omonuwa, had told LEADERSHIP Friday that the state government has continuously reneged on its promise to refocus the institution with four months’ unpaid salaries and lack of infrastructures befitting the establishment of a university. He noted that aside the intervention by TETFUND in the area of buildings, “there is nothing on ground to suggest that it is a university adding that there is no motorable access road leading to the institution. “For some time now, we have been very quiet to give the Obaseki-led government some little time but we have seen that there is nothing happening at all. The problem of the College is the problem of government. It seems to us now that Edo State government is not sincere about the College. They are not sincere to the extent that when they converted the College to University, there is no law backing it as we speak. “The school authority told us to stop admitting students, in fact, there is no substantive provost for the College, they told us that admission should stop forthwith, because they are converting it to University, the implication is that there were no first year or second year students, when the school was converted. If you recall, we insisted that lecturers should be converted and of course it became an issue, we were in court over the matter, they were playing politics with it. Now, there is neither University admission nor NCE admission. So, if the present final year student leaves, who are you going to teach? “As we speak, we are owed three months’ salaries without justification and Edo State government has not been able to pay the gratuities of retirees from the institution, so there is no sincerity on the part of the government. By not admitting, it means that they are trying to short-change the people and Edo workers, which is about 5, 000,” he said.
He regretted that the governing board is not doing anything to address all these issues adding that the National University Commission (NUC) has not related with the institution warning that if the issues raised are not addressed, members may be forced to embark on an industrial action. In spite of the challenges confronting Edo State owned Ambrose Alli University (AAU), Ekpoma, management of the University under the watch of Professor Ignatius Onimawo, is brazing up to reposition the institution. Following realisation the impediment’s paucity of fund could pose to the realisation of his stated objectives, Prof Onimawa, disclosed several programmes in his blue prints, aimed at boosting the Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) of the university. He disclosed then that he planned to liberalise investment in the university, open up investment space, to enable the university generate sufficient resource to meet some of its needs. One area he revealed would be explored by his administration, was the agriculture sector.
Indeed, higher educational institutions in Nigeria are generally confronted with several challenges but the problems of state owned universities are even more complex. It is a combination of limited access, increasing cost, decreasing quality, and inflexibility in course selection. Perhaps, the most formidable task confronting state universities and indeed, higher education in Nigeria, is to articulate the triple relationship between the mission of the university and the specific needs of university’s political, social, economic, and cultural environment, and the characteristics of a rapidly changing world. One wonders at the rationale behind the frenzy of some state governments establishing additional universities in the states.
Poor education is a personal tragedy that imprisons people in poverty. But it is a collective failure that could also cost Nigeria and indeed, the African continent its chance to prosper. What can Nigeria and state governments do to change? First, experts believe there needs to be a focus on the unglamorous area of vocational training. In South Africa, where half of young people are unemployed, three-quarters of companies struggle to fill engineering roles. African governments must work closely with employers to find out where the skill gaps lie. India’s experience should be a cautionary tale. The National Skills Development Council there created many trained workers who have not found demand for their qualifications in the labour market. Employer involvement is how countries such as Germany raised vocational education’s standards, filled skills gaps and kept youth unemployment down. In Nigeria, philanthropist Tony Elumelu, who has funded a huge programme to plug the shortage of plumbers, electricians and welders, is working to encourage the government to adopt a more work-based approach to vocational training.
Second, African schools must harness new technology. Distance learning, in which lessons are live-streamed over the internet, can provide a backstop of quality when teachers’ standards vary so wildly. Third, the energies of the private sector should be set free to assist public education systems. It has the resources to scale up quickly, whereas education has to compete with hospitals and roads for straitened government budgets. Free from direct education ministry micro-management, the private sector also has the ability to innovate. The children of drivers, security guards and cleaners are choosing low-cost private schools throughout Africa, not only the elites. In South Africa, private school enrolments rose by 76 per cent in the decade to 2010 and have introduced changes to the curriculum such as “blended learning” – in which online learning and classroom lessons are combined. Whereas once there was official suspicion about private schools, there is now recognition that they provide essential capacity.
The Kenyan education ministry, after years of trying to shut down unapproved private schools, now accepts they are necessary in Nairobi and Mombasa’s slums. Too often failures of education policy are laid at the door of teachers, when they are dedicated people working in trying circumstances. If absenteeism levels are high, it is not necessarily because teachers are lazy; it could be because they have had to work a second job because they cannot rely on their government salary being paid on time. According to UNESCO, there has been a decline in teachers’ pay across Africa since 1975. It will be impossible to attract the brightest teachers if teacher status remains low, conditions remain poor and graduates see teaching as an option of last resort.
The picture for Nigerian education may seem bleak, but progress can be made remarkably quickly.