Menace of illegal universities and NUC’s burden
A recent announcement by the National Universities Commission (NUC) that it had cracked down on some 60 institutions operating illegally in the country is in itself good news. However, Head, Education Desk, IYABO LAWAL, writes that the NUC should do more than making a yearly announcement of shutting down illegal universities dotting the nation’s landscape
The large number of public and private universities in Nigeria has not meant easy access to university education. Some stakeholders in the sector believe that is due to the low carrying capacity of the universities. They noted that 96 per cent of the candidates who sit for the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) chose university as their preferred institutions; 1.69 per cent chose colleges of education while 1.9 per cent settled for polytechnics as their preferred institutions.
The situation has resulted in the unwieldy rise of illegal tertiary institutions in the country with most of them claiming affiliation to established universities in the United States, United Kingdom and Canada – even Ghana and Republic of Benin. Experts say the reason for the proliferation of illegal degree-awarding institutions in the country is because of the limited space available in the university system. According to education sector analysts, the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) among other governmental interventions to quench the seeming insatiable thirst for university education in Nigeria have fallen through. Private universities are on the other hand expensive and beyond what many Nigerians can afford.
It is not surprising then when the National Universities Commission (NUC) recently released the list of 58 illegal universities in Nigeria. The commission accused the institutions of operating without being licensed and therefore shut them down for violating the national minimum standard for education, according to a bulletin from the office of the NUC dated May 14.
Among the illegal universities are: University of Accountancy and Management Studies; Christians of Charity American University of Science and Technology; University of Industry; University of Applied Sciences and Management; Blacksmith University; Volta University College; Royal University; Atlanta University; United Christian University; United Nigeria University College; Samuel Ahmadu University; UNESCO University; Saint Augustine’s University of Technology.
They also include The International University, Missouri USA; Collumbus University, UK; Tiu International University, UK; Pebbles University, UK; London External Studies, UK; Pilgrims University; West African Christian University; Bolta University College; JBC Seminary Inc. (Wukari Jubilee University); Western University; St. Andrews University College; EC-Council USA; Atlas University; and the Concept College/Universities (London).
In total, the NUC listed 58 black-market tertiary institutions operating in the country. The commission also said eight universities are currently undergoing investigation for illegally running degree programmes. The eight universities are National Universities of Nigeria, Keffi, Nasarawa State; North Central University, Otukpo, Benue state; Christ Alive Christian Seminary and University; Richmond Open University, Arochukwu, Abia State; West Coast University, Umuahia; Saint Clements University, Iyin Ekiti, Ekiti State; Volta University College, Aba, Abia State; and illegal satellite campuses of Ambrose Alli University.
“For the avoidance of doubt, anybody who patronises or obtains any certificate from any of these illegal institutions does so at his or her own risk,” the commission warned, pointing out that certificates obtained from these illegal institutions will not be recognised for the purposes of National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), employment and further studies. The NUC added that the relevant law enforcement agencies have been informed for necessary action.
It was a similar story in 2016 when the NUC discovered 37 universities running illegal or unaccredited courses with publicly owned universities among the culprits. For example, the University of Abuja made the top of the list with 15 disciplines. The 15 illegal programmes cut across the arts, science, education, law and engineering. One state-owned university ran five unaccredited engineering courses: civil, mechanical, petroleum, chemical, electrical and electronics, according to the details of the NUC accreditation status of academic programmes in 143 universities. It is little wonder then that many mushroom illegal universities are sprouting at every corner of the country and flourishing because of the systemic failure in the education sector.
In 2015, the commission shut down 57 of such fake higher institutions operating without accreditation but after thousands of Nigerian youths and their parents/guardians desperate for university education had been scammed.The President of the Nigerian Academy of Science, Mr. Oyewale Tomori, had a couple of years ago called into question the integrity of NUC’s accreditation.Tomori said, “When there are allegations that some of the people who conduct accreditation in the name of NUC receive ‘brown envelopes’, the NUC will ask: Are those who give or take the envelopes not your colleagues? But the NUC forgets one thing, that the accreditation bears ‘NUC’s seal.”
Experts have suggested to the NUC the need to maintain a regularly updated national database of accredited programmes and institutions. The commission is also urged to involve professionals in its accreditation exercises, not just academics.
In 2013, a renowned public analyst and rights activist, Chido Onumah, drew attention to the malaise of proliferation of illegal universities in Nigeria. He shared his observation: “I came across a National Universities Commission (NUC) newsletter that had a list of 44 ‘fake universities’ in the country. That piece of information was meant as a cautionary note for students and parents as well as the public. It is hard to say how many of those concerned saw and benefitted from the NUC alert.
From all indications, not many.”
With the number of these illegal institutions growing unabated, Onumah believed that the proliferation was either in response to the country’s glorification of paper qualification or those who “are supposed to rein in these illegal entities are not doing what is expected of them”. He had argued that the fact that the NUC had to issue another warning recently was a pointer to how menacing the issue had become.The information about ‘fake universities’ and ‘degree mills’ in the country had come via a public announcement signed by the then Executive Secretary of the NUC, Prof. Julius Okojie.
“The National Universities Commission (NUC) wishes to announce to the general public, especially parents and prospective undergraduates that the under listed ‘Degree Mills’ have not been licensed by the Federal Government and have, therefore, been closed down for violating the Education (National Minimum Standards, etc) Act CAP E3 Law of the Federation of Nigeria 2004,” Okojie had stated.
While Onumah felt that the commission had taken a bold step informing the public about the scammers fronting as universities, he added: “But there are many questions begging for answers. What type of ‘investigations’ is the NUC conducting? Universities are not day care centres. How did these ‘Degree Mills’ start off? Is there a ‘cabal’ behind these ‘fake universities’? Are there no regulations/requirements before universities are accredited? Did the NUC accredit the universities it is investigating? ”
According to him, the NUC has a list of legally recognised universities in the country and any institution that purports to be a university that is not on the list should be closed down immediately and its proprietors prosecuted. “That is the easiest way to put an end to this scam. In this regard, does the NUC have the support of the government and its relevant agencies to prosecute the proprietors of these illegal universities?”
However, considering the federal government’s appointment of Salisu Buhari, the disgraced, certificate-forging former Speaker of the House of Representatives, to the governing council of a federal university, it is not difficult to see the kind of support the NUC would get from the government. Buhari was elected into the House of Representatives based on forgery and perjury –he had lied about his age and academic qualifications. He had claimed a degree from the University of Toronto, Canada, which he never earned.
Speaking further on the issue, Onumah had advised the government thus: “Perhaps, in tackling the problem of ‘fake universities’ the government needs to borrow a leaf from its own playbook. Only recently, through one of its agencies, the National Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB), the government banned the airing and distribution of the documentary, ‘Fuelling Poverty’. The 30-minute film documents the corruption in the country’s oil industry, its impact and the response of Nigerians to the waste and obnoxious policies it has engendered. We look forward to the outcome of the NUC’s “investigation” and hope that at the end of the day, we actually see people punished for violating the Education (National Minimum Standards etc) Act CAP E3 Law of the Federation of Nigeria 2004.”
One scholar, however, noted that for any meaningful development to take place in the university system, government must be ready to address the issue of funding the system adequately. Adequate funding everybody agrees, will help solve the problem of infrastructure. The government should as a matter of national importance review upward the pay-package for academics; and give consent to the university autonomy being clamoured for. Experts also suggest that there is the need to make projections on the nation’s manpower needs in a bid to integrate this into university programmes. The NUC and the Nigerian Manpower Board are in the position to alert universities on the future manpower requirements of the country.
Therefore, if Nigeria must successfully confront the challenges of educational development, it must acquire and adapt global knowledge and create knowledge locally; invest in human capital to increase the ability to absorb and use knowledge; and invest in technologies to facilitate both acquisition and the absorption of knowledge.Until that is done, the public may just have to wait –year in, year out – for the announcement and warning by the NUC of another crackdown on illegal universities only after thousands of Nigerian admission seekers have been scammed.
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