National Assembly’s move for more public higher institutions amidst inadequate funding
In what appeared like a dress rehearsal of what the National Assembly – the Senate and the House of Representatives – is embarking on right now, the Gombe State government in November 2017 had announced its plans to establish more tertiary institutions in the state.
For Governor Ibrahim Dankwambo, the reason is not farfetched: he claimed that the planned setup of additional institutions was aimed at addressing education imbalance between Gombe and other states in the country, just as his government had secured licence to establish a university of science and technology to take care of the increasing number of candidates seeking university admission – that was in addition to the college of education established in Billiri and the state university already established by the previous administration in the state.
“What you saw today was executed in line with the agenda produced right from the beginning of this administration. The agenda is non-political and non- religious. It is produced to develop the state. About 27,000 students are now looking for admission in tertiary institutions to further their education. This is one of the reasons we decided to establish additional institutions,” Dankwambo explained.
Laudable intention but almost everyone agrees that tertiary education in Nigeria has become largely bastardised. Repeated calls for a state of emergency in the sector have remained elusive and for the umpteenth time, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) is on strike, primarily due to poor funding of higher institutions.
“We don’t need more universities. Other avenues for people to be gainfully engaged will be better at this time. Now, virtually everybody wants to go to the university when they are not fit and proper to go there. They insist because there are no alternatives. What we need more now in Nigeria are artisans and other professionals.
“Unfortunately, our social structure in Nigeria is such that people think that unless you go to the university, you cannot be a success in life, which is unfortunate. Over 60 percent of those in universities today ought not to be there in the first place; they ought to be somewhere else. Unless we have a change of mindset about this, things will remain the same. We have too many universities already,” said Prof. Muyiwa Falaiye, a University of Lagos (UNILAG) lecturer, in a newspaper vox pop.
Yet, the National Assembly is on the verge of passing bills that will make possible the establishment of 80 universities, polytechnics and colleges of education amidst growing concerns that the government at all levels have shirked their financial responsibilities towards existing tertiary institutions.
It will be recalled that in September, the House of Representatives Committee on Tertiary Education and Services considered bills for the establishment of nine new higher institutions across the country, just as the lawmakers moved to amend the Acts establishing six existing ones.
The proposed institutions are Federal Polytechnic, Dukku (Gombe); Federal Polytechnic, Shendam (Plateau); Federal Polytechnic, Abriba (Abia); and Federal University, Birnin-Kebbi (Kebbi). Others include Federal University of Agriculture, Jalingo (Taraba); Federal College of Education, Akwette (Abia); Federal University of Technology, Kaduna (Kaduna); Federal College of Education, Monguno (Borno); and National Institute for Education Planning and Administration.
“You will agree with me that easy access to quality tertiary education is not only desirable but also inevitable. However, the tertiary institutions in the country cannot adequately accommodate the quest for admission by Nigerians, which calls for more to address the protracted problem,” the Chairman of the Committee, Suleiman Aminu, argued.
During the consideration of the bill at a public hearing, ASUU President, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, had stated: “My heart is heavy that we want to establish new universities when nothing is being done about the existing ones. The federal government is considering the imposition of tuition when most Nigerians cannot afford three meals a day, and you are talking of new universities.”
Similar views were shared by Senator Joy Emordi and Prof. Tunde Fatunde. Emordi, a former Chairman, Senate Committee on Education, did not see the need for additional institutions, arguing that the most important thing is to consolidate and build on existing ones.
The senator stated: “If you ask me, I think there is even a need for us to reduce the number. What I still can’t explain is why we are establishing universities all over the place when the teaching and learning environment is nothing to write home about. What we need is to update and increase the quality and quantity of teaching and learning facilities.”
Also speaking in the vox pop, Fatunde, a professor of Francophone Studies, Lagos State University (LASU) Lagos, said it was needless to propose new institutions because existing ones are poorly funded.
“We don’t need a polygamous environment in terms of universities. Take the total budget of education in Nigeria today, it is about three or four per cent compared to South Korea, where education and vocational training is funded at about 60 per cent of the annual national budget. This is why South Korea is the fifth economic power in the world. We are not a serious nation.
“This is the century known as the century of knowledge and digital education. If you don’t invest in education, you are going nowhere as a nation in this century. In Nigeria, the most lucrative industry is politics but the most lucrative industry in South Korea is education and vocational training. You can see the gulf of difference and implication,” he argued.
Nonetheless, the lawmakers seemed determined that the new institutions must be established not because of any pragmatism but for political expediency.
“Federal character entitles every state to a polytechnic. Let us establish them first, after which the issue of funding would be addressed,” a lawmaker, Uzoma Nkem-Abonta, representing Abia State said.
It was not surprising then when a national daily reported that the Senate and the House of Representatives were bent on creating 80 higher institutions. According to the media report, there were 80 bills at various legislative processes pending before the two legislative chambers for the establishment of more tertiary institutions across the country.
The 80 proposed federal institutions, spread across the 36 states of the federation and the FCT, comprise 27 universities, 22 colleges of education, 19 polytechnics, six institutes, one police academy, one federal college of agriculture, a federal college of forestry, one paramilitary academy and one federal college of veterinary assistants as well as a school of mines and geological studies.
The Senate is proposing 37 tertiary institutions while the House of Representatives is proposing 36 with seven other bills concurrently undergoing legislative processes in both chambers.
Of the 27 proposed federal universities, ten are for education, eight for agriculture, four for technology, and one each for science and technology, medicine and medical sciences, aquatic studies and health.
Not a few feel that the lawmakers are playing politics with tertiary education in the country and in a sense playing with the future of Nigeria’s youths – who are presumed as leaders of tomorrow.
Rising in support of the need to create more tertiary institutions, Dr. Owojecho Omoha at the University of Abuja noted: “We must not forget that the number of applicants seeking admission into Nigerian universities yearly is quite overwhelming. Of this number, less than half are admitted. That gives an indication of a need for the establishment of more universities.
“One may argue that some of the existing universities have not been maintained, but such argument is not valid. Even if the existing ones are maintained, it does not stop the quest for higher education in Nigeria. The establishment of more universities must not be discouraged; but at the same time, it is important to maintain the existing ones. Either way, the two should be taken together. The less the number of universities, the more frustrated are our children,” Omoha reasoned.
Some education experts argued that if the number of candidates seeking admission into the institutions is considered, the call for establishment of more of the institutions sounds reasonable, noting that with more of them, the admission seekers candidates will get placement. They, however, concluded that the nagging issue of inadequate funding of the nation’s higher institutions should be promptly and satisfactorily addressed with the ultimate goal of raising the standards of tertiary education.
“It depends on how we look at it. Nigeria today has a population of about 180 million with a very high young population. If we look at it in terms of population, definitely 145 universities are not enough. The truth is that we need more universities but we also need to increase capacity of existing universities. We need to do both. It cannot be do one and leave the other,” Prof. Abdulrasheed Na’Allah Vice-Chancellor of Kwara State University, has said.
Na’Allah said some universities should be running first degree programmes only while others should run only master’s degrees, and some others be devoted solely for research purposes.
“That is the way our universities will know which one will have to collaborate with industries, which one has to focus on teaching. Right now, we are not responding adequately to our realities. We should move away from old ways so that universities can really function and perform their expected roles,” he stated.
With ASUU locked in horns with the federal government over the latter’s failure to meet its financial obligations and previous budgetary commitments, the issue of establishing more higher institutions while the issue of poor funding still exists may just be another time bomb.
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