Wednesday, 6th December 2023

Controversy over relevance of specialised varsities

By Iyabo Lawal
28 August 2023   |   3:08 am
Nigeria’s specialised universities have been in the news for the wrong reasons. In this report, IYABO LAWAL examines controversies surrounding these institutions, whether they can deliver on their mandate or solve the nation’s dearth of manpower in some key sectors. Despite Federal Government’s directive to specialised institutions to focus on their core mandate and stop…

Specialised Varsities

Nigeria’s specialised universities have been in the news for the wrong reasons. In this report, IYABO LAWAL examines controversies surrounding these institutions, whether they can deliver on their mandate or solve the nation’s dearth of manpower in some key sectors.

Despite Federal Government’s directive to specialised institutions to focus on their core mandate and stop offering courses not in their original mandate, the trend has continued.

The Guardian checks revealed that some of these institutions are still offering the controversial courses. Hundreds of Nigerian students have been ‘duped’ by various tertiary institutions across the nation by offering courses they were not authorised to run.

Take for instance, the University of Agriculture, Makurdi (UAM), established on January 1, 1988, as a specialised university having metamorphosed from the defunct Federal University of Technology, which was established in 1980; but deviated in 2010 when the Senate of the university approved the establishment of the College of Management Sciences. The college was created with two departments: Department of Business Administration and Department of Accounting and Finance.

But apart from the UAM, there is a horde of other institutions biting more than they can chew.

Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike, Abia State, ran courses like Arabic/Christian Religious Studies, Business Administration, Home Economics, Marketing, and Accountancy – an exercise in anomie.

Recently, the Federal Government had to bar some specialised institutions like Federal University of Agriculture Abeokuta; Federal University of Agriculture Makurdi; and Michael Okpara University of Agriculture Umudike, from offering courses not in their original mandate.

Other universities are: Federal University of Technology Akure; Federal University of Technology Owerri; MadibboAdama University of Technology Yola; Ladoke Akintola University of Technology Ogbomoso; AbubakarTafawa University of Technology Bauchi; and Bells University of Technology, Ota.

The government had warned these institutions running programmes that were “antithetical to their mandates” to stop such with immediate effect.It urged the schools to stick to the core mandates for which they were set up “and desist from running programmes, which have no bearing to their names and foundation.”

The government found it unbelievable that universities of agriculture could be offering programmes in Law and management courses such as Accounting, Banking and Finance, Business Administration – to it that is an aberration.

As part of agenda to position the country for accelerated growth in the 21st century, the Federal Government, had established specialised universities to enable the country to produce a certain class of manpower that would focus on certain areas of need.

The mandate of these institutions is to produce manpower and expertise that would strengthen capacity in certain areas. Such areas of focus include agriculture, technology, education, petroleum resources, maritime and medicine among others.

But given the challenges tertiary institutions face in getting funds to operate, most of these institutions have veered into courses outside their mandate, thus distracting them from delivering on their core competence.

Immediate past Minister of Education, AdamuAdamu, had directed the Joint Admissions and Matriculations Board (JAMB)” to delete all such courses on its portal,” saying the mission for setting up these universities must be followed without deviation.

“As if that was not enough, some institutions change the nomenclature of some of the courses to read for instance Banking Engineering, Accounting Technology, among other names. This is an aberration and should be stopped with immediate effect,” an obviously displeased Adamu had stated.

JAMB’s spokesperson, Fabian Benjamin, said there would be a smooth transition into the new rule once the students already studying the courses finish, and there shall be no new intake of students into the affected courses.

But while justifying the actions of the specialised institutions, a leader of Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) from one of the affected institutions, Dr Akeem Oluwo, said universities are under-funded and while seeking additional funds, administrators had added high-demand programmes to secure additional income.

Oluwo said in order to enable Nigerian universities conduct quality research and produce world-class students, government would have to increase funding, otherwise, universities will keep looking for other ways to make up the shortfall.

“If there is enough funding from the government, the universities would be able to focus on teaching and research, and will not keep struggling to get more funds,” Oluwo stated.
But a professor of education, Adekunle Aloba, faulted the claim, saying once an institution fails to keep to its mission, it distorts the national plan and equilibrium of the Nigerian university system.

“So, our appeal is for these institutions to keep within their mandate. Government has a purpose to say this is a university of agriculture, university of technology orconventioal university.

“When you begin to wobble because of local pressure, its unacceptable. I think a university should stand on its core areas of mandate,” Aloba said.

Speaking on some reasons given by some of the specialised universities for deviating from their mandates, such as funding and expansion of access to university education, Aloba said the problems are still there, even with the establishment of more universities.

In a research titled, “Rethinking 40 years of specialised universities in Nigeria and their role in national development,” by Professor SiyanOyeweso, the study said proliferation of these institutions should be halted as they do not offer anything fundamentally different from existing conventional institutions right from staff and students’ recruitment, promotion, appointment criteria and research impact.

It said all specialised universities face the challenge of inadequate funding and are also prone to strikes and unstable academic calendar, while academic staff also operates the same salary structure with their counterparts in conventional universities.

Speaking on whether these institutions have delivered on their mandate, former Deputy Vice Chancellor, Olabisi Onabanjo University (OOU), Ago Iwoye, Prof OlukayodeOdunola, said specialised institutions have failed to deliver on their mandate.

For instance, he queried the transformation agricultural institutions have brought to agric.“What groundbreaking technological innovation have universities of technology brought to the table? Instead, they are all producing more students in business administration.

Odunolasaid going by national experience, none of the specialised universities has brought anything outstanding in their areas of interests’ more than general-purpose institutions.

A Professor of Geography at Bayero University, Kano (BUK), Usman Mohammed,
argued that specialised universities are not necessary for the country. These set of universities must rediscover their mandates, identify the problems and what they need to do to deliver on their mandates.

Professor of History, University of Lagos (UNILAG), Prof. AyodejiOlukoju, said the first generation of universities of agriculture and technology produced quality human resource for the economy and quality research in academic journals, but at some point, veered into other courses, which diluted their primary focus.

“This indicates admission of failure on their part. Secondly, one has not observed any radical change in the agricultural sector, or technology development and application traceable to these institutions.”

Olukoju said for specialised universities to thrive, the country should reconsider its national education policy relative to the state, size and needs of the economy, and job creation imperatives.

He said: “We should tie universities to set targets, reward verifiable success and sanction failure. We should review curricula in light of global trends and national goals. Our emphasis across board should be to equip all graduates with survival skills and expose them to broad knowledge to make them adaptable to real life challenges.”

A lecturer, Dr OnyekaChukwu, also agreed that specialised universities have not lived up to their mandate.

He said: “These institutions were established to produce certain classes of individuals or manpower that would focus on certain areas of need for the nation. But with time, it became obvious that government has not been able to live up to her side of the bargain. For instance, government didn’t fund them or provide resources to be able to continue within that special mandate given them. That was when the whole mandate began to crumble.”

“Going by the reality on ground, these institutions are not necessary. They are necessary only when government is able to fund them and provide continuous resources to deliver on their areas of specialty.”
Speaking on what these universities can do to keep up their mandate, Chukwu said the solution is for government to continue funding the institutions.

According to him, if these institutions are not funded, they would find ways to survive, then, they would lose their specialty.

“The only thing is that they can run their specialty but if they want to introduce other programmes, those courses must have direct bearing with whatever their mandate is. So, a university of agriculture cannot establish a department of mass communication because it is not related. But could actually establish marketing department because we need to market agricultural products. But such institutions have no business with art and social science disciplines,” he stated.