Knocks for FG over proliferation of varsities, polytechnics
The approval of new private universities by the Federal Government in the wake of industrial action by Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) is currently generating ripples. Already, stakeholders have described the move as unnecessary and uncalled for.
The Federal Government had approved establishment of 12 new private universities across the country. The benefitting states include Kano, Niger, Gombe, Sokoto, Delta, Abia, Anambra and Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja.
Government also approved establishment of three new polytechnics in the country. The Federal Ministry of Education, in a statement by its director of press, Ben Goong, said President Muhammadu Buhari approved the three polytechnics to be located in Kabo, Kano State; Umunnoechi, Abia State, and Orogun, Delta State.
This brings to 36 the number of federal polytechnics in the country. All states of the federation now have one federal polytechnic each.
However, there are concerns whether or not the decision was a good move considering the fact that the system is yet to maximise capacity of existing private universities, while ASUU has been on strike since February 14.
The approval of 12 additional universities increased the number of private institutions from 99 to 111. A 2019 record by Statista showed that in 2019, there were over 1.8 million full-time undergraduates in the country. 1,206,825 students attend federal universities, 544,936 attend state universities and 102,500 attend private universities.
However, the country has failed to meet the budgetary provisions for education and has been doing far less than some of her neighbouring countries. In six years, Nigeria budgeted N3.6 trillion out of N55.3 trillion for education.
In 2016, of the N6.06 trillion total budget, N369.6 billion or 6.7 per cent was allocated to public education. In 2017, N550 billion or 7.38 per out cent was allocated to education out of the N7.29 trillion budget, while in 2018, N605.8 billion or 7.04 per cent was given to education from the N9.2 trillion budget.
In 2019, N620 billion or 7.05 per cent was allocated to education out of N8.92 trillion, in 2020, N671.07 billion or 6.7 per cent was allocated to education out of N10.33 trillion, while in 2021, N742.5 billion or 5.6 per cent was allocated to education out of N13.6 trillion.
The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) said the creation of new universities and polytechnics by the Federal Government can be described as politicisation of university education.
ASUU wondered why government should be establishing new universities at this critical time when it is unable to properly fund existing ones.
The coordinator of ASUU in Owerri zone, Uzo Onyebinama, said the union would ask the National Universities Commission (NUC) to review its Act to control the rate at which state governments were also establishing universities, even when they could not fund existing ones.
Onyebinama said: “We had asked the Federal Government the need of creating universities when it cannot fund existing ones.
“But you know, as politicians, given that we are approaching 2023 election, they want to have something for their campaign. When they visit those communities, they tell them they’ve given them universities. It’s not about opening universities, but about funding and sustenance. Why establish new universities when the ones on ground are mere shadows of themselves.
“If they fund existing ones and expand their facilities, those ones can absorb whatever number of students these new ones will take. Truth is that the same new universities will tomorrow join other old ones to lament about funding. And another government will come up to establish theirs.
“Both the Federal and state governments are guilty of this and that is why we are asking the Federal Government to stop proliferation of universities.”
For Kelvin Peters, a student at Abia State University, Uturu, private universities are not needed because many parents could not afford them.
“We don’t need private universities now, not just because of the economic situation, but because masses can’t afford it. Sadly, public universities are not functioning well, government should improve on existing ones first,” Peters said.
Taiwo Adams, a 300-level student of Accounting at Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife, said the Federal Government should ease the burden on parents and students by effectively managing existing ones.
“We have many federal and state universities, which are not well managed. Now, approving additional 12 private universities at this point is unacceptable. How many parents can afford the fees of N1 million-plus with the current economic situation of this country? Government should ease the burden on both parents and students by trying to manage the institutions we have,” she said.
Another student, Jomiloju Olatundun, described government’s action as a misplaced priority. What good will the 12 new private universities do given the state of insecurity and economic imbalance in the country? Has the Ministry of Education settled issues with ASUU? Will top politicians recall their wards from foreign schools to be educated in those approved universities?”
Friday Bassey, a 200-level student at University of Ibadan (UI) said the government should improve existing tertiary institutions and bring solutions to the problems confronting the sector.
He said: “Approving more private universities is not necessary. At least, the ones we have are more than enough. Rather than having more universities, why not channel that energy into working on improving the ones already in existence and also makes sure there are no issues concerning the sector as a whole? Provision of enough funds for research work, improving infrastructural facilities in various tertiary institutions, and provision of employment for graduating students are quite essential.”
For Tomiwa Olaniran, indigent parents would not be able to afford huge amounts paid in these universities. I am highly disappointed at the action of the Federal Executive Council, who gave them a nod for approval. This is an attempt to deepen the open wound of ASUU. If it continues like this, only children of the rich will have access to qualitative education, while indigent children may not be able to afford private universities when public tertiary institutions become moribund,” she said.
Moses Edwards, a final year student at University of Ilorin, said, the Federal Government needs to work towards having better public universities, especially in the face of the present economic situation. Edwards said what the country needs is better universities, and not additional private universities.
He said: “There is no greatness in having more private universities and we are still dealing with a dysfunctional education system. Nigeria should work towards having better universities than having more universities with the nation’s economic situation.”
Oladotun Olubanwo, a 300-Level student at Adekunle Ajasin University Akungba-Akoko (AAUA), said: “There is no need for the Federal Government to establish more universities whether it is private or not. There is an ongoing strike by ASUU that needs to be addressed; government is yet to address it. The creation of private universities will add to the number of universities we have in the country but won’t help to reduce the number of roaming students on the streets due to high school fees. I will urge the Federal Government to focus on reaching an agreement with ASUU rather than creating more universities in a time like this.”
Another student at UNILORIN, Mary Ajisefini, said the approval of new private universities is a misplaced priority. He said government should be focused on improving and revitalising public universities.
“I think the action just described the level of urgency towards raising public universities to a standard that would ease learning and put an end to incessant strikes in the nation’s institutions.
”It is a misplaced priority because, for now, all plans should be how to improve and revitalise public universities and create conducive learning environment, while working towards meeting the demands of ASUU.
“We don’t need more private universities for now. There are records of graduates looking around for job opportunities but could not find one after paying huge amount of money to study.
“Will indigent parents be motivated to ‘hustle’ and send their wards to a private university knowing well that it doesn’t guarantee a well-paid job after school?
“Why will Federal Government keep approving schools that are not benefitting the majority? This simply is passing a message to the majority that education is not for the poor. This might lead to discrimination as time goes on since public schools are always on strike.
“As a country, even with the steady, unbroken string of civilian administrations, funding of the sector has remained a major challenge. In the 2022 budget, out of N17 trillion, only 7.2 per cent was allocated to education, even with the proliferation of universities. It means that for education to fulfill its role of increasing economic efficiency and social consistency to the point of helping to raise the poor from poverty, it will continue to suffer dearth of funding that will stifle running costs, truncate research advancements, result in lack of infrastructural development, encourage further brain drain, prevent institutions from having laboratories, electricity, staff offices, libraries, students’ hostels, administrative blocks, recreation centres, good road network and undoubtedly lead to more strikes as is currently the case between government and ASUU,” Ajisefini said.