Higher education: The myth of poor access
The Guardian Editorial of Tuesday, November 15, 2016 on “New universities not enough” as well as the Punch Editorial of Tuesday, November 1, 2016 on “JAMB Act and extension of UTME result” refers. The two editorials opined that “admission crisis in Nigeria is due to inadequate access for qualified candidates in our universities.” This opinion is reflective of the pervasive but spurious notion that we have more qualified candidates than the spaces available in our universities. This is far from the truth. In fact, the Nigerian university system as it stands today with 152 institutions – 40 federal, 44 state and 68 private universities can accommodate all qualified applicants not just from Nigeria, but from the entire West African sub-region.
In 2013/2014, JAMB addressed queries to several universities both public and private to explain unfilled admission quotas, which it found to be very worrisome and “injurious to our educational system”. Indeed, some universities could not fill up to 5 per cent of their approved carrying capacity. In that period, only 5 out of 48 private universities filled up to 50 per cent of their approved admission quota. Only 27 out of 70 state governments owned universities filled up to 50 per cent of their admission quota while for the federal universities, it was just 27 out of 60. Incidentally, the same The Guardian edition carried another news report in which the current Chief Executive of JAMB, Prof. Ishaq Oloyede confirmed that “up to 50 per cent of admission quota for institutions in the country is wasted.” Thus, what we are witnessing is simply a structural problem.
The audacious attempt by Prof. Dibu Ojerinde to tackle this structural problem last year is highly praise worthy. JAMB forwarded the list of students who could not gain admission into the universities of their choices to other universities located near the ones they originally selected. Consequently, several students who would have been left behind eventually got admissions into institutions other than the ones they had originally selected.
Ojerinde was quite imaginative, because generally, neither the admission seekers nor their parents/teachers are aware of the fact that application to JAMB UTME/ Direct Entry is application to the entire system and not only to the universities they chose. Indeed, Walk-in candidates are very much sorted after by many of our universities that could not fill their admission quota but that are not yet a tradition simply due to ignorance. So if JAMB did not actually re-direct those candidates they would not have had the audacity to walk in to be admitted into those other universities. This is why in 2013 again, Federal Universities admitted only 49 per cent of their approved capacity while state and private universities admitted just 42 per cent and 8 per cent. So where is the inadequacy of admission space?
Apparently, the army of admission seekers have preference for lower or zero tuition fees. The more the fee charged, the less the attractiveness of the universities. No wonder, Federal universities like UNILORIN with an admission quota of 6,000 could this year alone, attract a whopping 105,000 candidates when not a single one out of the 60 operational private universities could get up to 2,000 applicants. The state universities faired only a little better because they too charge some fees.
Possible solutions to this structural problem appears to me to be first, the Ojerinde formula which should now include the extension of admission processing period for fee paying institutions and second, the need to provide scholarships or bursaries to support the large number of indigent candidates so that they can be absorbed into the vacancies in fee paying universities. Also, it would be political suicide for any state governor to even think of charging appropriate fees in state owned universities and so for those aspiring to state and private universities, government must provide a relief for parents.
It is curious that even though most of our universities are now private, the total number of students in 60 operating private universities as of today, is less than 10 per cent of the total student population in the Nigerian university system. So, if the Federal Government is already paying tuition fees for about 90 per cent of students in the system, there is no reason why it cannot add the remaining 10 per cent into its annual expenditure on higher education for Nigerians. The additional burden to be imposed on you and me, the tax payers, would be quite insignificant. More so when TETFUND is awashed with cash, some of which could be utilised in the scholarship boards at both federal and state levels to enable indigent student access higher education in fee paying institutions instead of remaining at home due to inability to find sponsorship.
Prof. Owoeye wrote from Lead City University.