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Nigeria needs quality higher education, not duplication of varsities, says Odugbemi


Prof. Tolu Odugbemi

Prof. Tolu Odugbemi is a former vice-chancellor of the University of Lagos and also the Ondo State University of Science and Technology (OSUSTECH). In this interview with UJUNWA ATUEYI, the seasoned administrator, who is presently a member of the governing council of University of Medical Sciences, Ondo State, said Nigeria’s higher education would not thrive through proliferation of varsities but by ensuring quality across all strata of the university system in the country.

As a former university administrator, what are your thoughts on proliferation of private universities in Nigeria?
The issue of quality of such institutions should come into play. It is not the number that matters, but the quality. What is the National Universities Commission (NUC) doing? Are they doing proper regulation? Are the existing universities producing the right calibre of people that could be able to work on their own without depending on government all the time for job?

So, NUC and other regulatory bodies will have important assignment to ensure that whatever we call universities are truly universities. Establishing more will not guarantee the human and national growth we desire. But ensuring quality in every affair of the university system will bring the much-touted developmental desire. I won’t condemn what we have so far, but the fact remains that things started going down since the 70s. The quality of teachers that we had years back in many of our universities were very comparable to what we had in many of other European institutions, Commonwealth and American universities, even up to 80s. But gradually things started coming down at a very dramatic rate that is very alarming.


We can’t blame the government alone in that many of our various communities see the prestige of the universities and some of the political groups will like to get support from the communities. Therefore, they establish universities for personal gains and benefits. Now the challenge is when we don’t have courageous people to control all the excess we are experiencing. By the time a community says they need a university in their community, they go and lobby for it and the regulatory bodies will easily bend to such demands. That is not helping the country at all; we have found ourselves in a very bad situation. It will be very good for us to have good varsities comparable to other varsities in the developed world.

Varsities are to solve societal problems, but are our universities solving any problem? Are they truly solving any of our problems? Because where universities are set up elsewhere, they will find a problem within that society and automatically work towards solving it. But in our own case, if you look round, you just wonder whether our universities are really doing what they are supposed to be doing.

Today, some of the universities we have do not even have the equipment that was in secondary schools of old. Unfortunately, some people do not care or even bother about such development in our universities. University education is not just about going into the university and graduating with a degree.

The quality of some of our standard six teachers those days, if you see their write-ups, you will marvel that all those people were taught properly in their own time compared to contemporary graduates. This shows how we have lost values generally; extensive loss of values and ethical considerations. When you look at all these, you wonder, how we found ourselves in this kind of situation.

What factors do you think are responsible for this decline in standard?
There are different views ascribed to this. Some believe that sudden money from oil and some people spent the money believing that money was not Nigeria’s problem. So, because of poor planning, spending recklessly, people now assumed that we had plenty of money. When you have plenty of money and you are reckless with the money and you did not plan for tomorrow, you get yourself in such a mess, because in true sense of it, we are in a mess.

Most of the money that was coming in at that time could have been invested in good industries that would fetch more money for the country, training our people to maintain standard. But we allowed standard to drop, drastically. This mentality of lobbying also came in and rubbished our system. Lobbying may be okay for politicians, but it is not good for academic environment.

Parents are not helping matters too. They lobby examination bodies to favour their wards. So, at the end of the day, we have wrong calibre of people in our institutions of higher learning. A situation where there is no merit breeds bitterness and anger. We have also allowed ethnicity to go into our heads. We have lost humanity. All these have had adverse effect on university education.

Looking at the country’s population, do we really need more private universities?
Yes we do, provided it is well regulated, no lobbying of regulatory bodies. Honestly, things are not going on well in the system. It is an open secret that you have to lobby them to get accreditation; you lobby to get licensed. That is the truth. But when you enter some of the so-called universities, what you find there are not materials for good teaching.

Therefore, if any private organisation wants to set up tertiary institutions, it must be well-equipped, good teachers, good salaries, allowances, no nepotism and favouritism. But the present system is not satisfying that aspect. In the past, we had foreign lecturers and students coming down to Nigeria to teach and study, because they knew they would benefit from our educational system.

But by the time you are not paying people properly, naturally those people moved back to their countries and that was a big loss to the country. Not only that, the good faculty members we have in Nigeria are now emigrating to foreign lands because of inadequate salaries and allowances. So, we must be able to have courage to pay and retain good staff.


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