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More Fears About Nigeria Varsities Arnold Alalibo

As the proliferation of mushroom private universities in Nigeria intensifies, one wonders what will become of university education in a couple of years. I envisage a glut of the nuisance and how it will constitute the biggest industry in the country. Our GDP will witness a rise.

What kind of a country shall we be? I am curious. Hardly does a quarter elapse without the creation of perfunctory private universities that can at best be described as glorified secondary schools in the mould of dilapidated sheds.

The development is an effigy of the lip service the authorities have always paid to university education. Why is a good number of private universities unable to function appropriately just like their public counterparts that have waned a long time ago?

Universities in the developed world have notoriety for giving skills, sound education and positioning graduates to be gainfully employed. No. Not here. Nigerian universities, rather than do same, de-educate students and churn them out every year as graduates. Then they roam in the ever-shrinking job market.

In civilized climes, the number of universities corresponds with industrial growth. With that graduates are primed for global competitiveness. In Nigeria, however, universities far outnumber job opportunities and the result is what we have in our hands.

The primal private universities took off in the military era but were shut down by the draconian Buhari/Idiagbon regime. During Obasanjo’s administration in 1999, about 40 of them were given the nod to operate. That figure has been sprouting since then.

Education is a tool for development. When a child gets into kindergarten they advance to the university where higher academic knowledge is acquired. But university education doesn’t terminate with the acquisition of knowledge. Other aspects are included to make the student an accomplished person. This is where many private universities are deficient.

The deficiency is visible in the quality of students that are admitted to the universities in question. Many are academically unqualified, yet they are admitted because their sponsors can afford the prodigious fees. Underage admissions are there to be addressed.

Perhaps to avoid high running cost, substandard lecturers are engaged to teach students in these universities. By substandard, I mean lacking the minimum requirement – a PhD degree – to lecture in a Nigerian university. That may be why lecturers are engaged on a part-time basis.

Another predicament of private universities is the unsocial development of students. One characteristic of a university is the promotion of academic and social freedom. This is largely missing in private universities, especially in faith-based institutions. Students are overprotected and locked up behind high walls.

We know that university students require a balanced education where character and learning interface. That is why only students who are found worthy in those areas are graduated. To be additionally found worthy, therefore, a student must exert moral and social freedom and be authorized to practice a religion of their choice.

Unfortunately, such are not observable in private universities. Rather, students are denied exposure and compelled to live like those in a monastery. In some cases, they are directed on what to eat, what to put on and when to sleep. This is antagonistic to the campus life we knew and cherished in those days.

Exorbitant fees also characterize operations of the universities which portrays them as exploitative ventures. Unlike the public universities, fees constitute the major provenance of income of private institutions; that is justifiable. But given the very high charges, it is hard to establish the thrust of their existence. Do they operate for business or service or both?

Not surprisingly, the existence of several unlicensed private universities in the country. This is a profusion of thorns and the National Universities Commission (NUC), charged with the regulation of universities, is to blame. A recent release confirmed about 44 of such institutions operating unhindered. NUC is not up and doing!

Regardless of the challenges, there are exceptional tales about a few of the institutions. Some of them exhibit high moral and academic standards that have become the cynosure of all eyes. They produce robust students that are marketable.

Others have very impressive infrastructure that could equal some of the best universities in the world. Not just that, rules about behaviour are strictly esteemed by students and lecturers. They observe uninterrupted academic calendar and enforce discipline as well. Kudos!

But NUC has a lot to do to end the unbridled multiplication of private universities in our land. After all, what matters in this business is quality, not quantity.

Mr Alalibo lives in Port Harcourt.

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