Do we need more universities?

0 53

The other day, I was engaged in a controversial conversation with a close friend on a topic that centered on the licensing of more universities. My friend’s position was that the existing 274 universities in Nigeria are more than enough. He informed me that this has been the position of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, that efforts should be concentrated on making the existing ones centres of excellence rather than licensing new universities. The issue of funding, staffing and provision of adequate infrastructure came up in his argument. He also made me to know that across the various university ranking agencies (Times Higher Education, QS World Universities ranking and webometrics rankings), no Nigerian university is among the best 500 in the world; the closest being Covenant University, Ota in the 800 – 1000 range going by the latest rankings released in 2023.

Another point my friend raised was the issue of graduate unemployment. With passion and profound agitation, he asked me point-blank if there was any solution in sight for the army of graduates being churned out year after year to get meaningful employment. Sounding elated and victorious, he stated quite flatly that there was no justification for licensing more universities now or in the near future.

I had to take a deep breath before making my position known. While thinking of the best way to present my arguments, a thought flashed through my mind, “Before you borrow money from your friend, decide which you need most – the money or the friendship.” The ongoing discussion fitted squarely with this quotable quote. How do I present my position without losing my friend who had become very passionate about this issue of licensing more universities? Or do I just rein in my views and for the sake of friendship tag along? There were so many questions racing through my mind within the brief period of reflection.

How and where I got the courage to marshal out my contrary views I still cannot understand – not even now. Somehow, initially shaky at the beginning, I gradually gained confidence and presented my viewpoints on the controversial issue of licensing more universities. My first appeal was to use statistical data.  Every year, between 1.5 million and 1.9 million candidates sit for the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination according to official records provided by the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board, the body overseeing the conduct of the UTME. Available data also show that less than 40 per cent or about 700,000 candidates gain admission into the university, not because the remaining (between 800,000 and 1.2 million) candidates failed the examination but because that is the carrying capacity (available admission slots) available in the entire Nigerian university system. So what happens to those who, despite having all the necessary qualifications for university admission, do not secure admission?

Again, according to a Professor of Demography and Social Statistics at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Akanni Akinyemi, Nigeria has the largest population of youth in the world with about 70 per cent of the population under the age of 30 and 42 per cent under the age of 15. The current secondary educational system makes age 16 the maximum age for completion of secondary education. What happens thereafter if the scenario painted above (limited admission spaces) does not change? The possibilities are varied and scary: increase in suicide rates due to frustration, violent crimes, baby mamas and papas, drug addiction, cultism, kidnapping, the list is endless.

It therefore follows that any responsible government committed to upholding the constitution which guarantees access to tertiary education for all citizens will leave no stone unturned in making sure that there is increased access for all qualified candidates seeking university admission. It therefore needs no further argument that Nigeria needs more universities.

The United Kingdom which has a smaller population than Nigeria has about 130 universities with over 2.8 million students currently in UK universities as of 2022, whereas the present 274 universities in Nigeria could only cater for two million students going by records from the then Executive Secretary of the  National Universities Commission, Prof. Abubakar Rasheed in 2021. According to him, “A population of 200 million people with a total university enrolment of just two million translates into one per cent of the population currently in the university.” This in his view portends a “near crisis.” Increasing available admission therefore is a logical approach to avoiding such “near crisis.”

The argument that, since there are no jobs or not enough jobs for graduates being turned out by Nigerian universities, there should be no more licensing of new universities rings hollow and myopic. According to the late sage and nationalist, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, no condition is permanent. He made this declaration in the 70s when the late Dr Ukpabi Azika, the Administrator of the East Central State referred to Azikiwe as “blistering nabob of negativity” when Azikiwe counselled Azika on his administrative policies. Shortly after this, there was a coup in 1975 which swept Azika out of office.

Likewise, the present condition (limited employment opportunities) is not permanent and as such efforts should be geared towards having the required manpower in place for the economy as it improves, going by the strategic and visionary policies being implemented by the Federal Government.

Again, the current JAPA syndrome which is slowly becoming an epidemic should arouse all and sundry to the urgent need to expand available university admission opportunities to cushion the effects of massive brain drain. We must all be concerned and involved in the effort to close the skills gap existing in various sectors of the economy occasioned by the JAPA syndrome.

Indeed there are no quick fixes to the various challenges presently facing the Nigerian university system (inadequate funding, inadequate learning and teaching facilities, staffing challenges), especially at professorial levels as well as the doctoral cadre, yet the fact remains that placing a moratorium on licensing of new universities is definitely not one of the solutions. As it is said in the part of the country where I come from, chopping off the head is not the panacea for headache. I rest my case. Did I lose my friend after I declared my position? Not too sure. Or what do you think?

  • Abimbola Olulesi is the Director, Public Relations, Caleb University Imota Lagos.
Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. Accept Read More