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Do we really need more universities in Nigeria?

UNNIF that does not drill a hole in the theory that we need more universities, then let us consider another fact often ignored. There are thousands of empty seats in various universities begging for students. Let us start with Mathematics Department. But, before that, permit me to draw attention to a point made by Professor Soremekun of National Open University of Nigeria, NOUN.

In his article published in PUNCH, June 2, 2015, he wrote about “many of the private universities, save a few, [which] are really contending with many unfilled spaces.” Soremekun had touched upon a sensitive aspect of university education in Nigeria.To the best of my knowledge, as someone who has stepped into at least 20 private university campuses, it would appear that only three or four (names withheld) can boast of full admission.

The rest face admission ranging from fifty per cent to ten per cent. One private university in the Niger Delta could only find nine per cent of the applicants wanted in 2014; they had to offer scholarships to attract more students. All over Nigeria private universities have thousands of vacancies. While it is correct to say that tuition and other fees have controlled the crowd. It is still not true that there are no vacancies. There are.

No department in every university demonstrates the fallacy of crowded universities and scarcity of space better than Mathematics. There is probably no university in Nigeria having the full set of students it would really want to study Mathematics. With 70 to 80 per cent failure in WEAC Mathematics, where on earth are universities to find the students to read Mathematics at university level?

It is easier for some universities to discover ice cube in the Sahara Desert than to find applicants for Maths. Again, I received the shock of my life, when on visiting a state university, there was a 200 Level Maths class in progress with only one student in the otherwise empty class!!! So who says we need more universities when already thousands of spaces are begging for people to come and sit – providing they are qualified.

Education, Sciences and Fine Arts follow closely on the heels of Mathematics. Most students reading Education did not apply for it  ab initio; it was offered to them after being turned down for Law, Economics, Banking and Finance or Mass Communication. Few of them want to teach after leaving the university. It is only now that Nollywood has created a career for Theatre Arts graduates that those departments are filling up – but not everywhere.

There is no need to list seriatim all the courses of study which have failed to attract the required number of students to various universities. Anybody who is still in doubt that we don’t need to rush to open more should go and visit at least twelve (two in each zone) and the truth will be clear.

Management of universities

Three more reasons, among several argue against establishing more universities – even if there is space scarcity. They are, not necessarily in order of importance, finance, academic staff and the crying need to re-examine the role of elected and appointed people in the management of universities. Permit me to touch briefly on the third reason by providing examples.

At the moment, nothing less than twelve universities (again names withheld) are currently without Vice- Chancellors, VCs; either because he is on suspension or had been dismissed under circumstances which have left the teaching staff divided. Another ten or so are on the brink of such disruptions to academic pursuits in the universities.

This development would not have been alarming if 2015 is an exceptional year in that regard. But, it is not. Upheavals on campuses with VCs in the eyes of the storms have become as common as sand on the beach. It seems more than two centuries ago when Emeritus Professor Ayo Banjo, OFR, completed two tenures as VC of the University of Ibadan. Today, a VC lasting four years on the seat is rarity.

Yet a sage, Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1803-1882, had told us that,  “An institution is the lengthened shadow of one man.´  (VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS, p 105). Each university, like other institutions acquires a culture, over time, by the leadership provided by some VCs and other leaders.

Invariably, they stay a long time to develop that culture. How on earth can Nigerian universities develop their own unique character when VCs don’t last more than four years?  The closest we have come in Nigeria, in recent times had been the University of Ilorin which had maintained some measure of stability. Invariably, only universities with culture attract teaching staff staying long and helping to “keep the flag flying”.

Finance is easy to deal with. Everybody agrees that our universities are under-funded. So why establish more. It is akin to a couple with ten under-nourished kids wanting to add two more to make a dozen. A visit to any of the universities established in 2011 will soon convince anybody with brains that it is a step in the wrong direction.

Finally, virtually all Nigerian universities are under-staffed. Anybody with a Doctorate and willing to teach will readily find job. Why add more universities?

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