Enhancing environment for private university contribution to economic development in Nigeria (1)

(By Dr. Udendeh Ijiirvihi Gabriel)

Before the establishment of these universities, admission into the Nigerian universities was quite tasking for the teeming youths’ yearning for university education. Demographically, Nigeria has a population of over 170 million which weighs heavily on the age bracket (10-25) years and overtime, the available universities could only admit about 20 per cent of eligible candidates out of over one million that sat for the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB) examination. This implies that about 80 per cent (or 800,000) failed to have the opportunity to read for their university education in Nigeria. With about 10 per cent sourcing their university education outside Nigeria, it means 70 per cent or (700,000) had to wait for the subsequent year, which is itself the reason for the prevalent examination malpractices. Prof. Rufai (2013) puts the number at 1.3 million aspirants with only 200,000 admitted. The advent of the private universities, therefore, provided some kind of relief.

A UNIVERSITY system is that institution which operates at the tertiary level of the country’s educational system. Regarding which level of government should run a university system, the Nigerian constitution places university education on the concurrent list; implying that both the federal and the state governments can establish and run a university.

Drawing from the above analogy, one could say that a university established and run by either the state government or the Federal Government is generically referred to as a public university.  A private university on the other hand, is one established and run by entities other than a State or Federal Government, which may include those run by faith-based organisations, individuals, community development associations, etc. In our land now, faith organisations, group of individuals and individuals largely constitute ownership of private universities. Whether public or private universities, the Nigerian educational policy requires that both should come under the regulation of the National Universities Commission (NUC). The latter was established in 1962 as an advisory body, but upgraded to a statutory body in 1974 with the following mandate:

• Granting approval for all academic programmes run in Nigerian universities;

• Granting approvals for the establishment of all higher educational institutions offering degrees;

• Ensure quality assurance of all academic programmes offered in Nigerian universities; and

• A Channel for all external support to the Nigerian universities.

The purpose of this paper is not to appraise the NUC as an institution but rather to attempt an evaluation of the contributions of the private university system to the Nigerian educational development in particular and the economy in general. It is also to identify possible constraints to the development of private university in this country and propose a way forward. This objective cannot be achieved without reference to the NUC as a central agency charged with the onerous mandate of ensuring university system development in Nigeria, hence the review of the agency.

To discharge its regulatory responsibilities effectively, the NUC is structured into 12 departments each headed by a director as follows:

(Please, note that the classification is purely the writer’s opinion)

An appraisal of the components (departments) of NUC would show that though belatedly, quality assurance, physical planning & development and open as well as distance education departments could not have come at a better time than they did.       If open and distance education department had come before the ill-advised wholesale proscription of outreach centres also, known as “satellite campuses” in 2001, the agency would probably have handled it a bit differently to preserve the right of Nigerians to higher education, while pursuing their daily bread. For the wrong decision, Nigeria lost huge foreign exchange to foreign universities who run same programmes without much difference.

It is pertinent to comment that the agency’s structure is well designed; however, its whole essence would have been better served if the liaison offices were replicated across the geo-political zones of the country for ease of access and impact. I believe that the non-core departments can be consolidated into one or two, while more strategically focused ones are created, including:

• University Development Strategy Department;

• Equity and Dispute Resolution Department;

• Bonded Scholarship Department; and

• Academic-Professional Bodies Linkage Department.

The envisaged Development Strategy Department (DSD) will work with proprietors of a new university to develop a road-map, including governance principles, resource base and infrastructure over a period of five to 10 years. Equity and Dispute Resolution Department (E&DRD) will ensure equal dispensation of university system development funds to be created under an arrangement, while working to resolve or minimise union (ASUU, NASU, NANS, and Host Community) conflicts that often result in long strikes. Bonded Scholarship Department (BSD) will identify brilliant students for scholarship to higher education to broaden the pool of academics, while Academic-Professional Linkage Department (A-PLD) will build synergies, seek collaboration and create room for practical experiences to make education more functional.

Evolution of private university in Nigeria

What would appear as the first major policy thrust on private university education was muted by President Shehu Shagari in 1983 following a pronouncement of the Supreme Court of Nigeria that it was constitutional to allow individuals to establish private universities. Consequently, 26 private universities were established. These were inexplicably abolished subsequently by the military regime that overthrew Alhaji Shehu Shagari in 1984. The Abuja-based Correspondence and Open University system was also closed down under the pretext that it was a cost-saving measure to Nigerians. The new regime (military) instead, proposed a country-wide Open University to reach Nigerians in their neighbourhood, which did not materialise until 2003 (Awe, 1998:72).

Following the return to civil rule in 1999 (generically referred to as Second Republic), General Olusegun Obasanjo rekindled the issue of private participation in university education to complement the efforts of the government, which led to the establishment of Igbenedion University, Okada in Edo State; Babcock University, Illisan- Remo, Ogun State; Madonna University, Okija, Anambra State in 1999 (Ajadi, 2010). These were closely followed by several other ones in quick succession and by 2013, Nigeria has had 52 private universities as against 78 (38 States and 40 Federal), implying that growth in private university system in Nigeria is very high. It must be noted that of the 40 Federal Universities, nine were established in 2012 and three in 2013 by the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan whose policy suggests that every state should have a Federal University.

Before the establishment of these universities, admission into the Nigerian universities was quite tasking for the teeming youths’ yearning for university education. Demographically, Nigeria has a population of over 170 million which weighs heavily on the age bracket (10-25) years and overtime, the available universities could only admit about 20 per cent of eligible candidates out of over one million that sat for the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB) examination. This implies that about 80 per cent (or 800,000) failed to have the opportunity to read for their university education in Nigeria. With about 10 per cent sourcing their university education outside Nigeria, it means 70 per cent or (700,000) had to wait for the subsequent year, which is itself the reason for the prevalent examination malpractices. Prof. Rufai (2013) puts the number at 1.3 million aspirants with only 200,000 admitted. The advent of the private universities, therefore, provided some kind of relief.

Contributions of private university

Since the coming of the private universities, there has been a moderating influence on public universities in terms of reduction in strikes, improved quality of teaching, infrastructure development and students’ welfare. This is possible because of the availability of credible alternatives as parents now realise that though costly, private universities are more cost-effective and it is better to sacrifice and pay the child’s school fees in a private university where there is a guarantee of consistency of academic activity programmes and reasonable predictability of graduation timelines. In most private universities, courses are offered to candidates as required provided they meet the requirements, lecture handouts by teachers are non-existent, it is the school and not the teachers that stipulate school hours; libraries are properly equipped with modern text books and resources to access e-books. Other contributions of the private universities include:

Freewill to express opinion

A university system is an environment where teaching staff expect mental liberation to freely express opinion on societal issues, including the manner of governance and policies being implemented. My good friend and mentor, Zakari Gunde had to leave ABU, Zaria, and eventually Benue State University because of his outspokenness on issues that bordered on the society and mis-governance. The concern about freedom by intellectuals to express opinion on governance of the society has been an evolving phenomenon from what existed in medieval time when the great philosopher, Socrates, told the Greek Lords that since they would not allow the liberal minds to rule the society, such minds would remain in the ivory towers but would continue to resonate criticism against mis-governance in the society.

Access to courses of choice

In the days of public universities, candidates’ choice of a career in life was speculative as the university reserved the right to assign any course to the candidate without any apology. Instances abound where those who applied for medicine were given microbiology, while those who applied for law were admitted for political science. At some point in time, public universities had quota system whereby admission to read certain courses (medicine, law and accountancy) were reserved for indigenes whether they achieved the stipulated cut-off JAMB marks or not. All these have been addressed by the private universities. A young girl who was given philosophy to read in a state university declined and skipped a year after which she gained admission to read Business Administration in a private university. Interestingly, she graduated and did her one year national service before the set she was to join at the state university eventually graduated.

Employment generation

Empirical evidence shows that each of the private universities has staff strength of not less than 1,000, while the well-established ones have over 5,000. Given an average of 3,000 (for simplicity sake), when multiplied by 52 private universities this will come to 156,000 employees. Besides other externalities, viewed against a multiplier factor of 0.25 per cent (1/4) one could see that the private universities are hypothetically catering for 624,000 people and at the same time, contributing to income tax revenue of the host states.

Relevance of education to economy

Sometime in December 2011, I was in Arlington, Virginia, U.S., for a course on financial institutions analysis. The greatest lesson of note was the use of locally generated live data to simulate scenarios and the use of solutions emanating from it to typify ideal circumstances in the economy. Also relevant was the study of key players in the financial industry whose activities formed the basis of case studies used for the programme and the localisation of study materials made internalisation quite easy and achievable. What this portends to us is that when students are made to study for a university degree outside their operating environments, they find it difficult to appreciate certain fundamentals within the environment that renders policy tools effective. By broadening the horizon of university education in Nigeria, the private universities have localised university education within the context of Nigerian environment, thus providing opportunity of enhancing insight into the economy as well as the process of an enduring research in the economy.

Curricula geared towards professionalism

This is one of the most interesting innovations that private universities have brought about in Nigeria. Most of them that offer courses that require professional certification such as accounting (ICAN), banking (CIBN), stockbrokers (CIB), medicine (NMA), law (NBA), engineering (NSE), etc., have endeavoured to secure accreditation from relevant professional bodies.    This was not the case with public universities, which wrongly felt their government ownership status insulated them from professional affiliation especially where the latter was seen as having private sector orientation. In certain circumstances under the era of private universities, core professionals of relevant bodies form part of the university faculty for necessary accreditation, which has proved very useful. It has provided a loop between academic knowledge and professional qualification, which affords the beneficiary greater opportunity to play a role in the emerging economy.

Dr. Udendeh, Ijiirvihi Gabriel is a Management Consultant and trainer based in Abuja.

To be continued.

“Opinion pieces of this sort published on RISE Networks are those of the original authors and do not in anyway represent the thoughts, beliefs and ideas of RISE Networks.”

 

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