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Governors, politics and state universities

Governors, politics and state universities

Educational pursuit in Nigeria has become something of a necessity if one must get or advance in certain choice jobs. And the importance of education and the role it plays in a country has necessitated the surge in the number of state universities in Nigeria.

Unfortunately, going by the recent world ranking of universities, most of the existing state universities fall flat in the face of standards as none was among the first 1000.

But this damming report has not forced state governors ( and the Federal government) from establishing more state-owned universities and other tertiary institutions in the face of budgetary constraint, huge debt burden, and dwindling national income

To change the narrative, State governments should stop playing politics with the establishment of state universities as many of such institutions are no better than some secondary schools.

Indeed, a large chunk of what we see and know as state universities exist without enabling laws, basic facilities, qualified staff, and other requisite needs of a tertiary institution.

For a long time, funding has remained the bane of state universities with most, if not all of them relying on TETFUND for infrastructural and research development

Just recently, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) expressed dismay over the continuous interference in the affairs of state universities by the respective state governments. The Union alleged that only seven state-owned universities have their laws in conformity with the Universities Miscellaneous Provision Amendment Act of 2012 while 26 are partially compliant. This is very unfortunate if the said allegation is true.

The non-domestication of the relevant Act gives room for university administrators and governors to trample on the autonomy of state universities by usurping the powers of Governing Councils and the Senate. Evidence of this could be gleaned from the manipulation of the composition or non-constitution of some of the governing councils.

For instance, the Yobe state university law stipulates a five-year single tenure but was repealed and replaced with a four-year renewable tenure for the position of Vice-Chancellor. In Ebonyi State University, there is no Chancellor and the government is yet to constitute a new Governing Council since it was dissolved in November 2020.

Read also: Bleak future awaits education in 2022- Experts

In Enugu State University of Science and Technology, the Vice-Chancellor has acted for 15 months. In Kaduna, the autonomy of the Kaduna state university is under intense threat as it is placed under the supervision of both the state ministry of finance and education despite the existence of a governing council.

For a long time, funding has remained the bane of state universities with most, if not all of them relying on TETFUND for infrastructural and research development. The inadequacy or absence of funding for capital projects is overtly manifested in the dearth of facilities like well-equipped workshops, libraries, studios, classrooms, hostels, utilities, and other municipal services. Visitors and Governing Councils should take urgent steps to address the nagging issues affecting state universities by making adequate budgetary provisions for both capital and recurrent expenditure for infrastructure, staff development, and payment of staff emoluments, starting with the current 2022 budget.

We call on all concerned to immediately set in motion necessary steps for the domestication of the Universities Miscellaneous Provision Amendment Act to allow for the exercise of autonomy in the state universities in line with the national and global standards.

We wonder the delight of some governors to establish educational institutions they can neither adequately fund nor cater for. If the truth must be told, many public and private universities are not qualified to be called tertiary institutions. In 1999 there were 3 private universities, today they are 99. There are 96 public universities in Nigeria, 44 owned by the federal and 52 by state governments with many of them managing to exist.

With a GDP of $2.82 trillion (compared to Nigeria’s $466.88 billion), the United Kingdom has its universities increased by only one, from 141 in 2017 to 142 in 2018, according to available data.

The education sector in Nigeria is known to be one of the few areas that do not get the right budgetary allocation aside from funds for buildings, equipment, and other necessities, salaries of staff are usually delayed resulting in numerous confrontations between the different staff unions and the government. All of these greatly affect the students and the schools generally.

Other challenges include- poor infrastructure, lack of experienced and qualified teachers, poor working conditions, political interference, lack of university autonomy, brain drain, cult activities, as well as incessant strike actions by academic and non-academic staff.

The major argument by state governments for the proliferation is the urgency of giving access to admission seekers, as nearly two million candidates sit for the University Tertiary Matriculation Examination annually. That justification is vacuous. It falls flat with the numbers released by the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board. In 2019, JAMB stated that 612,557 candidates secured “admission and about 510,957 admission spaces were unused by tertiary institutions (polytechnics and monotechnics inclusive).” This does not indicate space problems for admission seekers but suggests far more salient issues.

At the global level, Nigerian universities rank abysmally low. In the latest Webometrics ranking, no Nigerian university made the first 1,000 globally. The best, the University of Ibadan, ranks 1,219; Covenant 1,326; the Obafemi Awolowo 1,614, and the University of Nigeria 1,615. Therefore, the thinking behind the proliferation of universities is flawed.

The sensible way is to place a moratorium on the establishment of new institutions until we can fix the fundamental and fatal flaws in tertiary education in Nigeria.