• Saturday, April 13, 2024
businessday logo

BusinessDay

Private universities on the increase in Nigeria amid drop in quality output

…Oyakhilome says ‘Nigeria’s educational system has no destination’

The Federal Government of Nigeria through the National Universities Commission (NUC), the regulatory body for universities in Nigeria, has continued to certify the establishment of more private universities in the country amid a noticeable drop in the quality of teaching and learning in many of the institutions.

Many stakeholders are worried that many of the existing private universities are not viable as they neither have required academic staff to deliver quality lectures to students nor do they have the desired curriculum for the all-round training of students.

As at November 2023, the NUC said that there were 147 private universities spread across the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

As the demand for quality university education rises, owing to industrial crises and issues of poor funding in the public tertiary education sector, there seems to be a growing demand for private universities in the country.

Between January 1, 2023 and June 27, 2023, the NUC gave provisional licences to 37 private universities.

There is a growing debate over the real reason people seek to establish their own universities.

Stanley Boroh, a lecturer at the Federal University, Otuoke, Bayelsa State, believed the fundamental quest to make money is behind the surge in multi-national entrepreneurs investing in the sector.

“For me, I think it’s profit-driven. These guys are capitalists and are bent on maximising profit,” he said.

Boroh explained that the lacuna in public universities which ranges from strikes, poor infrastructure, and brain drain, among others, is fueled by the inability of the government to fund the education sector, and has invariably created windows of investment for these serial entrepreneurs.

“Now, there’s a gap and they are businessmen providing solutions because most parents will want their children to finish on time and for those that can’t go abroad, they turn to private universities. Also, it is not in the place of these men to fund public universities,” he noted.

Busayo Aderounmu, a lecturer at Covenant University, Ota, Ogun State, said that people invest in private universities because it is a business that will yield profit and the probability of it folding up is very low.

“This is because the population in Nigeria is on the increase and the demand for higher education has increased also, thus the capacity of existing universities cannot accommodate the demand of the people,” she said.

Friday Erhabor, director of media and strategies at Marklenez Limited, does not see anything wrong with private entrepreneurs investing in private university businesses.

“Entrepreneurs are driven by profit. The private university sector is where money is now, and every typical businessman will go to where he is guaranteed a return on investment.

“People are investing in private universities because public universities are poorly funded and their academic calendar is unstable. Who wants to stay in the university for six years for a four-year programme?” he asked.

Furthermore, Erhabor explained that private individuals investing in the university business is a usual trend where economic principles come into play when the government fails in its obligations.

“Whenever government services are terrible, private investors fill in the gap. It happens in the health sector; it happens in broadcasting, it is happening in security now. When government fails, private investors cash in on the opportunity,” he said.

Tunji Adegbesan, founder and chief executive officer of Gidi Mobile, creators of gidimo, sees individuals investing in the tertiary education business as a welcome development, because according to him, even if they, the wealthy Nigerians, want to support the existing public institutions, most times the bureaucratic nature of the system does not allow them.

“Our education is in crisis, and needs help, if an individual decides to venture into the tertiary education business, it’s not wrong provided he or she is doing it within the confines of the law and with his/her money,” he said.

Aderounmu said that there were lots of dangers the continuous increase in the number of private universities pose to education in Nigeria.

According to him, Nigeria is having less-equipped universities, producing “half-baked” graduates, and increasing the cost of obtaining higher degrees, among others.

On the quality of education obtained in many private universities across the country, Friday Erhabor said: “I don’t want to believe that there is a drop in quality output in private universities. There is high quality there.

“I know because I follow up on Covenant University and Redeemers University. In Redeemers University for instance, if you are reading accounting, the institution makes it mandatory for you to start your ATS professional examination.

“Some of the students get chattered before they graduate. Is that low quality? A Covenant University fresh graduate recently flew David Oyedepo, founder of the university on his private jet. Is that drop in quality?”

Is NUC to be blamed for approving more private universities?

On this, Aderounmu said: “We can’t out rightly blame NUC for approving more private universities because the demand for higher education is a result of increase in population. However, proper measures and policies must be put in place for accreditation of courses in these universities.”

However, Boye Ogundele, an educationist, said how the government through the NUC is going about the registration of private universities in Nigeria was worrisome.

“There are many of the private universities without standards; the government is not sensitive to the plight of the masses. I can see the approval of these universities as a cover-up,” he said.

Many believe that despite the deficiencies, many of the private universities keep churning out first-class graduates; a feat they believe has not positively impacted the socio-economic life of Nigeria.

Others however, believe that the foray of entrepreneurs investing in the university education business has improved the system and reduced the quest for education tourism.

Is corruption to blame for the springing up of many universities?

Aderounmu does not believe corruption was responsible for the approval of the universities.

“I don’t think the issue of corruption comes to play here. The capacity of our federal and public institutions cannot accommodate the current admission applications into the universities.

“Most people that engage in corrupt acts prefer to take their children outside the country and are less concerned about the home-based universities.

“Also, the springing up of many universities give room for competition between the private and the public institutions in terms of their teaching, research output, graduates produced, ranking, among others,” she said.

Poor funding of universities as major problem

A part-time lecturer with a private university in Lagos told BusinessDay that many of such institutions were going through serious challenges ranging from poor finance to inability to attract quality lecturers.

Sharing his experience with our correspondent, the visiting lecturer, who said he has been with the university for over five years now, said they were not being paid regularly as a result of paucity of funds.

“I have been lecturing as part-time in the university (name withheld) for over five years now, yet there is no sign of making the contract permanent. They are not even able to pay the monthly allowance they promised us. The students’ population is very small, perhaps, because of the huge fees. So, the school sort of pampers the students to encourage them to stay.

“The lecturers are not committed because they are always busy looking for better jobs. Some of them are holding about three lecturing jobs on part time basis and as a result they are not giving their best. It is affecting standard,” the academic, who refused to be named, said.

According to him, “Some of these private universities, apart from the initial money used in establishing them, their owners do not have reasonable sources of steady income to sustain them. At inception, everything looks very good and inviting, but as time goes on, funding becomes very difficult and to ensure continuity, they begin to pile huge fees, and the real problem begins. The student population in many of these universities is very abysmal compared to the army of students out there looking for admission into high institutions. So, with the huge fees the few students pay, it can’t scratch the financial need of the institutions as there are no subventions from the Federal Government. I can tell you for free that many of the private universities are struggling. And with that comes a lot of compromise, if you understand what I mean.”

Nigeria’s educational system has no destination – Oyakilome

Chris Oyakhilome, founder, Christ Embassy, while speaking to an audience recently, said that Nigeria’s educational system had no destination and emphasised that there must be a change in content.

According to him, “Many nations have an educational system delivered to them from somewhere. They don’t know why the curriculum is the way it is. It is amazing that most of the managers of those educational curricular studied abroad and they came back and refused to change things. Many nations are reading what they are not supposed to be reading. They are in school, being mis-educated and they wonder why their economies are the way they are. I feel sorry for them.”

According to him, “It is a darkness; a wandering around in darkness and they expect to come out with success. This is madness. Until there is a new type of education in our schools, we will continue to produce people who get worse and worse.

“The content is where the problem is. We need to reconstruct the curriculum that has a destination. And we must ask ourselves, what is it supposed to produce. Japan, China, they realised what their problem was and they went back to the root. They reconstructed their educational system, particularly the content so that it has a destination. Nigeria’s educational system does not have a destination.”