The establishment of public universities in Nigeria can be traced back to the 1940s when the University College, Ibadan, was established. From the 1940s to date, we have witnessed the establishment of 170 universities, according to Statista. Of these 170 universities, 79 are private, 43 are federal, and 48 are state universities.
Both public and private universities have experienced an evolution since the establishment of the first university in Nigeria. However, the major concern is not the number of universities in the country, but the quality of education they provide to learners.
As we continue to experience steady growth in population, year on year, we have also observed a rise in the number of students applying to different universities across the country.
However, some public universities have encountered several challenges in accommodating students who are qualified, thereby leaving them to seek admission in private universities or outside the country.
But the question is, how many Nigerian parents can afford the tuition fees for private universities with the current situation of the economy?
The situation of the economy is not the only thing biting hard as we speak. The state of education in Nigeria is a cause for enormous worry as it is currently at an all-time low.
Among the problems plaguing the educational system are: insufficient funding, poor infrastructure, incessant strike actions, lack of autonomy, political interference, inadequate academic personnel, low revenue generation, and unstable administration, among others.
Significantly among the highlighted problems is the incessant strike actions by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). It may interest you to know that the union is on its 16th strike since Nigeria’s return to democracy in 1999.
The shutting of academic activities for a long time mostly characterised these strike actions. In the last 23 years, the union has embarked on an aggregate of over 4 years of strike action – a sufficient time frame to begin and conclude a degree programme.
The latest among its strikes began on 14th February 2022, with the union demanding a renegotiation of the 2009 FGN/ASUU Agreement, deployment of the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS), payment of outstanding arrears of Earned Academic Allowances (EAA), the release of the agreed sum of money for the revitalisation of public universities (Federal and States), addressing proliferation and governance issues in State Universities, settlement of promotion arrears, the release of withheld salaries of academics, and payment of outstanding third-party deductions.
Unfortunately, these demands are still yet to be met by the Nigerian government, which has led to several extensions, with the most recent extension being indefinite.
Notwithstanding, a lot of Nigerian students and parents who are frustrated with the ongoing situation and see no hope have started seeking admission to private universities, as Visa restrictions in some countries have posed a great challenge for some Nigerians.
It is rather unfortunate that the fate that befell government primary and post-primary institutions will gradually befall tertiary institutions also. Recently, when the Ondo State government through the chairman of the Universal Basic Education Board, SUBEB, Victor Olabimtan, declared that it has become an offence for any teacher in its public schools across the state to enrol their children in private schools as a result of the dwindling population of pupils in public primary schools across the state.
Nigerian parents are striving to ensure that they get the least quality education for their wards but the lackadaisical attitude of the government over the years has made people gravitate towards private schools and we are heading towards that when it comes to tertiary education.
At the end of this industrial action, what will redeem the time wasted by the students? There has been an astronomical rise in the number of students on a forced internship in various offices while there are some learning various skills across the country.
Unfortunately, there would also be a rise in teenage pregnancies, drug addiction and other vices.
In a recent report by Vanguard, Dr. Joshua Suleiman of Babcock University, Ilishan Remo, Ogun State, stated, “It is true we have been receiving requests in huge number, from students in federal and state universities to switch to our university. The requests for transfer cut across many courses.
“I can tell you for sure that I receive not less than five of such on a daily basis. The phone numbers put on our school’s website are daily jammed with such requests. Some requests come from students in 300 level and even 400 level. But that is not possible. Any student that is past 200 level cannot transfer to another university according to regulations.”
Babcock isn’t the only university experiencing a surge in student enrolment, private universities like the American University of Nigeria (AUN), Yola, recently declared that it has admitted over 3,000 students into various academic programmes run by the institution.
As the strike continues to take its toll on both the students and parents, there is a need for the government and relevant stakeholders to rethink and make provisions for the improvement of the education sector rather than ignoring the current situation.
We acknowledge that the challenges, peculiarities, and practicalities are extensive, but notwithstanding, it is time for the government to take deliberate steps to build a stable system, save the sector to avoid losing its best brains, and secure the educational heritage of Nigerian public universities.
Ojebisi, a communications executive, writes from Lagos