First Nigerian tuition-free virtual university is ‘illegal’

The so-called ‘Free University of Nigeria’ – popularly known as FUN and described by several reports as Africa's first cloud-based, virtual, tuition-free, not-for-profit university – has turned out to be illegal.

The Free University of Nigeria was being promoted by two websites – one referred to as an e-campus portal and the second on Facebook. On 14 November the Facebook website was operating but the FUN website had been suspended.

The ‘university’ claimed to be aimed at ensuring that higher education was democratically available, accessible and affordable, and focused on delivering free, flexible, collaborative and multi-cultural educational programmes using an online learning management system that complied with international quality standards.

The website indicated that admissions were underway for four-year bachelor degree programmes in international business administration, computer science and global finance and accountancy, and that the resumption date would be 12 January 2015.

Accreditation from Nigeria’s National Universities Commission was underway, according to the website.

University World News investigation

After University World News ran a small piece on the ‘Free University of Nigeria’, we were contacted by higher education consultant Frances Tsakonas, who said she had tried to get hold of the university – but all emails listed on the site were returned as undeliverable.

“My friend in Nigeria has been trying to contact FUN by phone. The message keeps coming that the number does not exist,” she said. “This looks like another Nigerian scam.”

Besides 129 approved universities – 40 federal universities, 39 state universities, 50 private universities – there are 57 illegal degree-awarding institutions operating in Nigeria, according to a 3 November bulletin from the Nigerian National Universities Commission, or NUC.

The bulletin also revealed that eight alleged degree mills were undergoing investigation or court action, with the purpose of these actions being to prosecute the proprietors and recover illegal fees and charges paid by subscribers.

University World News set about contacting members of Nigeria’s academic community and the responsible authority.

Chiedu Mafiana, deputy executive secretary for research and special projects at the NUC and president of the African Quality Assurance Network, told University World News regarding FUN:

“No such university exists in Nigeria, neither has any request for its establishment been made or is being processed for recognition.”

Suleiman Babatunde Ramon-Yusuf, director of open and distance education at the NUC in the Nigerian capital Abuja, concurred: “There is no approved university in Nigeria called Free University of Nigeria,” he told University World News. “It is an illegal university.”

Ahmad AbdulHameed, a professor of ecology in the department of biological sciences at Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University in Bauchi, said he had never heard of the Free University of Nigeria.

“You need to be careful in making any official interaction,” he said. “There isn’t any such university.”

FUN’s response

Attempts to contact FUN were unsuccessful for a few days, but then a response was received from Emmanuel Joshua, the institution’s chief publicist. He reiterated its claims on Facebook, and added that it was “100% online, a social platform to add glamour to youth education, re-diverting their attention from idleness to learning in a way they cannot refuse”.

Joshua said FUN had been founded in 2006 by a young and dynamic community manager, Emmanuel Joshua Omeiza – presumably himself – a “social education entrepreneur” from Okene in Kogi state.

“Its activities were halted due to lack of proper funding and moral support from the rich men whom majority of them are proprietors of most expensive private universities in Nigeria [sic],” he continued.

“I want to officially correct the recent post from a blogger, which states that FUN is owned and managed by the current Imo State governor, Rochas Okorocha.” He said Okorocha was an internationally known educational philanthropist who had spoken of the foundation of a tuition-free university.

“His tuition-free kind and type is quite different from FUN.” Joshua (Omeiza?) said FUN was awaiting proper accreditation.