Academics reject newly created universities

Barely a week before handing over power to Nigeria’s new President Muhammadu Buhari, former president Goodluck Jonathan hurriedly approved the creation of five new universities. In a show of unanimous displeasure, lecturers rejected the new institutions, believing that they will create more problems for existing universities already groaning under dwindling funding.

On 20 May, Punch and other newspapers reported that the federal executive council had approved the conversion of four federal colleges of education into universities and the creation of a federal health university.

Minister of Education Ibrahim Shekarau listed the upgraded institutions as: Adeyemi University of Education, Ondo; Federal University of Education, Zaria; Federal University of Education, Kano; and Alvan Ikoku University of Education, Owerri.

According to Punch, Shekarau explained that the four federal education colleges were among 21 that had been awarding degrees for the last three decades under the supervision of their affiliated universities. The colleges were being converted into universities to boost the quality of the teaching service and the number of new teachers.

He said the council had also approved the creation of the Federal University of Health Sciences in Otukpo in Benue State. “Until the approval, the university was said to be the College of Medical Health Sciences under the Federal University of Agriculture, Makurdi.”

Academic rejection

Branch chairs and officials of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, or ASUU, were recently in the Nigerian capital Abuja to participate in an international conference on the political crises in Western Sahara. They also met to discuss, among other things, implications of the four new universities.

The question on everybody’s lips was the timing and rationale for the action.

“I cannot understand the reason behind the creation of these four new universities. If there is any rationale for the step undertaken by Goodluck Jonathan, he should have included it in his handover notes to Muhammadu Buhari,” declared Professor Antonia Okerengwo, chair of the ASUU branch at the University of Port Harcourt.

“Establishing new universities is not an easy task. A few days before he left office, he developed a penchant for making pronouncements which looked like setting up booby traps for the new president.”

Professor Abdullahi Sule-Kano, former ASUU national president and a current trustee of the union, recalled that Goodluck Jonathan had made a pledge that each of Nigeria’s 36 states would be endowed with one federal university. But he quickly faulted on this action.

“Goodluck Jonathan went ahead to appoint vice-chancellors and other principal officers for these new universities. Going through this year’s national budget, there is no provision for them. If such provisions are not captured in the budget, then funding of the new institutions will be undertaken within the existing budgetary framework for tertiary institutions.”

Kano also strongly objected to converting colleges of education and polytechnics into new universities. While this was successfully achieved in the United Kingdom two decades ago, polytechnics there had strong infrastructure and adequate teaching staff while colleges in Nigeria were underdeveloped. “There is no basis for comparison,” he said.

Too few staff, no enabling law

The vexing question of staffing the new universities was raised by Professor Segun Ajiboye, chair of the ASUU at the University of Ibadan.

There are currently around 10,000 lecturers in both public and private universities in Nigeria. They are not enough. Also, existing teachers are regularly ‘poached’ to be associate teachers and collaborative researchers in second and third generation universities.

“This recent move by Goodluck Jonathan is not well thought out. It takes time for new tertiary institutions to get competent staff. You cannot create staff overnight”, he declared.

There is a more fundamental issue with regard to the new universities.

Dr Nasir Isa Fagge, national president of the ASUU, regretted their establishment without an enabling law. He recalled that the union protested the creation, a year ago, of other new universities without an enabling law.

“Right now the national assembly has not passed any law establishing any university created by the Goodluck Jonathan administration. This is unfortunate,” he declared.

What is to be done?

On most campuses, among lecturers there is a strong perception that the outgoing president created the new universities to deliver on electoral promises made to specific communities.

Many academics are of the opinion that the new Muhammadu Buhari administration should take advantage of current opposition to the hasty creation of the universities to undertake a comprehensive analysis of the state of universities and come out with an effective ‘roadmap’.

There is ASUU consensus that the new universities should not be allowed to take off until there is new policy direction with regards to all tertiary institutions.

Academics are not opposed to the creation of new universities, but are deeply convinced of an urgent need to reconstruct Nigerian universities to produce graduates who meet the demands of a 21st century driven by a digital revolution.

Once a new policy direction is clearly defined, establishing new universities must be accompanied by adequate funding.