Academics criticise plans to establish new universities

Academics have lashed out against proposals to significantly increase the number of public universities in Nigeria, as the government unsuccessfully grappled with an assessment report of public universities that highlighted glaring weaknesses within the sector.

Academic Staff Union of Universities President Professor Biodun Ogunyemi said lawmakers were politicising the establishment of universities: “My heart is heavy that we want to establish new universities when nothing is being done to improve or at least maintain the existing ones.”

After the inauguration in 2015 of the Eighth National Assembly in Nigeria, both chambers – the Senate and House of Representatives – voted on increasing the number of universities as part of democratic dividends for the people. At present, Nigeria has 152 universities – 40 federal, 44 state and 68 private – that are funded either by the federal or state government, religious organisations, foundations, private individuals or the military and police.

40 more universities

In May, Chairman of the House Committee on Rules and Business Emmanuel Orker Jev said the proposed bills aimed to create 40 new federal universities. However, they would still have to be approved by President Muhammadu Buhari, who faced a general election in 2019.

Each of the 109 senators wanted a university established in their district, while the House of Representatives, comprising 360 members, had received more than 50 proposals on the establishment of new universities at various locations. House of Representatives member Uzoma Nkem-Abonta said that with the federal principle, all states were entitled to have new universities.

Assembly members said the country needed more universities as fewer than 500,000 of the approximately two million applicants who sat for the annual intake examinations were admitted to higher education institutions. Admission criteria included academic qualifications and location.

Glaring weaknesses

However, Nigeria’s government was still battling to address a damning 2012 needs assessment report on Nigerian public universities, which exposed weaknesses that included: a shortfall of 34,000 doctoral graduates for teaching positions; a lack of basic utilities such as water and electricity, and of facilities like bathrooms; neglected hostels that were infested with rodents; and students who were living in common rooms.

Some of the proposed bills have already been passed, but are awaiting Buhari’s signature, while others are pending. Those awaiting approval include requests to establish the federal universities of: Wukari; Maritime Studies, in Oron; Nigerian Maritime, in Okerenkoko; Agriculture, in Kabba; Gashua; Health Sciences, in Otukpo, Benue; Agriculture, in Jalingo; JS Tarka, in Makurdi; and Education, in Nsugbe.

Dr Ado Mohammed, a senior lecturer at the Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, said the situation called for urgent action by stakeholders in the education sector: “The country wants to establish more universities, never mind the fact that none of the existing universities in Nigeria was among the first 1,000 in the world. We should be discussing what is responsible for the poor academic standard in the schools and not setting up more universities that will produce half-baked graduates.”

Strict criteria to establish a university

An anonymous source at the National Universities Commission, which is responsible for the regulation and monitoring of university education in Nigeria, said a bill to create a new university did not mean that one would be founded: “The commission has laid down criteria … If any group meets these, then their request for a university will go ahead, otherwise it would just be a legislative exercise.”

Fourteen stages must be fulfilled in the application for a National Universities Commission licence in order to establish a Nigerian university.