Home Arts and Culture Why Nigeria must interrogate proliferation of universities, by Siyan Oyeweso | The Guardian Nigeria News – Nigeria and World News

Why Nigeria must interrogate proliferation of universities, by Siyan Oyeweso | The Guardian Nigeria News – Nigeria and World News

Why Nigeria must interrogate proliferation of universities, by Siyan Oyeweso | The Guardian Nigeria News – Nigeria and World News

The Federal Government has been told to bring back the shine in Nigerian higher education. Speaking at a lecture entitled, “Interrogating Issues In The Proliferation Of Universities In Nigeria”, Prof. Siyan Oyeweso of the Department of History and International Studies, Osun State University, said the unending dialogue between the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and the Nigerian government at different periods remains an important dimension of university administration and proliferation question that must be understood.

The lecture, which was delivered at the 80 Interdisciplinary Research Discourse of the Postgraduate College, University of Ibadan on Tuesday, June 27, 2023, noted that the whole gamut of ASUU’s unending dialogue is locked in the prism of sustainable government support to university education through adequate funding, infrastructural provision, and sustainable welfare package for academics.

For the historian, any discussion of funding of public institutions in Nigeria will definitely generate a great deal of backlash from the public against the matter. “This is because, for years, our society has been so used to the belief that government must fund education or probably make education free. If we truly yearn for world-class universities, we must be ready to do what it takes to get a world-class education,” he remarked.

“We need to recognise the fact that a poorly funded university cannot meet the standard of any world class university. It cannot meet the minimum standard for ranking by Webometrics, Crybermetric Lab, Times Higher Education and other ranking bodies. Nigerian Universities are in a state of anomie because successive administrations, policymakers and policy implementers have only been paying lip service to the education industry,” Oyeweso lamented.

Tracing ASUU’s clamour for sustainable funding to 1964, when university lecturers made repeated demands for the review of the conditions of service, he said the matter came to a crisis point in 1972, when lecturers at the University of Ibadan, under the aegis of Association of University Teachers (AUT), threatened to go on strike.

“By this time, there were only six universities in the country: Ibadan, Nsukka, Lagos, Ahmadu Bello Zaria, Ile-Ife and Benin,” he said.

Oyeweso noted that despite several years of agitation, not much has changed in the attitude of government toward funding of universities.

Rather, successive governments have been preoccupied with founding of more universities, since that fetches them some popularity.

He lamented that since the Fourth Republic, Nigerian universities have witnessed several strikes, a larger part of which were caused by government’s unyielding posture to ASUU’s demand for improved funding of universities.

He said, “to evade public criticism about the rationale for establishing more universities since there already existed many universities in the country, the government has continuously hidden under the question of access.”

Noting that he is emotionally involved with the subject of higher education and the worrisome issue of proliferation of federal, state and private universities in Nigeria, he said: “It is difficult for any serving or retired professor to be indifferent to the plight of academic staff and the state of anomie which the entire academia is facing.”

According to him, as a stakeholder in higher education, having spent 37 years in the service of the Nigerian university system, “I have a modest understanding of the Nigerian university system.”

In his preliminary remarks, he said by 1973, Nigeria had only six universities, which are referred to as first-generation universities, however, “as of 2023, Nigeria has 269 universities. One of our former presidents, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, at a dinner speech, announced the establishment of 11 federal universities with a grant of one billion naira. Our immediate past president, President Muhammadu Buhari established 11 federal universities, all being specialised Universities of Health Sciences, Technology, Maritime, Agriculture and Army. Today, the number of federal universities stands at 51.”

The academic noted government has erroneously maintained that establishing more universities is meant to provide admission seekers with access to higher education, in view of their high number every year. “There is enough evidence to show that this position is weak,” he said.

Oyeweso added: “A very important factor to consider before setting up a university is the purpose for which a university is to be established. This involves clearly thought-out, well-researched, and well-articulated objectives for which the university is to be established.”

He noted that before the University of Ibadan was established, the Colonial Government’s approach was to first have an understanding of the need for a university, and the end it was meant to serve.

Pointing to one of the major complaints of ASUU during the 2022 national strike, which was the issue of proliferation of state universities in Nigeria, Oyeweso noted that in the Second Republic (1979-1983), the governments of Anambra, Imo, Ondo, Lagos, Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Ogun and Edo states established universities in their respective states; the number of state universities in Nigeria now stands at 62.

He revealed that after the emergence of the first three private universities – Igbinedion (001), Babcock University (002) and Madonna (003), all established in 1999, the figure has galloped to 147, exceeding the number of federal and state universities combined. In fact, in one singular act, the Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission, Prof. Abubakar Rasheed, on May 15, 2023, announced the establishment of 37 private universities.

ASUU did not envisage this unprecedented quantum leap in the number of universities. Prof. Rasheed Adamu Abubakar said: “Nigerian statistics of high demand of tertiary education is grossly inadequate. Statistics put the number of enrolment in tertiary institutions at 2.23 million which is about 12 per cent of the total population of 220 million.”

For Oyeweso, President Muhammadu Buhari’s era (2015-2023) witnessed the establishment of more universities in Nigeria than any of his predecessors since 1960.

Buhari’s administration, according to official NUC statistics, established 11 specialised federal universities, 19 state universities and 87 private universities, totalling 117 universities.

While saying that Ibadan deserves commendation because it has lived true to its name, the Premier University in Nigeria, in ground-breaking research, innovation and pedagogy, he noted: “It is a thing of joy that the University of Ibadan has been consistently ranked as one of the best in Nigeria and in Africa. It is gratifying to note that the Postgraduate College admits an average of 6,000 out of about 15,000 applicants every year and currently has about 15,000 students and graduates an average of 400 Ph.D. students yearly.”

Agreeing with the Sultan of Sokoto that the University of Ibadan is a national asset, an icon in the knowledge industry and “the first and the best”, he said: “More than any other University in Nigeria, University of Ibadan has produced the highest number of Ph.D degree holders and five Doctor of Science graduates.”

Oyeweso remarked that one major factor that distinguished the first generation universities in Nigeria, which were the ideal Nigerian universities at conception (University of Ibadan, established in 1948; University of Nigeria, Nsukka, established in 1960; the University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University, established in 1961; Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, established in 1962; and the University of Lagos, established in 1962. This list also included the University of Benin, founded as the Mid-West Institute of Technology in 1970) was the exhaustive plan that preceded their establishment.

“They were not established in a hurry or out of sheer political consideration. Rather, they were established to meet specific national needs and propel national development.

He said there is no place in the world where university education is cheap. It is either students pay or government finances it through heavy taxes.
As Dr. Yemi Ogunbiyi stated: “No Government of Nigeria, now or in the future, can adequately fund higher education. Not even the laudable effort of such intervention funding institutions as the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND) can fully reverse the current deterioration in the system.”

In Brazil, a developing nation like Nigeria, with more population, health and education (social services) are free, that is paid for indirectly.

To fund education in Brazil, federal, state and municipal governments contribute 25 per cent, 38 per cent and 37 per cent, respectively. In the US (the richest country in the world) students pay heavy tuition fees.

In Germany (the richest country with the strongest economy in Europe), Scotland, Finland and Estonia, students attend universities free. These are two extremes on the funding model spectrum.

Germany has many highly-ranked world-class universities and nearly all of them are public universities funded by the respective 16 landers (state governments), in contradistinction to the USA, where most of the leading universities are privately owned.

The leading funding agencies in the USA, such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF), which offer grants to university researchers, are owned by the US Government.

The Final Year 2022 President’s Budget request for the NIH was $2,213.6million. Conversely, the 2022 yearly budget of the National Science Foundation was $8.8billion. “In our country, Nigeria, we are still debating whether TETFund should support private universities,” he retorted.

“With the type of injection of funds that the Federal Government made available to public universities, if sustained, it is likely that the advancement of education will be assured. I am of the opinion that privately-owned universities should benefit from Tertiary Education Trust Funds (TETFund), because TETFund is contributed by companies operating in Nigeria and private universities are training Nigerian children for the Nigerian economy. I think government should have another look at the Act enabling TETFund, so that private universities will benefit from it,” he said quoting The Nation of January 12, 2015.

He said the idea of excluding private institutions by the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) is not fair at all. I believe that the fund is being generated from the tax of everyone, including mine and yours. It doe not matter if you are in the government service or the private sector or self-employed; it is from our taxes. When it comes to sharing the money, the Government has decided in its “wisdom” to allocate the fund only to the public sector and is why we are saying that is not fair.”

To this end, “the TETFund Act 2011 needs to be amended to incorporate the private universities in TETFund beneficiary list. The earlier the TETFund Act is amended to cover private universities, the better for our university education in the 21st century.”

By so doing, the private universities will be made to reduce their tuition fees and they will be greatly motivated to contribute to expansion and improvement of university education rather than being motivated by profit, which is not even forthcoming. In short, the 10th National Assembly needs to take a fresh and more holistic look at funding of tertiary education in Nigeria. “The private universities should not be made to look inferior to public universities nor produce low-quality graduates for the Nigerian labour market. I am of the candid view that this will be difficult and will be a litmus test for Nigeria’s fiscal federalism. But I hold fervently that it is possible and desirable at this critical period of university education in contemporary Nigeria,” he said.

On the unresolved ASUU-based issues, he told the Tinubu-led Federal Government to address, “the timely release of the reports of Visitation Panels to federal universities, which the Federal Government instituted in 2020.”

He revealed that at the UNIOSUN 2014 Foundation Day Lecture, Prof. Peter Okebukola concluded that university education in Nigeria has a long road to travel to bring the shine back to the system. He summarised the conclusions of 85 visitation panel reports to Nigerian universities and recommended as follows:

Honesty in the accreditation process; Enrolling better-quality students in the right quantity; Improvement in the appointment of council; Improvement in the appointment of vice-chancellors; Elimination of manipulation in the professorial appointment process; Reduction of political/proprietor interference in the management of the university; Reduction of fraud in the research process; Better use of IT for teaching, learning, research and administration; Re-introduction of higher school certificate (Bring Back Higher School); and Facilities and infrastructure befitting of a modern university system.

He also supported the idea of Student Loan as alternative to funding education. Just a few days after his swearing in as President Bola Ahmed Tinubu signed the Access to Higher Education Act, 2023, otherwise known as Students Loan Act. This Act, by its provision, establishes an Education Loan Fund to help Nigerians fund their higher education, while they pay in instalments two years after completing their participation in the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) programme. Sequel to the signing of the bill, President Tinubu instructed relevant stakeholders to ensure the disbursement of the loan by the end of the September/October 2023/2024 academic session.

He consider this a great initiative, given the fact that it will enable many indigent but brilliant students. “In other climes, students obtain loan to see themselves through the university. In the U.S., for instance, there is provision for study loan, and beneficiaries are expected to have secured a job and to earn more than 125,000 dollars per annum before repayment. The same provision also exists in the United Kingdom. I am aware that the Student Loan Act stipulates that repayment is after two years of completion of NYSC and having been gainfully employed.”

Reeling out his agenda for revamping Nigerian universities, he raised the need to embrace ChatGPT.

His words: “Nigerian universities should begin the process of educating their academic and non-academic staff about the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools, such as ChatGPT (Generative Pretrained Transformer) in the context of teaching and learning.. The needed experts should be drawn from digital learning, ICT in development, teaching education and the application of AI in education, among others.”

He also said Nigerian universities must heed the admonition of the immediate past Minister of Communications and Digital Economy of Nigeria, Isa Ali Pantami, in his book Skills Rather Than Just Degrees.

The discourse concluded on the note that the ongoing proliferation of specialised universities should be halted because the new universities do not offer anything fundamentally different from the existing conventional universities, right from staff and students’ recruitment, promotion and appointment criteria and research impact.

“It is also a fact of history that out of 147 private universities, only Covenant University, Redeemer’s University, Afe Babalola University, Babcock University, Landmark University are renowned for ground-breaking research and also made the list of top ranking universities in Nigeria and Africa in the 2021 Times Higher Education Ranking. Nigeria had six universities in the overall Times Higher Education World University Ranking – University of Ibadan, Lagos State University, University of Lagos, Covenant University, University of Nigeria, Nsukka and Obafemi Awolowo University.

“If universities are established to find solutions to human problems, then Africa’s challenges as enunciated in its Vision 2063 – the Africa We Want, the global issues of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) or indeed Nigeria’s current Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) which the county launched in 2017, should all be of major interest to an accomplished institution like UI. For the university has an immense number of specialists, scientists and thinkers constituting a rich mix of human capital capable of finding solutions to a good number of these problems.

He said, “led by UI, universities in Nigeria and Africa, must leapfrog development in the continent to catch up with 21st century realities of the 4th Industrial revolution (4IR) brought about by globalisation and digitalisation in which robotics, automation, artificial intelligence, organ printing, 5G technology, Internet of things and other forms of technology driven activities will drastically alter the way people live and relate with one another. They must also address the fundamental issues of poverty, disease, illiteracy, environmental rot, lack of opportunities and social dysfunction in which Africa is currently immersed.”


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