Some Nigerian youths, their parents and guardians are bent on acquiring university education by hook or by crook but the federal government is resolute to wean the seeming hapless youths off fake universities, both in Nigeria and neighbouring African countries. Head, Education Desk, IYABO LAWAL, writes that the government has a long way to make illegal tertiary institutions unattractive to the teeming youngsters
With a characteristic smile, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Foreign Affairs and Diaspora, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, welcomed some Nigerian youths who are studying in various institutions in the Republic of Benin – a small West African country on the borders of Nigeria.
Regarded as a serene nation, the country has provided a safe haven for scores of Nigerian youths who have failed several times trying to gain admission into one of the nation’s universities.
With open hands as they spring up, all manner of universities in the Republic of Benin have become the go-to institutions of learning for Nigerians.
That is not the concern because there are too many young Nigerians chasing few universities in Nigeria.
The federal government’s worry about the attraction of the youngsters and their sponsors to Benin is that the little nation is riddled with illegal universities which have sprung up to satisfy what seems to be an insatiable desire for university education by Nigerians.
So, it was not difficult to understand when Dabiri-Erewa in a meeting with some students led by the National Association of Nigerian Students, Benin Republic Chapter, asserted that the federal government will not rescind its decision – the Nigerian government has recently blacklisted 52 non-accredited universities in the Benin Republic.
Recently, the government declared at least 51 universities illegal in Nigeria.
The National Universities Commission (NUC), Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB), and the Ministry of Education said the blacklisting is necessary to save innocent students from sweating for years only to earn fake degrees.
“Most of these institutions that Nigerian students attend in our neighbouring countries are sub-standard. We have better standard private universities in Nigeria than those schools.
That is why the National Universities Commission, Joint Admission and Matriculation Board, and the Ministry of Education had to blacklist some of these schools to save the innocent students,” the presidential aide explained.
Speaking further, she said, “Nigerian students are being exploited in most of these countries, there is a particular country we went to that a university is being run in the portal cabin right inside a market.”
Nigerian students who graduated from such institutions should expect to be barred from participating in the compulsory one-year national service as Dabiri-Erewa warned further: “Don’t waste your money, your resources, and your energy going to those schools because they are sub-standard.
We need to embark on awareness creation about these schools so that students would not be victims.
Our children don’t need to go there and they are paying more and getting lesser quality.
“Let us start believing in ourselves towards revamping this country, the economy and using the money judiciously for what it is supposed to be used for.
Unfortunately, the issue of bad leadership in the past has affected the standard of education in the country with most of Nigerian students being the victims.”
She also admitted that not enough resources have been put into creating an education system that could have encouraged Nigerians to school at home instead of go abroad.
“Bad leadership over the years had plunged Nigeria to where we found ourselves today.
This is one of the reasons why the youth must support the President in the fight against corruption. The money meant to be invested in schools was stolen by corrupt leaders.
President Buhari is fighting for youths to secure their future.
Things have to be fixed and they are being fixed now. President Buhari is building the foundation now,” Dabiri-Erewa appealed to the youths and their parents.
While blacklisting unaccredited tertiary institutions is good, experts in the education sector have noted that the appetite for higher education in the world’s most populous black nation is huge with existing infrastructure, policies and political realities being a stumbling block for the hundreds of thousands of Nigerian youths.
They claim that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for secondary school leavers to gain admission into higher institutions in the country.
To illustrate: only 30 per cent out of the 1.7 million candidates who wrote the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) were admitted in 2017.
By 2050, Nigeria will become the third largest country in the world, according to the United Nations, with 399 million people – many of them will be teeming and ambitious youths.
Currently, more than 60 per cent of the country’s population is under the age of 24.
Admission into tertiary institutions has always recorded dramas that border on the sublime and the ridiculous.
Last year, the country witnessed the highest number of aspiring undergraduates who were denied entry into these institutions because of the country’s failure to adequately address perennial issues that have plagued tertiary education for decades.
According to JAMB’s statistics posted on its website, about two million (1,579,027) students sat for the UTME exam in 2016, with 69.6 per cent of that number applying to federal universities; 27.5 per cent seeking admission in state universities; and about one per cent applying for admission in private universities.
JAMB’s data further indicated that in 2015, only 415,500 out of the more than one million (1,428,379) admission seekers were admitted to university.
Today, not a few aspiring youths and their parents or guardians are gnashing their teeth, wondering when admission into university will be accessible and affordable.
In 1948, there was only one tertiary institution in Nigeria – the University College of Ibadan, an affiliate of the University of London.
By 1962, the number of universities had increased to five, namely: the University of Ibadan, the University of Ife, the University of Nigeria, the Ahmadu Bello University, and the University of Lagos.
Between 1980 and 2017, the number of universities has grown from 16 to 152.
As of 2017, according to the National University Commission (NUC), there are 40 federal universities, 44 state universities and 68 private universities. There has been a proliferation of private universities too – from just three in 1999 to 68 in 2017.
From the University of Benin, to the University of Ilorin, to Lagos State University, a similar refrain of lack of capacity to admit the army of admission seekers chimes loudly.
Some parents and guardians have ‘forced’ their way through to get their wards admitted.
Little wonder that in 2013, Transparency International reported that about 30 per cent of Nigerians spoken to in survey admitted they had paid a bribe in the education sector.
It is true that the federal government recognises this problem because five years ago it had announced a plan to create six geopolitical mega-universities with the capacity to admit between 150,000 and 200,000 students each.
At its National Economic Council (NEC) in April of 2013, the government approved the conversion of one university in each of the six geopolitical zones to a mega-university to expand their intakes.
The recommendation for the conversion was contained in the report of the Peter Obi-led Technical Committee on the recommendations of the Needs Assessment of Nigerian Universities, (CNANU).
In the report, the following recommendations were made: “The committee agreed with CNANU that funding was a big issue in tertiary education and recommended that both the federal and state governments should prioritise funding by raising budgetary allocation to schools and guaranteeing that funds for education are disbursed as appropriated to ensure that the necessary facilities are provided.
“It recommended the strengthening of the composition and character, especially of external members, of the governing councils of the universities by populating the board with members who have a direct stake in academics to ensure better management of the universities.”
Obi had said, “The committee also recommended the designation of a focal federal university per geopolitical zone to be upgraded towards expanding its absorptive capacity to between 150,000 and 200,000 students in the medium term.”
It is such an ambitious project that no one has talked about since then.
Against this backdrop, several stakeholders in the tertiary education sector have proffered various ways of dealing with the menace of inadequate number of universities in the country and the admission policy.
They noted that because of the preference for university education pressure is put on the nation’s public universities prompting an admission crisis with at least 70 per cent of those seeking admission unable to realise their dreams.
They further noted that such reality usually results in universities exceeding admission quotas.
The bigger problem is that some of these unfulfilled students vent their frustration by engaging in illicit conduct like prostitution, drug abuse, robbery, and even kidnapping.
To address the situation some experts have called for more tertiary institutions to be built, existing ones to be provided with necessary human and material infrastructure.
The federal government is also encouraged to make the National Open University of Nigeria, (NOUN) more attractive and inventive in admitting more candidates.
While they commended the liberalisation policy adopted by the federal government on the establishment of private universities leading to the set-up of more universities, they argued that these institutions are beyond the reach of the common man.
Some experts have recommended Massive Open Online Courses as a way of solving the perennial problem – it is an avenue whereby all universities can provide online courses for those who want to acquire higher learning.
Many of the courses taught in the institutions can be accommodated on that platform.
“The products of MOOCs won’t be any different from today’s graduates.
In fact, those who study through MOOCs are likely to be better rounded, as each student would have more freedom to learn on their own and not be harassed by vindictive “lecturers”.
And since their degree certificates would be awarded by the same old universities, they would be equally prestigious.
“If every Nigerian tertiary institution were to run MOOCs, it would be possible to admit all candidates that pass the UTME and the WASSCE/NECO each year.
Thus flooded with candidates, even private universities would lower their fees. JAMB’s load would become lighter,” one public analyst argued.