In November last year, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) began a strike that stretched through to the New Year and only seems to be drawing to an end after the federal government approved and released some funds, about N15.4 billion, for payment of salary shortfalls and a promise that the already approved N20 billion for payment of earned allowances for university lecturers would be released afterwards.
While ASUU is still on strike, the National Assembly has proposed that 50 more institutions of higher learning be established across the 36 states of the federation. According to reports, while some of the bills seeking the establishment of the institutions have already been passed, others are still at various stages of enactment.
What the lawmakers may not have given considerable consideration before arriving at the decision to have so many more tertiary institutions in the country is the fact that Nigeria already has so many universities that seem to have been reduced to glorified secondary schools due to poor funding, which is one of the reasons ASUU goes on strike every now and then.
With no standard, modern functioning laboratories, libraries stacked with outdated books, and moribund infrastructure, lack of funding is the reason most of our universities are now a collection of buildings where unemployable graduates are produced in their tens of thousands at the end of every academic year. Lack of funding is also the reason no reasonable research is going on in any institution in the country.
The lawmakers also did not consider the shameful fact that, apart from the University of Ibadan which is ranked in 801st position, none of the 43 federal, 47 state and 75 private Nigerian universities is listed among the top 1000 institutions in the World University Ranking of 2018. What this means is that we have institutions that do not meet the necessary standards, yet they churn out graduates every year.
To address the situation, ASUU has continuously stressed the need for more funding for the universities.
As a newspaper, we align with the university lecturers’ stand on this and insist that what we need is not more universities but adequate funding to drive the developmental projects of already existing universities.
Proper funding would also translate into prompt payment of salaries and allowances of lecturers and other university workers. This will discourage the lecturers’ practice of dumping substandard reading materials, popularly called handouts, on students for pecuniary reasons. That also goes for the unethical, undignifying, even fraudulent, practice of selling marks or grades. Proper funding will engender higher levels of professionalism in the university system as well as attract the best brains to the universities.
It stands to reason that having only 50 world class universities is better than having 165 that are substandard.
We equally wish to point out that a country’s economic well being is largely dependent on the calibre of youths produced by its education sector, especially its universities. Therefore, the creation and siting of new universities should not be for political reasons.
On its part, the National Universities Commission (NUC), which is charged with the responsibility of advising government on financial needs of universities as well as the handling and planning of a balanced and coordinated development of university education in Nigeria, needs to start taking these tasks seriously. The commission should also review its system of accrediting courses, especially in private universities. As a governing body for all universities, it should set the standard and ensure that the same applies to every institution
whether federal, state or private.
Due to the poor state of public tertiary institutions and incessant strikes by university lecturers and other workers, many parents are forced to send their children to private universities who capitalise on the situation to charge exorbitant fees. This should be looked into. There should be a medium to check universities, especially private ones, when it comes to astronomical fees to determine whether the students are getting value for money.
It is our considered opinion that there should be a complete stop to the issuing of licenses for the setting up of more universities for now until the needful is done to get the university system working again.
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