By Our Correspondents
Amid the rising number of conventional universities in Nigeria, some parents, employers of labour and academics have expressed worry over the inability of these citadels of higher learning as well as other tertiary institutions to churn graduates that meet market demands.
Accordingly, they called on the government to consider opening entrepreneurial universities that would massively train people in various entrepreneurial fields rather than the conventional ones.
The federal government recently granted provisional licenses to 20 new private universities, bringing the total number of the public and private institutions in the country to 197.
As the Senate considers upgrading two colleges of technology to universities and against the backdrop of approval by the federal government of more private universities, stakeholders in the nation’s educational sector have called for more specialised tertiary institutions even as they demand more gravitation towards entrepreneurship-based curriculum.
Most of them who spoke with LEADERSHIP Weekend unequivocally demanded for a turnaround in the curriculum of the country’s tertiary institutions to a more relevant, technical and entrepreneurship-based one.
They include the Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association, Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, Academic Staff Union of Universities, National Parents Teachers Association, academics, National Association of Nigerian Students and other some members of the society
The director-general of Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association (NECA), Dr Timothy Olawale, called for specialised licenses that would make graduates employable.
Explaining the type of licenses the universities received, Olawale noted that the licenses were generalised licenses, as the approved private universities are to carry out their activities in different areas or disciplines.
This, he said, is unlike specialised licenses which would require that the new universities focus only on lectures that directly lead to knowledge and skill building in a particular academic or career field.
On the employability of Nigerian graduates with the current curriculum the universities operate with, the NECA DG argued that the curriculum was not effective enough to cater for recent needs of employers and is largely outdated.
He said, “Many employers, over the years, have complained about the unemployable nature of Nigerian graduates, due to lack of requisite skills needed to excel in the labour market.
“This is largely because many graduates never had hands-on-experience doing what they were taught in school, as the curriculum is not effective enough to cater for recent needs of employers and are largely outdated. This is also due to lack of training in key or specialised areas that are in high demand in the labour market.”
The NECA DG also noted that due to the demanding nature of the labour market and the increasing rate of technological advancement, “Nigeria needs a specialised kind of tertiary education.
“With the hands-on, focused practical learning many specialised educations provide Nigerian graduates jobs handily as soon as they graduate.
“So, instead of the proliferation of universities with generalised training focus, what we need are few specialised universities with focused practical training that will adequately equip graduates for the challenges they may encounter in the labour market,” he added.
On his part, president of National Parents Teachers Association of Nigeria (NAPTAN), Alhaji Haruna Danjuma, said what Nigeria needs at the moment is specialised institutions that can equip the youths with basic skills to reduce unemployment.
He charged the government to equip the existing institutions with basic infrastructure and invest in teachers who will give quality to the students.
Danjuma said, “Nigeria and its citizenry need more of primary, Science Secondary Schools, Technical Colleges, Polytechnics, Colleges of Education, Colleges of Agriculture, all of them to be provided with needed teaching and learning materials, develop teachers and employ more trained teachers and provide conducive atmosphere for teaching and learning in all our schools.
“At the level we are now in Nigeria, we don’t need those multiple universities. What we need is to equip schools with facilities. If you are talking about higher education we need technical institutions like polytechnics and Colleges of Education.”
Also, former Vice Chancellor of the University of Abuja, Professor Micheal Adikwu, said looking at it from the point of face-value it seems laudable that the country is creating more universities.
Noting that with the Nigerian population of over 200 million the 197 universities currently in the country may seem inadequate, he stressed that emphasis should be laid on creating entrepreneurial Universities that will train people in various entrepreneurial skills.
Adikwu said, “Instead of opening conventional universities, why would people also not consider opening entrepreneurial universities that could massively train people in various entrepreneurial fields? That would seriously lead to a decrease in the rate of unemployment that the nation is facing. Such entrepreneurial fields could lead to development and production of materials to flood the West African sub-region with.
“Similarly, most graduates from here can start life with various start-ups that would only employ themselves but employ others. In areas such as Aba in Abia State, there are teachers and trainers in various areas of entrepreneurship and vocations such as shoe-making, tailoring and a host of others.
“We should always be ready to do what works and not just give out certificates just for the sake of it. The other day someone informed me that in Canada certificates from their universities are not as recognised as the one given by the learned society or the regulatory area which is only given based on performance.”
Calling for caution in establishing the new universities, Adikwu said, “We need caution in whatever we do as regards education. When I was in primary school, there was the University Primary Education (UPE). Many teachers were needed for the UPE and people who had one or two credits in the West African Examinations (WAEC) were sent for pivotal courses at various teachers training colleges.
“That did some level of damage to our educational system as people who were not qualified were meant to impact knowledge to students. Today, we may be repeating that with our University system and as such we need to thread with caution.
“In fact, I am informed that about 2 million young secondary school leavers write the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB) examinations every year but only 350, 000 are admitted into universities, polytechnics and colleges of education. Apart from this there are thousands of others who go overseas to study. In fact, it is stated that nearly 100,000 young Nigerians went to study overseas in 2020 alone despite all the difficulties around the globe caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“With that said, I want to say the new universities should be opened with caution. In 1999 I was an Alexander von Humboldt Fellow in Germany. We had our excursion for new Humboldt Fellows to the University of Magdeburg. Magdeburg is in Eastern Germany and was under the control of the Soviet Union. The University was reopened after the German unification in 1990 when the German Democratic Republic (GDR) became part of the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) to form the reunited nation of Germany.
“We were taken to the Department of Chemistry where we were informed that because there were no lecturers and they could not just recruit any person as lecturer they brought together the best brains from Germany and other parts of the world to train lecturers for them. As a result, they never admitted any undergraduate but had only postgraduates. To me that was a very good model.
“Here in Nigeria, we just open universities and use half-baked lecturers. This is not wonderful. This in turn affects the public service with people who are not creative because they never got it right at the beginning. This lack of creativity affects other spheres of the society. With the public service not very creative, new jobs are not created and there is serious unemployment in the nation. Remember that universities started in Europe in 1088 AD, the University of Bologna in Italy. That is over 900 years ago.
“In Nigeria, Universities started in 1948, which is barely about 80 years ago and yet the level of unemployment in Nigeria cannot be compared to what they have in Europe. In Europe unemployment may be one doing a job he or she is not trained for. In Nigeria, PhD holders are among “okada” riders. As such it is not just opening up universities.”
For his part, the dean, School of Communication, Lagos State University (LASUCOM), Prof Rotimi Olatunji, said the action by the federal government to license more private schools that have met NUC requirements was justifiable.
According to him, there is still a need for more universities if the nation must create opportunities for teeming youths, especially student applicants seeking admission to the university each year.
He explained that the number of applicants regularly seeking admission into universities on a yearly basis increase geometrically and in multiples of two whereas the admissions are in the arithmetic proportion and as such, there are more applicants for admission than the opportunities available for the schools who are qualified to admit them.
Olatunji asked private universities to enhance quality and learning by keying into digital literacy, technology, soft and technical skills, entrepreneurship, research among others, even as he urged them to maintain standards and make their schools more affordable.
He stated, “There is still need for many universities in Nigeria. But to what extent can the individuals running the university run it expertly to meet the standard required and expected? However, we welcome more universities to operate; the more the merrier and the more the opportunities that are created for Nigerians to harness the advantages of university education.
“And there is the tragedy of many students not wanting to go to other levels of tertiary education other than the university because of the issue of discrimination against graduates of these other branches of education, particularly graduates from polytechnics, making more Nigerians hungry for university education.”
Adding his voice, the president of National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), Asefon Sunday, said the approval of the new universities naturally should be a plus as they would bring more competition into the sector, thereby, improving research and innovations and also providing choices for students and researchers to choose.
He said while the tertiary education system is now fully commercialized and investors are trooping to, the approval of the private universities might end up weakening the public tertiary institutions more given the reality in our system.
“Lecturers and experienced staff will be drawn from public institutions thereby weakening the human capital in public institutions. This will affect output in terms of quality of graduates from public institutions and in the long run relegate the public institutions, especially state-run institutions to the choice of the poorest of the poor in the society.
“Just as we have in the secondary education system, hardly will you see children of middle earners in public secondary schools again because the standard is considered lower to their private counterparts.
“Education is supposed to be a social service; even the missionaries that brought formal education to us made it a social service but unfortunately it has now been fully commercialized and from all indications the new private institutions will not be helping in this regard.”
Also reacting, the consultant Haematologist, University of Benin Teaching Hospital (UBTH), Prof Matthew Enosolease, said: “We already have too many universities for our population. In fact, if anything, we have to streamline the number of the tertiary institutions in Nigeria to be industrial-driven because we are churning out graduates each year who only come out with a degree but no training.
“Looking at how the existing universities prepare students for the workplace, what significant impact or change will the newly licensed ones have? Yes, they will teach how to gain employment but that’s what Nigerian students are only trained to do, not how to create employment.”
Enosolease added that the nation does not need more universities, noting that rather, the government owners and management of tertiary institutions, the teeming youths and admission seekers need to fill up the gaps in vocational and technical schools for the nation to develop industrially because not everyone has to be a university graduate.
According to him, only few people should end up in the universities, while the rest should focus on school of crafts, polytechnics, colleges of education, technical colleges that can train them for a particular trade so that they can have vocation.
“These are the people who will develop the economy, not the few people with university education,” Prof Enosolease said.
Chairman, Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Cross River State branch, Dr John Edor faulted federal government’s decision to grant license to private universities when the existing ones cannot be adequately funded.
The ASUU chairman stated that most private universities do not have what it takes to run a university in terms of standards.