Running news higher education
December 28, 2006 | posted by Nigerian Muse (Archives)

Guardian News

January 13, 2005


Excitement as seven private varsities receive licences
By Rotimi Lawrence Oyekanmi


It is not always that you find all the seats in the auditorium of the National Universities Commission (NUC), and there are many of them, occupied, as was the case on January 7. A first time visitor could have, in fact, mistaken the event for a political rally of sorts. But it was not a rally. It was only a ceremony organised by the NUC to present licenses to seven new universities. But the recipients turned the ceremony into a carnival, with a lot of dancing and singing.


The new seven private universities include Ajayi Crowther University, Oyo, Al-Hikmah University, Ilorin, Bingham University New Karu, and Caritas University, Amorji-Nike, Enugu. Others are Cetep City University, Mowe, Katsina University, and Redeemer's University, Ede.


The Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion, owns the new Ajayi Crowther university. Its board chairman is the eminent Professor of Medicine, Olujimi Akinkugbe. It intends to take off with 410 foundation undergraduate students. It plans to have about 2080 students at its 10th anniversary. Its programmes will be science and technology oriented.


The Abdur-Rahim Oladimeji Islamic Foundation is the proprietor of Al-Hikmah University. It intends to take off with 350 foundation students, and the number will peak at 5000 in 10 years. The focus of the university is Islamic Law. It intends to have eight colleges at maturity, which would be established in three phases. Retired Justice Mustapha Akanbi is the chairman of the institution's board.


For Bingham university which owned by the Evangelical Church of West Africa (ECWA), the programme orientation will be the medical sciences. It intends to take off with 400 foundation undergraduate students, but the upper limit will be 4500 over the next 10 years. It plans to establish 11 colleges in three phases at maturity. Chief S.A. Oshatoba is the board chairman.


The Sisters of Jesus the Saviour own Caritas University. Its focus will be the Environmental Sciences and Special Education. At maturity, it will have 11 colleges, which would be developed in three phases. It intends to take off, also, with 400 undergraduate students. Its eventual students' population will peak at 7000. It has Dr. Obinna Uzoh as chairman of the board.


Cetep City University will specialise in Technology Policy. It intends to have only three Faculties, which would be established in two phases. It will take off with 500 undergraduate students, but it does not intend to have more than 7190 students when it is fully developed. The chairman of its board of Trustees is Mr. Joseph Omoyajowo.


Katsina University's area of specialisation will be Science and Technology. Owned by the Katsina Islamic Foundation, it plans to have eight colleges at maturity. It intends to take off with 400 undergraduate students. The eventual total population of students will not be more that 7004. Dr Sani Lugga is the chairman of its board of Trustees.


Elder Felix Ohiwere is the chairman of the board of Trustees of Redeemer's University. Owned by the Redeemed Christian Church of God, its focus will be Actuarial Science and Engineering. There will be nine colleges and a total number of 10,000 students at maturity. It plans to take off with 500 undergraduate students.


All the seven universities, except Cetep, were established by religious organisations. They will all also admit students through the University Matriculation Examination, organised by the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB). Dr Lugga of Katsina University is hopeful that the development would eventually bring about unity between the Christian and Islamic faiths.


With the seven now licensed, the number of private universities has climbed to 15. The first three to receive licenses in May, 1999 were Igbinedion, Babcock and Madonna Universities. Bowen University got its own in July 2001, while another set of three, Covenant, Pan-African and Benson Idahosa Universities got licenses in February 2002. The ABTI-American University got its license in May 2003.


The total number of universities in the country is now 65. Twenty-six of them are owned by the federal government and 24 by the states.


The drums have now stopped beating. To some people, having as many universities is simply crazy. One of them is the Vice Chancellor of the University of Lagos, Prof Oye Ibidapo-Obe, who maintained at a recent lecture that the new private institutions could find it difficult to get the required number of brilliant academic staff to drive their programmes. Citing low morale of staff, over population of students, unstable academic calendar, ageing and obsolete teaching and research materials as the ills currently plaguing the existing universities, the vice chancellor is at a loss about how the new universities will cope.


But the Executive Secretary of the NUC has an answer. He noted that to some, the quantum jump from 46 universities in 1999 to 65 in 2005 could be "dizzying." His words; "when this number rises, per chance, to between 80 and 100 in 2007, the chances of such people having a heart attack are rather high. I will sing no dirge on the funeral of such people, since their analysis of the Nigerian situation is warped. Only if we realise that relative to our population and the need to increase what UNESCO labels as the higher education participation rate of Nigeria, we require as many universities as between 80 and 100 before the end of the first decade of this millennium. Only if we realise that six to 10 years from now, the present one million candidates that desire places in our universities will hike in figure to about four million as a consequence of the Universal Basic Education (UBE) bulge. Only if we realise that the maximum enrolment for fresh students for all the 66 universities in 2010 will only be about 390,000 in the face of over four million applicants. Only if we realise that one of the causative factors of examination malpractice, cultism and depressed quality of teaching in our universities is overcrowded classrooms, laboratories and hostels."

To the Minister of Education, the experiences derived from private sector participation at the pre-primary, primary, secondary and university levels have shown that the sector, if encouraged, has "great contribution" to make in the development of education in the country.


But he expressed what was probably on concerned citizens' mind when he said, 'since the number of universities has risen significantly, the worry of many will be on quality. But Okebukola was ready. He said, "the question that now hits everybody in the face is; is it quantity at the expense of quality? The Law setting up the NUC gives us the teeth to ensure the quantity-quality balance. We have girded our loins to apply to the fullest the provisions of the law, especially ACT 9 of 1993. We are strengthening our the set-up of our early warning observatory to detect compromises in quality and to apply corrective and remedial measures to redress any imbalance."

The minister however went further. He gave the NUC a challenge. His words: "I am directing the NUC to submit to me within two weeks, its agenda for improved quality assurance of the university system."

Within 24 hours, Okebukola responded, because he had developed the plan in 2004 and had sent it to the various committees of the NUC. There is now, within the NUC, the Department of Quality Assurance, to be headed by Prof. Placid Njoku It will also have about 35 other professors.


The Department will conduct rigorous monitoring and evaluation activities of all universities in Nigeria. It will demand compliance with NUC's Benchmarks and Minimum Academic Standards and would recommend, for immediate sanction as dictated by Act 9 of 1993, any university whose operation falls below the standards. The thrust of the work of the Department, according to Okebukola, is to guarantee Nigerians that in spite of the quantitative increase in universities, quality of the Nigerian university graduate will not be compromised.


Giving an insight on what guided the federal government in granting the licenses, Osuji said, "let me share with you, some of the concerns of government during deliberations leading to the approval of the licenses. First is the issue of programmes to be offered. The interest of the nation in Science and Technology development demands that our universities, especially the new institutions, should respond though greater focus on science, technology and engineering courses. Second was the issue of duplicating courses that are already being offered by many other universities." Osuji told the new universities that their comparative advantage should emerge in their presentation of newer and more globally competitive courses.


He however implored the new institutions to be mindful of the Nigerian situation before reeling out their fees. "Government expects that your regime of fees should be tolerable for the average Nigerian student. Our desire is to have partners in university education, such as private sector operators that will go into the business more as a social service than as an economic cow to be milked."

Debunking the notion that the federal government was planning to abdicate its responsibility in funding public universities by granting licences to new private ones, Okebukola affirmed that since 1999 when the Obasanjo administration came on board, "NUC has (had an) allocation of about six billion": for disbursement to federal universities. He continued: "since 1999, the figure has multiplied six folds. Our records show that we now disburse about 36 billion every year. A surge was recorded in 2004 with a release of over N50 billion, half of the total allocation to the education sector at the federal level."

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