Few days ago, a discussion ensued following media reports that the Senate recently passed some bills for assent by President Muhammadu Buhari for the creation of nine new tertiary institutions, which would add to the existing universities, polytechnics and colleges of education across the country. According to the legislators, establishing more tertiary institutions in the select locations would increase access to tertiary institutions and make it possible for federal presence such that social and infrastructural amenities could be better provided for the people.
The main issue now is: should more of such institutions be established or not? A cross-section of stakeholders in the education sector have decried the rot in the system in terms of lack of adequate funding; a dire situation that had propelled all academic staff unions in the universities and polytechnics to embark on strike, to press home the need for better funding of tertiary institutions. The unions had called on Mr President to delay assent to the bills until the existing institutions are functioning optimally across the country. For them, continuous establishment of institutions without basic standards would amount to great disservice to the nation. That is why education is always placed in the order of priority when it comes to state affairs. No amount is too much to expend on the provision of rich and all-encompassing education for the people.
No doubt, education empowers the people. It enables them to know their rights. It makes it possible to aspire to high places in life, become self-reliant, actualise goals, become easily governable and be law-abiding. Poor or limited access is just the opposite. The need to acquire sound education becomes imperative and a major desire of every citizen in attaining socialisation in our complex society. Just like other sectors in the life of the nation, the education sector is suffering from government’s seeming lack of deep interest in advancing and retaining the best in the educational institutions because large number of universities in Nigeria has not really encouraged access to education due to their low carrying capacity, as most candidates who sit for the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) chose university as their preferred institutions when compared with the others that chose either polytechnics or colleges of education as their preferred institutions.
The situation has resulted in the unwieldy rise of illegal tertiary institutions in the country with most of them claiming affiliation to established universities abroad in which huge sums of foreign exchange is spent. There is so much drive towards foreign education. The reason for the proliferation of illegal degree-awarding institutions in the country is because of the limited space available in the university system to cater for the several million students that are determined to be educated. This remains a source of concern for every stakeholder on how to get our education right. Alternatively, private universities on the other hand are expensive and beyond what many average Nigerians can afford.
The National Universities Commission (NUC) recently released the list of illegal universities in the country and accused the respective institutions of operating without being licensed and got them shut down for violating the national minimum standard for education operational in the country. In 2016, NUC discovered 37 universities running illegal or unaccredited courses with publicly-owned universities among the culprits. In 2015, NUC shut down 57 of such fake higher institutions operating without accreditation. This trend keeps increasing by the day.
For any reasonable development to take place in the university system, government should be ready to address the issue of funding the system. Adequate funding would help in solving the problem of infrastructural deficit and inadequate equipment. To put in place sustainable policy and the required standard, government should review upward, the remuneration and emoluments for teachers, academics and researchers. Not only that, there is the need to make projections on the nation’s manpower requirements in a bid to integrate this into university programmes for realisation.
The NUC should endeavour and ensure to updates universities on their future personnel and manpower needs of the country, such that it could be pursued. There is the imperative to confront the challenges of educational development by adapting global knowledge and create knowledge locally, investing in human capital to increase the ability to absorb and use knowledge, investing in technologies to facilitate both acquisition and the absorption of knowledge. This is how to advance with other progressive countries of the world in terms of education. These should be the focus of stakeholders in the education sector across the nation. Anything short of this is to deny the citizens an access to what they deserve.
Rather than quantity, the focus should be on quality. It is not the high numbers that should be the measuring yardstick but the stuff that makes teaching, learning and teachers tick. As stated earlier, what the nation needs now is not the mere existence of litany of institutions with nothing much to show for them. Stakeholders should promote a situation whereby quality education is available but should equally be accessible to all. This is what drives development. Education is power.