It is rather unfortunate that at a time when most people are concerned about poor investment in tertiary education, a development that limits the country’s quest for development, some scoundrels are bent on worsening the parlous state of education by establishing illegal and ill-equipped tertiary institutions in Africa’s most populous nation. But it is gratifying to note that the national quality control body, the National Universities Commission (NUC), the other day ordered another clampdown on all illegal tertiary institutions.
What is curious about the unfortunate development is that the number of illegal institutions has not reduced as a result of previous pronouncements by the NUC. Which means that there has been no enforcement of the earlier orders and offenders, in this regard have not been prosecuted. This is the crux of the matter.
The NUC has since 2001 intermittently released a list of illegal universities that should be closed down. But this is a country where there is so much noise on strings of illegalities but law enforcement agencies remain toothless bulldogs. This is unfortunate on all fronts. As this newspaper has repeatedly noted, where the law does not rule, there will be no vacuum as the man takes over and rules. That is a preface to anarchy.
Reports said sequel to the discovery of 66 illegal degree-awarding institutions by the NUC, the Federal Government through the ministry of education ordered the immediate clampdown on the affected establishments. This too is unfortunate as the NUC should have been more vigilant.
Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, who handed down the order at a ministerial press briefing the other day in Abuja, stated that government would not sit back and allow lawlessness to overrun the heart of the education sector.He threatened that the promoters of the institutions would be apprehended and prosecuted. The Minister maintained that the certificates from the institutions would remain invalid for National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), employment and further studies.He lamented that proliferation of the institutions in Nigeria has become a source of embarrassment to the government, noting that their existence in droves had encumbered the job of the regulatory agencies, even as they default in tax payment.
Adamu recalled that the Federal Executive Council had in 2001, outlawed satellite campuses and study centres nationwide on account of substandard training, operational lapses and unethical practices they were associated with.It is incredible that the illegal institutions under review have no admission quota; run unaccredited courses with practically no standards. The result is that their products are half-baked and unemployable. This is intolerable in any society.
No doubt, the problems associated with illegal tertiary institutions are well known. But the question the authorities should answer is why is there a proliferation of such illegal institutions? Why do people patronise them?Besides, are the latest 66 illegal institutions new or are they part of the earlier ones outlawed by government? Despite the vaunting by the education minister the manifestation of these institutions is a failure of governance between the education ministries nationwide and the only federal regulator of higher education, the NUC.
The matter has been curiously treated with kid gloves. But more important, government should look beyond mere existence of the institutions and deal with what gives them relevance. Obviously, there is desperation for university education in Nigeria. People are hungry for certificates. The growing number of applicants has put pressure on the existing institutions. The issue of admission remains problematic and the authorities do not pay attention to this anomaly.
Every year, the entrance examination conducted by the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) records over a million candidates out of which barely 20 per cent get admitted. The rest of 80 per cent are left to their devices. They have no other choice than to seek unapproved schools where they are readily admitted. The proprietors of the institutions fleece the candidates but that is overshadowed by the joy of getting the much-needed admission.
The problem is compounded by the unwarranted dichotomy between holders of degree and Higher National Diploma (HND). The polytechnics, which should have lessened the pressure by absorbing some of the candidates, are abandoned in favour of universities. This is a systemic problem in the country that needs to be corrected. But it is gratifying to note that after undue prevarication, the issue of the dichotomy is being addressed.
Though, government said it has abolished the dichotomy between degree and HND, it still needs to be seen in practical terms in work places and even in admission to higher degrees. It is unfortunate that the purpose for which the polytechnics were established has been defeated as a result of curious policy somersault in the federal republic ‘soldiers of fortune’ underdeveloped – since 1966.
In the main, given the high demand for education and the fact that national development aspirations cannot be met without a literate citizenry, education ought to be given a pride of place in the scheme of things.
The licensing of private universities was aimed at reducing the admission pressure on the existing institutions but that has not solved the problem. What is worse, almost all the higher institutions don’t have qualified lecturers in their faculties to meet the demand of 21st century education.
There is need to create capacity to admit more students in approved institutions. There is also the need to expand post-graduate education to produce more lecturers, especially, at doctoral level. The campuses are booming with students but few lecturers. The staff to student ratio hovered around 1:25 in the late 90s but with the surge in admission, the ratio has quadrupled. Lecturers are now over-stretched and unable to cope. A situation where one lecturer marks the examination scripts of over 1000 students is counterproductive.
The NUC too is under pressure as the only regulator in this complex federation. There should be a purpose-driven national emergency on education. The authorities should avoid policy somersaults that create problems, notably in education sector. That is why institutions created to make governance work should be made to work according to their enabling laws.