Monday, July 4, 2016

Okojie And Liberalization Of The University System

By Dan Amor
A breezy and cheering news item on page 38 of The Authority  (Daily) of Monday January 4, 2016, made my day. Titled, "NUC targets more private varsities", the report, quoting the Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission (NUC), Prof. Julius Okojie, circulated that the Commission would ensure that more private universities are established in the country in the near future.
 
*Prof. Julius A Okojie
Indeed, Prof. Okojie must be commended for the quantum leap his tenure as Executive Secretary of NUC has brought to the university system in Nigeria. With a paltry 73 universities (both public and private) in the country upon assumption of office in August 2006, Okojie, a scholar of international repute and professor of forestry, has grown the number of universities in Nigeria to 141 in less than a decade. That Nigeria with a population of about 170 million already has a total number of 141 universities is not even encouraging as this is not enough to meet the yearnings and aspirations of our teeming youths for tertiary education.

According to a recent study, the United Kingdom with a population of about 60 million has 120 universities while the United States of America with a population of about 260 million has 345 universities. India, with a population of about 1.5 billion people has 398 universities while Australia with 17 million people has 36 universities. It is against this backdrop that I support the establishment of more private universities in Nigeria.

In 1999, the Federal Government licensed the establishment of four private universities namely, Heritage University in Kaduna; Igbinedion University at Okada, Benin City; Babcock University at Remo, Ogun State, and Madonna University in Onitsha, Anambra State. This was a step in the right direction. Also, in 2003, the National Universities Commission (NUC) approved the establishment of more private universities, among which are: Bowen University, Iwo; Covenant University, Ota, Ogun State; Redeemers University, Ede, Osun State. Besides a few private universities that had existed before such as Benson Idahosa University, Benin City; Pan African (now Pan Atlantic) University, etcetera, we now have new ones including Bells University of Technology; Lead City University; several newly established State universities and the 13 new Federal universities established in one fell swoop by the Goodluck Jonathan administration.


It is true that investment in higher education is both an ultimately profitable venture as well as a precondition for a meaningful and enduring national growth and development. Also, it is common logic that if private individuals are allowed to own universities, proper ownership rights can be better enforced while wastage would be minimized. Consequently, faculties would be compelled to modernize, more qualified teachers would be engaged, better rewarded and thus would take more interests in the affairs of their students, and the universities would be adequately regenerated.

However, the NUC should show more concern in the criteria with which the universities are chosen for accreditation out of the numerous applications by private investors to run their own universities. We must strive to avoid a situation where universities will be run like secondary and primary schools privately owned and expensively operated for children of the rich. Are these people investing in private universities genuinely committed to the advancement of learning?

University education is undoubtedly the profound legacy of the twelfth century. The period was not only an age of revival in the field of learning; it was an age of new creation in the field of institutions of higher education. The era set in motion the rapid evolution of the human mind. Indeed, universities had not existed hitherto because there was not enough learning in Western Europe to justify their existence. They came into being naturally with the expansion of knowledge in this period. Besides producing the earliest universities, the twelfth century also fixed their form of organization for succeeding ages. Whether we talk of the modern university's heredity from Athens and mediaeval Europe to Britain's civic universities of the nineteenth century and then the "plate-glass" universities of the twentieth century, the truth is that the academic world is designed to illuminate and foster enlightenment in all ramifications. But the State has always insisted on controlling and even suppressing knowledge. Even in London from where we borrowed our idea of a university, the controversy on the ideal relationship between the town and the gown is not far to seek. 

Yet, indeed, a university training is, in part, the great ordinary means to a great but ordinary end. It aims at raising the intellectual tone of society, at cultivating the public mind, at purifying the national taste, at supplying true principles to popular enthusiasm and fixed aims to popular aspirations. It also aims at giving enlargement and sobriety to the ideas of the age, at facilitating the exercise of political power, and refining the intercourse of private life. In fact, the university in the true sense of the word, should be a state self-governed, and whose membership is absolutely based on a purely intellectual franchise. In Nigeria, the university system has come of age, having been firmly rooted in the establishment, in 1948, of the University College, Ibadan, now the University of Ibadan, as a campus of the University of London which itself was founded in 1836. But the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, established in 1960 remains the first indigenous university in the country. Yet, the Nigerian university system has, ironically, over the years suffered stunted growth and development, showing more signs of decay and anachronism than of sustainable development and modernization; and hence more signs of despair and decadence than of hope and advancement.

Despite the astronomical growth of the private university idea, government must once more take a critical look at proper funding of our educational institutions, from primary to tertiary levels. If we realize the fact that the training of human resources or the development of human capital has long been established as the real foundation of economic growth and social transformation, and that education is the fundamental source of innovative change in any society, now is the time for government to implement the recommendations of the Gray Longe Commission on Tertiary Education as part of the panacea to the problems confronting our university system. We cannot ignore the centrality of education to the advancement of any nation whether the medium is public or private. To end mass poverty and the cascading eruption of ignorance in our country, save our fledgling democracy, solve social problems, curtail crime, increase national prosperity and provide equality of opportunity, government must give the education sector its desired priority. We must realize that education is the only process that cocoons man away from lower animals, and that which underwrites all human endeavours. Few hours into the cocktail of savouring the piquant aroma of his electoral victory as British Prime Minister in May 1997, Tony Blaire promised Britons an urgent appraisal of education which he identified as one of those variables that determine whether a nation would succeed or not. Besides being a patriotic expression, Blaire's quip was an archetypal concern for the future of his country. So, give us more private universities and fund the existing ones. Education should be seen as the birth right of any child in Nigeria.
*Dan Amor is an Abuja-based public affairs analyst (danamor98@gmail.com)
  

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