OPINION: The Harvest of New Universities, By Karo Ogbinaka

Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State announced the creation of two new state-owned public universities.
They will be located at Ikorodu and Ijanikin in Lagos State.

He chose the setting provided by the book launch event to mark 60 years of the existence of Prof Toyin Ogundipe, the incumbent Vice Chancellor of University of Lagos to announce this.

The path the Lagos State government took in establishing two new Universities – University of Science, Ikorodu and Adeniran Ogunsanya University of Education – was earlier followed by the Delta State government.

In March 2021, the NUC approved three new Universities for Delta State. They are the University of Delta, Agbor, Dennis Osadebe Univeristy, Asaba; and Delta State University of Science and Technology, Ozoro. Here we shall use Delta and Lagos states as models.

The implication of having many universities is that almost every other body required to run these institutions will be replicated across board.

It can be seen that these states have three and four Universities respectively. The Federal Government has been at the forefront in the establishment of new universities in the country. Indeed, some of its agencies such as the Army, Navy, Air Force and Police have all joined the fray of setting up new Universities.

But what are the implications and consequences of these actions on our educational system?

No doubt, universities have a way of growing the economy of its host communities. Its student and employee population is usually huge.

Ideally, it creates socio-economic boost for property owners, small-scale traders and businesses, transporters, business centres, and publishing related businesses among others.

Apart from this, the presence of well-trained academics within its immediate community elevates the profile of such a community. This may explain why many politicians and “powers that be” are quick to site these institutions in their paternal villages.

Be that as it may, the first victim of most of these new universities is the existing tertiary institutions that are scrapped for them to exist.

The fact remains that Polytechnics and Colleges of Education cannot be “upgraded” to become universities.
They are in truth replaced by the universities and the supervising body is also transformed into another.

The regulator of Colleges of Education in Nigeria is the ‘National Commission of Colleges of Education’ (NCCE). ‘The National Board for Technical Education’ (NBTE) regulates Polytechnics; and the ‘National Universities Commission’ (NUC) regulates Universities.

So a whole lot changes once the so-called “upgrading” is done. The word “upgrading” also degrades and derogates the status of this level of institutions in our educational system.

We must ask if Colleges of Education and Polytechnics are no longer relevant or useful in our educational system and national life.

The economics of setting up capital intensive institutions, like universities at a time of dwindling income, under-funding of universities and labour crises calls for better thinking.

A university by definition is “an institution of higher learning providing facilities for teaching and research and authorized to grant academic degrees.”

Ideally, a university is a college of colleges.

One would have expected the Federal and State Governments to harmonise the new universities with older existing universities. Invariably, taking Lagos State as an example, one would suggest that the Faculty of Education at LASU be relocated to the newly established Adeniran Ogunsanya University of Education and designated as a college of the Lagos State University and a Provost appointed to oversee the University (LASU) College.

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The same can be said for the University of Science and Technology, etc. Within the prescient of the University of Lagos, the Federal Government maintains a Polytechnic and a College of Technical Education. This can also be harmonised.

The implication of having many universities is that almost every other body required to run these institutions will be replicated across board.

For now, given the paucity of funds and availability of qualified academics to efficiently and effectively run these institutions, one would only argue that it is ill-advised to establish new public universities.

Available statistics shows that the largest university in Nigeria is the National Open University of Nigeria, while University of Lagos ranks as second in terms of student population.

As at 2021, the total number of undergraduate student population (Federal, State and Private Universities) in Nigeria was put at 1.8 million. This student clientele was serviced by 11,877 Professors; 6,036 Associate Professors, 14,514 Senior Lecturers and 41,017 Lecturer 1 and below.

This brings the total academic population to 73,444 thereby giving an average of one academic to 245 undergraduates.

The continuous establishment of new universities pressures this unpalatable statistics for the worse.

The “upgrading” of existing institutions to Universities, and the establishment of new Universities will not automatically translate into upgrading all former lecturers of the Polytechnics and Colleges of Education into becoming Professors, and PhD holders.

Of course, there a few lecturers in these institutions qualified to service the established Universities. As a matter of fact, it is obvious that the way new Universities are emerging in the country, without regulation, is another way of undermining the quality of our graduate production process.

This is a tragedy for our system of education.

How can government convince a body such as ASUU that she lacks the funds to finance capital intensive education in Nigeria?

Definitely this cannot emanate from a government that is daily establishing new public Universities.

It is exactly from this angle that the ASUU-FGN disagreement can be analysed by well-thinking Nigerians. Universities ought to be research centres that provide high quality “problem centric” manpower for any society.

What we are now creating are centres that may become problems to government, the larger society and itself.

These many universities are veritable ground for the production of a huge army of the unemployed and unproductive persons.

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