Ever since the Federal Government commenced the granting of licenses to operate private universities, pundits have always argued that this liberalisation of the education sector is a panacea to the rot in the public tertiary education system. It is also seen as the antidote to the crisis of access to education bedevilling university education inNigeria. To some extent, the latter has been achieved while for the former, the reverse has been the case.
It is crystal clear that private nursery, primary and secondary institutions are, in most cases, turning out better products than public schools. For the university system however, the scenario is the converse, unfortunately. Ill- equipped graduates are being turned out by private universities even when they lay claim to produce as many “first class graduates” as possible. A private university once vowed that they would continue to produce first class graduates irrespective of criticisms from the Nigerian larger society.
We are very much concerned about the reported situations in many of these private universities viz: drastic lowering of admission standards, low calibre staff and heavy workload of same, fictitious academic and non –academic staff lists, false qualification claims, virtual absence of normal academic structures, proprietor’s overbearing executive powers and jettisoning of academic culture to mention but a few. There is the reported case of a proprietor who sacks Vice – Chancellors at will to the extent that the university produced three Vice- Chancellors in the four years of its existence and arbitrary announcement of “Professors” without due process of internal and external assessment in some cases. A Vice-Chancellor was reportedly sacked for insisting that funds be made available to departmental units for smooth operations in line with NUC standards. In many cases, Vice- Chancellors of private universities, often referred to as Chief Academic Officers are virtually powerless as far as the running of the universities are concerned and they retain their positions at the pleasure of their employers – usually the all-powerful proprietors.
We observe that the NUC normally appoints established universities as mentors to these fledgling private universities during their gestation period. We do not know, however, how much of these mentors’ terms of reference have been accomplished. Mentors are supposed, inter-alia, to provide expert advice on recruitment of staff and implementation of carrying capacity, assist in the moderation of admissions, examination questions and results, advise on the development of curricula and establishing of new programmes; provide advice and assistance on staff development and provide general quality assurance advice.
It is sad that many private universities not only put square pegs in rectangular holes, they arbitrarily appoint unqualified persons as principal officers. Imagine a university that appoints a graduate (an alumnus of the university) with less than five years post-graduation experience as its Registrar. The same university also went ahead to appoint a fresh professor (also announced as one by the proprietor) as Vice Chancellor. This, the Registrar boasted on the pages of a weekly is a great achivement asking Nigerians to point to any university that can produce a graduate of less than five years experience as a Registrar. The list of infractions seems endless.
We wish to call on the NUC to set up, as a matter of utmost urgency, a high –powered investigation to the private universities appointed “Professors” to determine their suitability to occupy this apex of the academic ladder. Reports on the decadence in these private universities are damning. Even in private secondary schools, principals are in most cases given free hands to operate. The situation is different in most private universities where appointments to principal positions are no longer attractive due to the overbearing interference of the founders/ proprietors. There is the reported case of a proprietor who expels students at will without the knowledge of the Vice- Chancellor. When proprietors turn universities to regimented and “intellectual prison yards” for staff and students, then something is definitely wrong. Even lecturers have to take permission to exit the campus for private visits.
We observe that the licences of these private universities are tenurial with five years in most cases. Therefore, the license of any of them that is found wanting should not be renewed. Those that are admitting students for courses that have been denied accreditations are committing a very serious offence for which they should be appropriately sanctioned.
We call on the private universities concerned to stop bastardising the normal university culture. Proper academic structures should be put in place. The proprietors should allow appropriate organs of the university to function and be equipped with qualified and experienced staff. It is not compulsory that a professor must rise to become a Vice-Chancellor. Therefore, Vice- Chancellors that observe their proprietors perpetrating anti-university culture must be courageous enough to withdraw their services.
The quality of university products is very critical in the production of the much needed manpower in this country. Pray what kind of graduate will a university produce where a lecturer boasts that he teaches seven courses!
Ours is a wake-up call to get things right in the universities concerned. Any proprietor must accept the fact that it is not all private institutions that must make profit or break-even during gestation periods. Therefore, qualified and experienced organs must be put in place; principal officers must be allowed to function without fearing the big stick of the founder/ proprietor; let mentors perform their duties without expecting compensation or allowing themselves to be compromised. NUC Accreditation panels always consist of Nigerian academics. Let the panels perform their duties without fear or favour. We submit that things must be got right in Nigerian private universities so as not to end up in the very alley from which the nation seek escape.