- We have no qualms about the number of varsities NUC might want to license
The National Universities Commission (NUC) is in the process of considering 303 applications for establishment of new universities by individuals, faith-based and corporate organisations. The announcement was made by the executive secretary of the commission at a summit on “Regulating Private University Education Delivery in Nigeria: The Role of the National Universities Commission.”
Given that as recently as 2018, only 30 percent of applicants to the existing 170 universities are given admission, there is no better time for the Federal Government and NUC to consider not only increasing the number of universities but also giving additional attention to reviewing and upgrading pre-requisites for establishment of new universities. No country that is committed to empowerment of its citizens towards national development and effective competition in the global market can afford to have severely limited access to universities for students with proper qualifications, as Nigeria currently does. It is worrisome that even now, hundreds of students are studying in 68 illegal universities in the country, a sad reminder of the need for expanded access to university education.
We identify with NUC’s enthusiasm about upgrading standards for higher education and reviewing conditions for establishment of new universities, especially private universities that may be driven largely by profit. Moreover, over 300 applications at a time are rather huge and deserve scrutiny and proper verification of evidence that applicants are sufficiently prepared to meet the requirements for respectable university education.
The observation by Prof Abubakar Rasheed, NUC’s executive secretary, at the summit that most of the existing 80 private universities are unable to meet the admission quotas allocated to them, admitting just six percent of the total admissions to universities deserves special attention as the commission considers applications for private universities. Further, given the secretary’s observation about the inability of existing private universities that were subjected to stringent requirements before being approved, it is crucial that the 303 applications are rigorously scrutinised. Mushrooming of universities has a way of creating illusion of progress in quantitative terms, but what the country needs is not just existence of universities but access to higher institutions that can deliver the service for which they have been licensed.
However, it is reassuring that the NUC, as the agency to set and uphold quality assurance in the higher education subsector, has chosen to enforce all standards in its review of applications. Without any prejudice to citizens’ right to establish higher institutions, it is the approving agency that has obligations to adhere to standards which can guarantee provision of respectable academic training and credentials. We, therefore, urge the NUC to do thorough screening that would save the country from giving license to individuals or organisations with inadequate capacity to meet their admission quota.
The issue to give utmost attention, is protection and promotion of high academic standards in both public and private universities. Efforts should be made to discourage frivolous applications, especially by applicants whose sole motive is profit making. We thus encourage the NUC to withhold accreditation or approval until the requisite minimum standards are met by prospective applicants.
In addition to NUC’s insistence on mentoring of new universities by first-generation universities, the commission should ensure that the mentoring institutions are given all the support needed to do a good job. As the number of universities increases, so should NUC give more attention to raising of academic standards in the universities—private and public. Expansion of access to university in the country should not be at the expense of quality and equity.