By Martin Paul in Abuja
Nigerians were in utter surprise a fortnight ago when Imo state Governor, Owelle Rochas Okorocha, unwittingly succeeded in obtaining provincial licenses for establishment of three different universities in the state.
Whereas many gave him accolades for the feat, others regard it a project to buttress political ego, even as he is heading out as governor of the state.
It is a known fact that Imo state has consistently remain atop in search in search of academic prowess in the country.
This simple analogy is drawn from the number of candidates who trooped out for Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) each year. Records show that Imo has often produced highest number of candidate and evidence is proved from the just released results of the 2019 UTME, where a-15-year-old boy scored the highest number in the examination.
Another point worth mentioning here that the state has highest number of young female seeking for education than their male counterparts and this had given the state government and parent sleepless nights, hence the need for more institutions that could accumulate the teeming number of higher education seekers in the state.
This is apparently one of the reasons the state government to establish four new universities, adding to the existing two in the state.
This action also put the stat as one with highest number of universities with the believe that as Okorocha said in Abuja, would be able to absolve the remaining 80 per cent of potential students, who could not go through the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB).
With all humility, this piece is not to humiliate or degrade the integrity and ambition of Imo state government, but to frantically state the obvious of university proliferation without recourse to funding and standards.
Some years ago, Nigerian universities were christened “glorified secondary schools” until the emergence of Education Tax Fund (ETF) now Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund).
The Fund, with all modesty, has used the two per cent education tax to change the face of tertiary education in the country in areas of funding, infrastructural development, yet the carrying capacity of individual institutions is still a mirage as it is not matched with population and youth growth in the country.
Suffice to state that in the very recent times, the National Universities Commission (NUC) seems to have deviated from its mandate as a regulatory agency to ensure the maintenance of standard, prudent management of universities, accountability and stability of the system.
This fact could be trace to the number of federal, states and private universities granted licenses to operate in the country.
The commission has also forgotten that proprietors of, particularly private universities, are only proclaiming the Benchmark Academic Standards (BMAS) on pages of papers.
It has not also care to know that many academic briefs presented to obtain provisional licenses, were borrowed from other institutions, neither does it bothered about the existence of illegal universities in virtually every parts of the country.
As a regulatory agency, the commission should be mandating university managers to expand their carrying capacities with the billions of revenue they are collecting as intervention fund from TETFund.
NUC should have realized that there is the need to make use of the expanse of land in virtually every university campus, where cultism is thriving. It should have also known that a university that was established thirty or more years ago with initial students intake of like 250, to arrive at 3, 500 in the first five years, has tripled the estimated number and needs expansion, not only in academic programmes, but particularly in population of students and staff.
While comparing with other African countries with over 200 universities, we have failed to take into consideration the funding milieu of our system, where education is in the concurrent list, but tertiary administration resting on government hands.
Establishing more universities is a good venture, but where economy is unstable and revenue generation not reliable, is in my opinion that the consistency of Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) embarking on strikes more often, cannot be ruled out.
It is therefore, time to retrospect the minds and establish the facts that industrial action has contributed immensely to the falling standard of education from the primary to tertiary, even though a number still graduate with first class.
Lastly, it has been noted that state governors have formed the habit of establishing universities at the point of their exit from government without considering that they would no longer be in possession of state funds.
This is another factor, which NUC should consider in granting license to state governors to establish universities. Although they are the state chief servants, it is difficult to tell what would happen to those institution in a dwindling economy, where in-coming governors often say they met empty treasury.
Perhaps if could be advised that any state governor, whose tenure of office was fast approaching the end, should not be allowed to establish a university, except where they has committed finances for the next ten years for the running of the institutions.
For now, it has been well, but we would live to remember only when the bubble would bust.