Reports emanating from the federal ministry of education indicate that each of the nine universities established last year by the federal government has received N3.1 billion from the Tertiary Education Trust Fund to facilitate their smooth take off. They are admitting students and reducing the number of qualified applicants waiting on the queue to obtain tertiary education. For instance, the new Federal University in Kashere, Gombe state, admitted 350 students for the 2010/2011 academic session. That is the cheery aspect of the story.
Now, we have to face the hard realities. It may be politically expedient to have a federal university in each state of the federation, but why will any policy maker approve the establishment of a university without thinking about how to get enough teachers to teach the students? That is the simplest of the questions to ask the minister of education going by the outcome of a study commissioned by the National Universities Commission. The Benchmark Minimum Academic Standards for Postgraduate Programmes indicated that tertiary institutions in the country have a shortfall of about 60,000 lecturers. The report, drawn by the committee of vice chancellors and presented recently by its secretary, Prof. Mike Faborode, said over 60 per cent of academic staff in Nigerian universities are in the category of lecturer 1 and below. Furthermore, the report said the universities have a shortage of 19,548 staff, polytechnics 17,078, colleges of education 14,858, National Open University 9,780 and the National Teachers Institute 474.
These are grim statistics for a nation that has cultivated the penchant for establishing universities at the whims and caprices of politicians and emergent proprietors who are better described as merchants in the education sector. It is now a norm for many university lecturers to teach in two or more institutions concurrently. No wonder many are barely present to really teach their students. Instead of proper coaching and mentoring, the hapless students have to depend on sundry hand outs that are often procured under duress and at ridiculously high costs. Of course, many of our universities have long jettisoned research and practical studies.
The response of the education minister, Prof. Ruqayyatu Ahmed Rufai, in describing the report as an exaggeration is predictable and not surprising. This is a minister who has consistently defended the sprouting of nine new varsities in one day. We think that the establishment of the last set of federal universities was informed largely by political considerations rather than what has been bandied by the minister as an altruistic decision to expand access to higher education. Granted that more students are graduating from the secondary schools, we do not agree that all secondary school leavers must head for the university. This country is in dire need of technical manpower at the middle level. We need quality artisans and workmen to actualise our quest for industrialisation and self reliance in the oil, housing, telecoms, and power sectors. We do not need university graduates for basic but critical technical services.
Rather than creating mushroom universities, we urge the government to fine tune its education policy to deepen the quality of tertiary education. It is absolutely necessary to properly equip existing ones and encourage post graduate studies to produce requisite manpower as teachers and researchers for all tertiary institutions.
After all, a university is not just a few blocks of classrooms and laboratories. As the name implies, it is an enclave for universal, all round education. Such quality education is only possible where students also have access to adequate electricity, potable water, recreational and medical facilities. Plus an alluring environment.
Filed Under: Editorials