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The fate of Private Nigerian Universities – Part 2

The Fate of Nigerian Private Universities – Part 3
September 14, 2020
The fate of Nigerian Private Universities – Part 1
September 14, 2020

The fate of Private Nigerian Universities – Part 2

BY TOYIN FALOLA

The belief that private universities could be the future of Nigeria was also reechoed by the National Universities Commission, especially in light of the inadequacies and humongous problems mitigating against government-owned institutions. Indeed, it is safe to assume that the availability of the means, no matter how limited, would mean many parents and guardians, if not all, would prefer to register their children in private universities, knowing full well that the return is worthy of the investment.

We have serious questions to pose: What would become of those who cannot afford private education? Can Nigeria weather the pressure of an increased number of uneducated? Is ASUU paying attention to how strikes can damage the public institutions and the image of western education as we know it? Do the federal and state governments realise that the failure of public institutions is producing the success of the private? If private universities become essential and needed, how does the nation allocate its resources to education?

This is why I write, to begin to trigger conversations on whether we want to destroy the public institutions and do so more efficiently. Critical questions must be posed: Do the states wish to maintain their universities or keep running to TETFUND for funding? I once laughed on a visit to a state university when most of their buildings were made possible by TETFUND. Why, then, would the state government create the university if not to tap into the resources at the center? Do we want to sell the public universities to private investors, as the country did to many public enterprises to transfer national investments to a small cabal of wealthy people? Or should we give them away for free? There should be a reason for keeping the University of Ibadan if the government does not want to fund it.

The effect of the COVID-19 on the country saw the shutting down of tertiary institutions across the country. The standard expectation would have been that educational activities such as teaching, exams, matriculation, and even convocation are suspended. Indeed, while this is true of federal and state universities, private universities have shown once again that they are the leading light in the technological advancement of the educational sector in the country. The imperative and advanced use of ICT in every aspect of daily life has become the norm in developed countries of the world. ICT apps/media, especially WhatsApp, Zoom, Google Meet, Webinar, and Telegram, are some of the most veritable platforms used for academic purposes, serving both audio and audio-visual communications. Indeed, these media have been adopted in leading private universities in the country such as Babcock University, Covenant University, Bowen University, Benson Idahosa University, Afe Babalola University, American University of Nigeria, and Crawford University, among many others. With the aid of these technologies, while students of government-controlled universities remain at home, their colleagues in private universities only experience the impact of COVID-19 by communicating with their lecturers and friends via social media and not physically anymore. With the state of the 21st-century technology, how could anyone explain or understand that one of the renowned federal universities could not provide students with their transcripts because of the COVID-19 lock-down? Put differently, private universities have swiftly adopted virtual/online learning—fully integrating their students into an academic process that ensures that the impact of COVID-19 has not been able to stunt the academic progress of their students, thereby delaying them at all. As I noted above, while the leadership of ASUU kept maintaining that online instructions won’t work, Babcock University held a virtual convocation. In August, Benson Idahosa University completed a full session and summer and would be resuming a new session online in September. Covenant is actively in session, while Afe Babalola University and Bowen University most recently concluded their exams. I monitored all of these, doing my research, to ensure that these universities are not scamming the public. They have been honest.

The above goes on to show that if anything, private universities are the front-runners in technological advancement, competing with tertiary institutions in developed countries and raising the standard for universities in Nigeria. This is mainly in an era of mismanagement of public universities. Given the above, and the several problems impeding against public universities, it becomes imperative for the government to start taking note and rendering much-needed help to privately-owned universities as institutions that have contributed immensely in preventing a bad situation from getting worse.

However, the huge status and comfort-ability of the above-mentioned private universities should not be misconstrued to mean the situation is the same as  all other private universities in the country. This is especially the case as there are private universities, most especially the newly-established ones, that are struggling with the effect of the COVID-19 and are unable to function at all.

Given the advantage of private universities as a whole and their contributions to the future of the country, it is pertinent that the government, both at state and federal levels, do not continue to ignore them. I, therefore, recommend the following, especially for struggling private universities and for an efficient rejig of the system:

  • The government should provide reasonable tax breaks for the ‘struggling’ universities to assist them financially. A tax break or total exemption is the least the government can do.
  • State governments can assist private universities by contributing to infrastructural development. Indeed, the Ogun State Government, for instance, should have an annual budget to help Babcock, a pride in the state. Why not maintain social services or subsidize the fees of all the disadvantaged students of Ogun State attending the university?
  • Also, the TETFUND scheme should be extended to incorporate private universities. After all, they are Nigerian universities providing quality education for Nigerians. I understand the contrary argument—public money should not be used for private citizens to make profits. Yes. But scholarship to Nigerian students attending those schools is empowering our citizens; the corollary is that by doing so, it is contributing to the economy of the state. Funding research that is beneficial to society is not putting money in the pockets of the founders. No one denies a research grant to a professor at Stanford University because he or she teaches in a private school.
  • Apropos in line with suggestions 1 and 2 above, by so doing, the government could encourage expensive private universities to reduce their tuitions and fees, which would allow for more student intake, thereby decreasing the number of failed admission applications annually. Statistics show there are always some half a million students per year who have been unable to gain admission to universities. Perennial failures at such and the inability to access private institutions have often made many youths give up formal tertiary education. Thus, reliable support from the government using both parameters alone would go a long way in strengthening these private institutions, increase their recognition, as well as reduce the number of students unable to gain admission to the above.
  • It is here recognized that such government intervention, as stated in points 1 and 2 and their possible implications as noted in the 4th point, could bastardize the private universities, and it could only be a matter of time for them to mirror the conditions of their public counterparts. Therefore, to ensure that government support for these institutions does not erode the gains made by the private actors, which informed these proposals in the first place, the Nigerian University Commission, the regulatory body, has to be reformed for effective monitoring and operation of the system.
  • In addition to the above, the government should look into encouraging wealthy Nigerians to invest in private universities, especially the struggling ones. These investments can be in two forms. First, a wide variety of scholarships could be given to intelligent and willing students to these private universities. The volume of these scholarships would reduce the intake pressure on public universities. This is purely altruistic. The other way is for private individuals or company owners to invest with the mindset to reap dividends. The government can encourage them to do so with dividends taken not from the school but in the form of other mutually beneficial concessions (i.e., tax break—reduced percentage, etc.). It is a standard global good practice for governments to promote charity with non-taxable allowance for individuals, and a similar allowance for private companies for their expenses on community/social responsibility services and community development projects.

Source: The Punch

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