By Leonard Karshima Shilgba
The Federal Government of Nigeria is obviously overwhelmed with funding, management, and quality assurance matters of its public universities in Nigeria. The short-comings of those universities that are being reported require cerebral ideas to tackle. Let us consider a few proposals.
First, ought the Federal Government to continue to assume or pretend that it has both supervisory and funding capacities to oversee more than forty universities? Secondly, in view of the increasing number of applications by Nigerian students for admission into less than 150 universities in Nigeria, and the more than 200,000 admission places in private universities every year that are not taken up due to comparatively high tuition fees, should the Federal Government not set certain attainable criteria for the private universities to access much needed funds from TETFUND?
We propose that the Federal Government give up 60 per cent of its ownership of all but six (6) of its universities, one per geo-political zone. The monetary value of the 60 per cent, when obtained from education investors, should be paid into Nigerian Education Bank (NEB), which should be restored and defined by a piece of legislation, and used to provide education assistance (e.g. education loans and scholarships) to confirmed indigent students. Who should the potential buyers of those universities be, and what would the criteria be?
National and international investors who have demonstrated genuine interest in quality education evinced, at least, by endowments, proprietorship of colleges, and involvement in education quality assurance should be considered. Another requirement would be that, besides paying down 60 per cent of the monetary value of a federal university of interest, the investor must establish at least fifty billion naira (N 50 billion) endowment for the university. Any State government in Nigeria that fulfils the criteria should be allowed to acquire only one federal university provided it does not owe salaries of staff of its university (or universities). Any group of at least five (5) States can acquire at most three federal universities if it meets similar criteria, and would be required to establish an endowment of at least fifty billion naira (N 50 billion) for each of the acquired federal university. With regard to quality assurance, the new investors would sign a memorandum of understanding with the Federal Ministry of Education to:
1. Not pay its inherited staff less than what the federal government was paying prior to takeover, and takeover the funding of their retirement accounts (they would, however, be free to retain such demonstrated quality and number of staff that would enhance service quality);
2. Take steps within one year toward international accreditation of all academic programs, including applying for membership of International Network of Quality Assurance Agencies in Higher Education (INQAAHE);
3. Improve the process of hiring academic department chairs, deans, provosts, and vice-chancellors, with a requirement that international hiring agencies must be required for the search and final submission of three top candidates in each category for appointment by the Governing Boards of the universities; and
4. Submit faculty to student evaluation every semester, and weed out those that would consistently score below 2.0 on a scale of 5.0 in two consecutive semesters.
The Federal government, in allowing private universities to access funds from TETFUND, should demand a proportionate reduction in all student charges and costs, which should enhance student enrolment. Student support by Nigerian Education Bank would make college education affordable, and reduce burdens on parents and guardians while assuring quality education. The six (6) universities over which the Federal Government would retain 100 per cent ownership must also fulfil (2)-(4) above in addition to the following:
i. Facilities should be expanded to take a student population of at least 50, 000.
ii. Effort should be made to achieve a faculty: student ratio of 1: 20 within a year, and 20 per cent of faculty should be expatriates (international). Of faculty population, 20 per cent should be of professorial cadre (both full and associate professors), and 45 per cent should be assistant professors (senior lecturers).
iii. Foreign student component of 10 per cent should be achieved within three years.
iv. To qualify to teach in any of those six (6) universities, citations on google scholar would be an important factor in addition to the standard placement criteria; and remuneration of faculty should not be less than what is paid by the highest paying government university in Africa, in US dollar terms.
v. No candidate would be admitted into any degree program who scores below 250 points in JAMB-administered UMTE.
The time is now to work toward saving Nigeria’s college education from under-funding, inadequate carrying capacity, unreliable quality assurance that is heavily based on National Universities Commission (NUC)-commissioned evaluations, and merit-abused admission and employment criteria. We cannot continue this way, and hope to build a great society. We must change course.
Leonard Karshima Shilgba is a professor of Mathematics and Chairman of the Governing Board of National Business and Technical Examinations Board (NABTEB).