Hun­dreds of new uni­ver­si­ties planned in Nige­ria as de­mand soars

THE (Times Higher Education) - - NEWS - Jack.grove@timeshigh­ere­d­u­ca­

Al­most 300 new uni­ver­si­ties could be cre­ated in Nige­ria in the near fu­ture to help the west African coun­try cope with its rapidly grow­ing youth population, a se­nior state of­fi­cial has said.

Abul­rasheed Abubakar, ex­ec­u­tive sec­re­tary of Nige­ria’s Na­tional Uni­ver­si­ties Com­mis­sion, said that his or­gan­i­sa­tion was pro­cess­ing 292 ap­pli­ca­tions from in­sti­tu­tions that hope to be­come pri­vate uni­ver­si­ties. If all are ap­proved, it would al­most tre­ble the number of higher ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tu­tions in Nige­ria, which now stands at 163 for a population of al­most 200 mil­lion, said Pro­fes­sor Abubakar.

While many of those seek­ing ac­cred­i­ta­tion are fairly small and spe­cial­ist in­sti­tu­tions, such as pri­vate med­i­cal schools and cre­ative arts col­leges, the new in­sti­tu­tions will be vi­tal in Nige­ria’s plans to ex­pand stu­dent num­bers by 20 per cent over the next five years, Pro­fes­sor Abubakar said.

Speak­ing at the an­nual con­fer­ence of the UK’s Qual­ity As­sur­ance Agency, the for­mer vice-chan­cel­lor of Bayero Univer­sity said that a dire short­age of univer­sity places in Nige­ria un­der­mined the coun­try’s po­lit­i­cal sta­bil­ity. Only 19 per cent of the 2 mil­lion stu­dents who ap­plied to univer­sity were ac­cepted last year, with about 30 per cent ei­ther go­ing abroad or pur­su­ing vo­ca­tional stud­ies, Pro­fes­sor Abubakar said.

“This is a very se­ri­ous situation – 1 mil­lion stu­dents do not get ac­cess to univer­sity not because they have failed their ex­ams, but because the ca­pac­ity [to ad­mit them] is not there,” he ex­plained.

“It is a dan­ger­ous thing to have this prob­lem of frus­trated youths who are left out on the streets,” he added.

The short­age of stu­dent places is likely to be­come even more acute over the next few decades, with Nige­ria’s population set to more than double to 399 mil­lion by 2050, mak­ing it the world’s third most pop­u­lous coun­try, Pro­fes­sor Abubakar said.

To this end, Nige­ria hopes to re­cruit and re­tain an ex­tra 10,000 univer­sity lec­tur­ers by 2023, above the cur­rent to­tal of 62,000 – about 30 per cent short of what is re­quired. “In re­al­ity, we need about 88,000 aca­demics to cater for our needs,” he said.

Find­ing more places for stu­dents in pub­lic uni­ver­si­ties with­out be­ing able to charge tu­ition fees would also be dif­fi­cult as “you have to pro­vide more staff, more fa­cil­i­ties and more equipment”, added Pro­fes­sor Abubakar.

“All pub­lic uni­ver­si­ties are vir­tu­ally free, but uni­ver­si­ties are de­prived because they are not prop­erly funded,” he said, adding that he hoped that “some­how a loan or bur­sary scheme can be in­tro­duced which would al­low uni­ver­si­ties to charge fees to par­ents of stu­dents who can af­ford to pay”.

Mean­while, cre­at­ing more pri­vate uni­ver­si­ties would also help to al­le­vi­ate what Pro­fes­sor Abubakar de­scribed as the over­whelm­ing power of aca­demic trade unions.

“Cal­en­dars have be­come so un­sta­ble and un­pre­dictable [because] when lec­tur­ers go on strike they can close uni­ver­si­ties for six months,” he said, adding that the re­cent 14 days of walk­out over pen­sions at many UK uni­ver­si­ties was mild in com­par­i­son.

“When we saw these strikes in the UK, we just smiled,” he said.

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