The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and a student union leader on Thursday criticized the decision of the Federal Government to grant approval for the establishment of 20 new universities when the existing public universities are in a state of decay.
On Wednesday, the Executive Council of the Federation at the end of its meeting in Abuja said it approved the establishment of 20 new private universities in the country, bringing the total number to 99.
The list of the approved universities include Topfaith University, Mkpatak in Akwa Ibom State; Thomas Adewumi University, Oko-Irese in Kwara State; Maranathan University, Mgbidi in Imo State; Ave Maria University, Piyanko in Nasarawa State, and Al-Istiqama University, Sumaila in Kano State.
Others include Mudiame University, Irrua, Edo State; Havilla University, Nde-Ikom, Cross River State; Claretian University of Nigeria, Nekede, Imo State; NOK University, Kachia, Kaduna State and Karl-Kumm University, Vom, Plateau State.
Also approved were James Hope University, Lagos, Lagos State; Maryam Abacha American University of Nigeria, Kano, Kano State; Capital City University, Kano, Kano State; Ahman Pategi University, Pategi, Kwara State, and the University of Offa, Offa, Kwara State.
Others are Mewar University, Masaka, Nasarawa State, Edusoko University, Bida, Niger State; Philomath University, Kuje, Abuja; Khadija University, Majia, Jigawa State and Anan University, Kwall, Plateau State.
All the new private universities were issued provisional licenses to run for three years, subject to a confirmation by the ministry on the bases of their monitoring and evaluation of their progress and growth.
But, the Chairman of the University of Benin chapter of ASUU, Monday Omoregie, criticized the continued proliferation of private universities in the country, amid a regime of decay in the existing public tertiary institutions.
Mr Omoregie said in Benin City, Edo State there was nothing to justify the decision by the Federal Government to grant the approval to their new owners.
He said the decision flies in the face of reality when the existing public universities were neither adequately funded nor properly monitored to ensure compliance, with appropriate guidelines.
The ASUU leader said he would rather see the approval of more universities as mere political patronage, as the Federal Government continue to ignore warnings on the inherent dangers in the decision.
Mr Omoregie said that expanding the number of existing universities would perform the functions the new ones were established to do.
“Education remains the vibrant instrument for development, hence the need for the government to do the needful in ensuring that the schools are run the way they are supposed to.
“Education is a social service. But these private universities are established by investors, who believe in profit-making.
“The guidelines are that private universities must be run for 15 years before any plan of making profit. But which university can do that”, he asked.
However, within a year of establishment, many of the proprietors of the private schools would begin to crave for gain.
In his opinion, Chairman of ASUU, Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma, Monday Igbafen, said that establishment of more universities, without proper recourse to the challenges facing the existing ones was what the union had been condemning.
“How do you justify the existence of additional universities, when there is this cry that even the private universities that are running now lack proper monitoring, to see if they comply with the NUC (National Universities Commission) guidelines and what is required to run a university.
“They are all just centres of where they collect people’s money. That is why most of us are getting worried about the education system in the country”, he said.
On the argument that the approval was to expand access to university education, Mr Igbafen said if properly funded, one university in the country might take a half of the population of prospective university students.
“ABU (Ahmadu Bello University) can cater for almost half the population of students we admit in this country. But there is nothing on ground to sustain an ideal university.
“When you carry out objective assessment of these universities, you discover that they are not really universities. They are just there to divert our attention where the rich ones can send their children, whereas they will not be properly trained in terms of developing minds.
“It is all about just dishing out degrees; not necessarily interested in the content and quality of the product. It is just about giving out first class and what is important is to get money. I think it is necessary for government to reflect on some of all these decisions that they have taken.
“If we have to advance the course of our educational development in this country, it is not through proliferation of both private and public universities”, he said.
In his reaction, the President of the University of Benin Students’ Union Government (SUG), Benjamin Egwu, the proliferation of private universities would soon cripple the standard and patronage of public universities.
“The attention of students is being diverted to the private universities, because the situation of our public universities is worrisome. The incessant industrial action by the ASUU is one factor, while lack of proper funding is another.
“There is no need for the approval of more universities for now. These private universities are to shift attention from public school, because there is no much care about facilities in the public universities.
“The public universities are dying and if the situation is not properly checked, it will lead to what is currently happening to public primary and secondary schools in the country.
“If you compare the public and private primary and secondary schools, the difference is clear. It is affecting the system negatively and that is now moving to the higher institutions.
“It is getting to a situation where commoners would also not want to train his children in the public universities because of the environment”, he said.
Mr Egwu bemoaned the obsolete state of facilities in the public universities, saying “when you walk into any public university, whether state or federal, what you see in their library are books of 1980s, 1990s.
“There are no update-to-date books in the libraries as we speak. Just ask the librarian when last they updated their shelves.
“The auditorium we are using at the University of Benin for example was built in 1981; about 40 years ago, without maintenance”, Egwu said. (NAN)