The Future of Public Universities

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The Future of Public Universities
 

By

 

Soga Sofola

 

 

culled from GUARDIAN, August 19, 2005

 

Federal universities in Nigeria have been categorised into first, second and third generation universities. In the first generation are the universities of Ibadan, Lagos, Nsukka, ABU Zaria and Ife (OAU). From their history the first and most of the second generation universities have a large student intake, offer postgraduate programmes up to Ph.D. level and are also encumbered with large number of students requiring hostel accommodation. The fees paid by students for these services are minimal. In contrast, most of the private universities offer full boarding, smaller classes and fairly adequate infrastructure but at relatively high cost.

The inability of the Federal institutions to take a large percentage of applicants has led to students taking advantage of going into the private universities. For example about one million candidates took the last UME examination for a possible placement of a total of 80,000 students that is, about eight per cent. This invariably leads to some students seeking enrolment in the private universities. Invariably the parents of these students can afford it, probably creating some potential class of select students. This development is akin to what has happened in this country, to public secondary schools which are struggling while private ones are thriving. Also, all at a social cost. More private universities will continue to come on board as the demand for universities admission increases.

At the moment, the number of universities in the country is inadequate despite the fact that there are over 70 universities, Federal and State as well as over 20 private ones established or registered. For public universities, the future appears fragile because of the disparity in resources available to the universities vis--vis the private ones. Some of the private universities also have enormous resources deployed by their founders. However, despite these advantages of the private schools, most, if not all suffer from the handicap, for now, of having a lower proportion of seasoned and experienced teachers.

However it may be a matter of time for them to catch up especially if they offer superior remuneration to their teachers. This is likely to be as the incentive of gratuity and pension previously enjoyed in the public universities is being replaced by the contributory scheme under the new Pensions Act. There is therefore the likelihood of an "internal brain drain" from public to private universities in the foreseeable future.

It is therefore necessary that public universities face up to these challenges and try to strategise. For this to take place some suggestions are being proferred:

* Public universities especially the first generation and some of the capable second generation universities should a) start to shrink or stagnate their undergraduate intake, to enhance quality and expand post-graduate programmes so as to earn more revenue b) create innovative programmes that will attract industry participation, c) provide qualified doctoral teachers for the newer universities including the private ones and hence minimise the impact of "brain drain" from public universities and d) expand Distance Learning Programmes.

* Start charging appropriate fees for hostel accommodation by employing "Facility Managers" or "Not for Profit" organisations to manage the hostels. This should be via a committee that includes all stakeholders so that charges are commensurate with cost of maintenance, as well as for municipal services such as water, electricity and security. Established hostels can charge for cost of services while newly constructed or BOT hostels will attract appropriate charges. Students will have a choice of where to live.

* One and two above will need amendments to the Universities Act such that autonomy will be more visible and hence give university authorities the free hand to maintain a viable status. In addition the public universities should be more aggressive in marketing programmes that will generate revenue including active recruitment of foreign students in the sub-region and get involved in cross-border education. There will also be the need to start encouraging research grants that will include personnel cost for the researcher. Hence, research output will increase and active and viable researchers (high star rating) will earn more remuneration, as it applies in developed countries instead of being hooked to teaching at satellite campuses in order to earn extra money. There will be the need for the government to fix only remunerations as at present but each university should be free to negotiate higher salaries for productive staff who generate grants.

Some of the above suggestions will require sensitisation fora in order to alleviate the fears that higher institutions are only for the rich. Some suggested palliatives are:

i. introduction of bursaries for deserving students by their state and local governments.

ii. introduction of state and federal scholarship for students with high scores, for example, GPA of 3.50.

iii. institution of University Scholarship Scheme for brilliant students with very high GPA of 4.0 and above.

iv. institution of loan scheme for those that require it but do not meet the requirements of (i-iii). The loan scheme is feasible and can be operated by banks just as in the United Kingdom. Each student presently has his/her own unique matriculation number which can be coded into his NYSC records and this can be "downloaded" each time he/she seeks employment. By linking this to Internet/Web facilities deductions can be made as he/she starts gainful employment until the loan is repaid. The interest should be low, for example three per cent and spread over 10 years for easy payment. In addition, deferment can be made during periods of unemployment. The Federal government can provide the seed money to the banks for example from ETF to fund the Scheme or ask banks to set aside some money for this just as in the Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) Scheme.

There are other suggestions that need to be looked into which may not have been addressed in this write up. These include admission modalities and the need for a post-JAMB assessment, income level of parents, endowment funds for development especially contributions by Alumni, etc.

 

bulletProfessor Sofola is Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic and Research), University of Lagos.

 

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