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Comment, Opinion

Buhari And The Education Sector

Posted: Jul 9, 2015 at 6:14 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

By Kunle Akogun


With the inauguration of Muhammadu Buhari as Nigeria’s 5th democratically elected President, expectations are high across the land of a new beginning for the country in all facets of national life. It is obvious that Nigeria is currently hemorrhaging in all sectors of the economy. The education sector, in particular, is currently battling with corruption, inadequate funding, inadequate access by qualified students to university education, deficient curriculum content that results in the yearly production of virtually unemployable graduates, low quality of teachers at all levels, as well as steady dwindling performance of students in public examinations, among others.

It is a well-known fact that any nation that truly desires to attain all-round economic development must have a sound education sector that will enhance human capital development. This is why the Buhari administration must make education one of its cardinal priorities and give it the urgent intervention it requires.

It is true that the immediate past President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, made some efforts towards increasing access to tertiary education with the establishment of more universities across all geo-political zones of the country. But this in itself could at best be described as mere palliative. For, shorn of the political end that such indiscriminate proliferation of universities were meant to serve, every right thinking individual knows for a fact that what the country actually needed was the expansion of the facilities in existing public universities and improvement in the quality of the instructions they dole out to their students. Thus, rather than just establishing more universities that could not be adequately staffed with qualified lecturers, the right thing to do would have been to ensure that existing ones are properly equipped and adequately funded for optimum performance.

To be sure, the paucity of admission opportunities into Nigerian universities is one of the toughest challenges facing Nigerian youths today. Despite meeting all admission requirements including excellent performance at university-organised post-UTME examinations in addition to making above cut-off marks in the almighty JAMB entrance examinations, many admission seekers yearly fail in their attempts to get into the universities. The reason for this is simple:   All the nation’s 147 or so universities could only admit about 520,000 of the 1,735,720 students that sat for last year’s Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME). The University of Ilorin that is reputed to be the most subscribed university, by admission seekers, for instance, could only admit just 12,000 of the over 105,000 candidates that applied to the University in the 2014/2015 academic session.

The truth is that the current carrying capacity of the accredited tertiary institutions in the country is abysmally low. This scenario has not only driven many promising youth out of the shores of the country in search of university admission, it has also fuelled the proliferation of fake and sub-standard ‘private universities’ in the country to which desperate admission seekers fall victims every year.

This situation is a serious cause for concern and all hands must be on deck to rescue the nation from the spectre of sub-standard and ill-trained manpower in the future, a situation that could arise if the army of graduates from some of these foreign ‘universities’ eventually pour back into the country.

In view of this, there is a pressing need to increase the carrying capacity of Nigerian tertiary institutions to be able to accommodate more admission seekers. The Buhari administration should, as a matter of urgency, revisit the mega-varsity plan mooted some time ago by the Jonathan administration. In one of its meetings in April 2013, the National Economic Council (NEC) recommended to the then Federal Executive Council the conversion of one university in each of the six geo-political zones of the country to the status of a Mega University. The recommendation was informed by the need to expand the number of intakes by creating universities that will be able to admit up to 200,000 students each, at a go, as against the present less than 10,000 admitted yearly by some of the biggest universities in the country. The thinking is that when the scheme takes off, the six mega-universities would be able to collectively admit up to a maximum of 1.2million students yearly. If this happens, the number of qualified admission seekers that are yearly denied places in the nation’s tertiary institutions would be drastically reduced.

However, as forward-looking as this proposal seemed, that administration failed to get it off the drawing table. Meanwhile, the number of admission seekers in the country keeps rising every year, with the concomitant result that more and more desperate admission seekers are being driven to fake degree mills.

The creation of these mega universities could be one of the best first steps to be taken by the Buhari administration, as it would be a desirable remedial measure to tackle university admission problems in the country. And if this is done, the University of Ilorin should be considered for the slot of the North-central Zone, while the University of Lagos could get the South-west slot, the University of Benin, the South-south slot and the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, could be given the South-east slot. The North-west and North-east slots could go to Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria and the University of Maiduguri, respectively.

To be sure, stemming the steep decline in education is not a day’s job but at least the Buhari administration can start from somewhere, if only to convince the citizenry of its commitment to its self-imposed change agenda. As a first step, the declaration of a state of emergency in the education sector will not be an entirely bad idea. This must however be matched by visible action. Also, at least 20 percent of the country’s GDP should be devoted to education. And the disbursement and utilization of this must be properly monitored.