Private universities are springing up across Nigeria to fill a widening gap created by government’s growing inability to meet the educational needs of its largely youthful population at the tertiary education level.
From 2010 to 2020 the National Universities Commission (NUC) approved 68 universities. Fifteen of these where established by the Federal Government of Nigeria, fifteen were established by state governments and 38 were established privately owned organisations and individuals. This does not make graduates of private universities necessarily best fits at the workplace.
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A 2016 Philips Consulting report on Education and Employability showed that of the 20 universities that produce the most employable graduates only two are private with Covenant University, a private university heading the list.
The top ten most employable universities according to the report included, Covenant University, Ota; University of Agriculture, Abeokuta; Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife; Federal University of Technology, Akure; University of Ilorin; Ekiti State University; University of Uyo; Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago-Iwoye; Babcock University, Ilishan Remo; and the University of Lagos.
“In general terms private universities might produce more employable graduates because of the flexibility and relative autonomy in curriculum design unlike public universities with central controls; employability involves manners and etiquettes” Oyewusi Ibidapo-Obe, former vice-chancellor of the University of Lagos said in an earlier report. “However, in terms of academic excellence, public universities tend to perform better because they have better facilities and human resources.”
In a conversation with two heads of department at the University of Lagos, BusinessDay learnt that about 50 percent of lecturers in public universities have their children either studying abroad or in a private university. The reasons advanced for their decision were teacher-student ratio, which is lower at private universities and the opportunity provided by some private universities for international exchange programmes.
Stakeholders have raised concerns about the ability of the Federal Government to provide quality university education at a subsidised rate, given dwindling foreign exchange accruing from crude oil revenues.
The FG subsidises tuition leading to most Federal universities; charging tuition fees of between N9, 000 and N25 000.
The minister of education Adamu Adamu once said the government was making efforts to increase tuition fees in all federal universities to about N45,000. This move was opposed.
Some experts say raising the fees may not be enough because quality education costs money. For instance, research and scientific experiments require state of the art facilities that most universities lack.
Ike Mowete, professor of electrical/electronic engineering at the University of Lagos told BusinessDay that it is difficult to subsidise quality education.
Students Ghana’s public universities pay an average of N600 000 ($1, 500) per annum and there are bound to be variations according to regions and nations. Also, the range in South Africa is between N731, 341 (R30 000) and N853 231 (R35 000).
It costs approximately N270 000 on the average, per annum to train a science student in some federal universities in Nigeria. It costs over N800 000 on average, per annum, to train a medical student, BusinessDay investigation has shown.
Yet students at the University of Lagos, a federal university, pay N14 000 for Arts faculty and N15 500 for science, including medical students, as tuition fees. This impacts the quality of education.
This means private universities have a chance to seize the market and provide better quality education.
There is an increasing infrastructural decay on federal university campuses. This is telling on the quality of the products of our federal institutions. In some federal universities, teacher-student ratio in a class can be as high as 1:400-500.