Earlier in the week, the Federal Government announced the establishment of new federal universities in Gashu’a, Yobe; Gusau, Zamfara State and Birnin Kebbi, Kebbi State. This would bring to nine the federal universities established in the past one year and 78 the number of public universities in the country (40 federal-owned and 38 state-owned). This is obviously in fulfilment of President Goodluck Jonathan’s campaign promise to put a federal university in every state. I should be excited that there are new universities to absorb all the excess candidates from the University Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) who are unable to gain university admission, but I am unable to.
Inasmuch as there will always be demand for more universities in Nigeria, what should be more important to us as a nation is the quality of these universities. Public universities at present are not well-funded and both the government and the people continue to resist ideas to allow fees to be paid which could be used to improve the quality of these schools. Yet, we keep establishing new universities that would churn out graduates who are no better than when they went in. It seems that we are more concerned with the quantity of graduates rather than the quality.
Beyond that, the states where these universities are sited are even more curious choices due to the fact that their main concern with regards to education should not be the establishment of universities, but rather, the provision of basic education. Take Zamfara State, for example. In the 2012 UTME examination, the state only presented 5713 candidates out of a population of 3.6million people. Beyond that, only 23.3per cent of primary school age children are in school while 1.2million almajiri kids roam its streets, second only to Borno State. I expect the state to focus more on making sure more of these children have access to education generally.
It is about time we stopped pursuing glory in the name of universities and degrees while we cannot provide every Nigerian child access to education and do not have quality basic education systems. In my opinion, the priority of the Federal and state governments should be that every Nigerian child has a minimum of secondary school education, and a quality one at that.
There is no correlation that higher number of degree holders translates into more economic productivity. The United States with only 30.1per cent of its people holding first degrees yet has the largest economy while Russia is number 10 on the list of largest economies by GDP despite having 54per cent of its citizens being degree holders. A lot of the difference lies in the quality, not only of the degrees, but even the basic educational systems.
A university cannot take a second-grade input and produce a first-grade output. This means that unless we have an excellent basic educational system that builds the intelligence of children, we would continue to struggle with half-baked graduates even if our universities upgrade their standards.
Let us focus on providing accessible and quality basic education and ensure that it is the minimum each and every child gets.
New universities, I am afraid, are only but a misplaced priority.