Opinion: Has Private Universities become the Panacea for Quality Tertiary Education in Nigeria?

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by Adesanya Oluwadara

The recommendation of the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to every member nation of the United Nations (UN) is that 26 per cent of their annual budget should be allotted to the education sector. However, in Nigeria, the budgetary allocation of 620.5 billion naira to the education sector is only 7.05 per cent.

Last week, as I scrolled through my twitter handle, I witnessed an argument that ensued between two students. One from a private university in Nigeria while the other is from a government owned university. The student of the public university mocked and said to the other, “It is almost impossible to get first class in public universities, my third class is better than your first class”. His counterpart, obviously annoyed, stated the present achievements of most private universities in Nigeria and vowed that private universities will soon take over Nigeria because “everything that grows is destined to change”.

The argument between the duo made me think about how students in public universities take pride in their struggle for education in a dysfunctional system. It is as though they do not realize that they are entitled to good educational facilities, comfortable learning environment, uninterrupted academic calendar to mention a few. Basically, the only benefit which they presume enjoy is the availability of the best of teaching personnel.

The dilapidated state of public universities caused by incessant industrial action, unconducive learning environment, libraries with outdated books that cannot be used for assignments nor researches, laboratories with old, spoilt and unusable equipment have made students in these institutions to believe that “you need both blood and sweat to earn a degree”.

However, as opposed to the system in public universities, the system in private universities offers more to students in terms of facilities, effective funding of their activities, library and laboratory resources, functional teaching and research equipment. Although they might not be entitled to the best teaching personnel. But they do ‘borrow’ the Professors from the Public universities; they do not have strikes that elongate their academic calendar and they enjoy the best condition of learning in Nigeria.

 Hence, when student from the private university in the argument said, “everything that grows is destined to change”, I realized what he meant was the fact that as private universities continue to grow in number and prestige in Nigeria, the government-owned institutions would continually be disadvantaged.

Looking back at the first established private university in Nigeria “Igbinedion University” established in 1999, the number of private universities has grown immensely, they are presently 79 private universities in Nigeria. Opposed to this is the number of public universities that are present in Nigeria, after the establishment of University of Ibadan in 1948. There are 48 public universities in Nigeria which are poorly funded.

Also, in terms of prestige, private universities like Covenant University has been ranked number 401 in globally in 2019. It ranked above its Counterparts such as the University of Ibadan and University of Lagos that successfully made the list.

Thus, considering the rate at which private universities keep growing in number, the question remains, will private institutions become the only hope for quality education in Nigeria? Yes, they will become our only hope, unless drastic measures is taken to revamp Public Universities in Nigeria, the blight that killed public primary schools and secondary school schools will equally kill public universities.

In the next 10 or 20 years in Nigeria, in order for public universities to improve their quality in the system. They have to get adequate funds and sound monitoring. However, the rate at which the government of Nigeria do not take education very seriously, these schools may have to be self-sufficient.

I do not advice that they should try to get private funding or become private owned because as Walter Lippmann once stated “where all think alike, no one thinks very much”. Hence, I advise that they opt for other means to generate revenue for themselves. For instance, the University of Virginia has been able to generate enough revenue for itself by being dedicated to athletic activities. Thus, on the average, the institution annually generate revenue of about 100 million dollars.

 Public universities in Nigeria may not be able to follow in the same step as the University of Virginia.  However, government should appoint people with business expertise in public universities management to recommend means of generating internal revenue. This may include investment in structures such as shopping malls and hotels that will not only attract customers but also sponsors. By so doing, such investments will generate funds for Public universities to improve their infrastructures and make them not totally dependent on government for their sole survival.

Despite the increasing rate of the sponsorships and investments of Private Universities, Public Universities are still the panacea for good education in Nigeria and will continue to be, if there is cooperation and resilience between the government and university administrators towards investing in public universities. Against all odds, I believe Public Universities will not get to a state of ramshackle if the government provides proper funding and investments in public universities.

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