Professor Biodun Ogunyemi, National President, Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), speaks with SaharaReporters on the decision of the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB), which recently approved 160 and 140 as the cut-off marks for 2020/2021 public and private university admissions, among other issues.
The approval of 160 as the cut-off mark for 2020/2021 university admissions has attracted criticisms, what led to the reduction of this cut-off mark?
They decided after they met with the leadership of universities in Nigeria. The leadership consists of vice-chancellors and registrars. From our knowledge of the system, we believe that no public university in Nigeria would willingly admit anybody below 160 (UTME score) but as for private universities, they need low cut-off marks to attract students.
You would have seen that even though we have over 70 private universities in Nigeria, they still have less than five per cent of the students’ population. What that means for them is that they will run out of business if they do not attract more students. That is why we have been advocating that the focus should be on the public university; by addressing quality education in Nigeria.
This would ensure that the children of the poor do not drop out of the education system.
Private universities, essentially, are established to meet the needs of the elites. When you look at the structure of those universities, hardly will you see the children of the poor admitted there.
The children of the poor are not there; the children of the elites are there and they can do anything to ensure that they keep them in business. Private universities are essentially business centres and that is why you get all kinds of reports coming from there.
Maybe you can name one or two that have managed toscale the hurdles of toeing the line of quality but we have our reservations about them. More importantly, if the Nigerian government should do what we ask of them, if they should meet our demand to fix public universities in Nigeria today; I can assure you that private universities will fizzle out.
It is because of that fear that JAMB must bend backwards to accommodate their interest. That low cut-off mark is to appease owners of private universities, not public ones.
Do Nigerian universities have the facility and capacity to admit more students due to the reduced cut-off mark?
It is not about the lack of facilities that hinder universities from admitting more students. It is simply a problem of the government not living up to expectations. The government is establishing more universities every day; two universities of transportation were established and the Army university in Biu. The National Assembly is pushing that they have campuses in every geo-political zone.
What we need are not necessarily new universities but an expansion, renovation of the existing ones, stocking their libraries and equipping their laboratories such that we can have state-of-the-art facilities to train 21st-century graduates.
But when the government is busy proliferating universities that they do not have the plan to fund, they are compounding the problems.
The 12 universities established by the Goodluck Jonathan administration are like crisis centres now, less than 10 years after they were created.
Why would the government establish universities that they don't have plans to fund? In other climes, when you establish a new university, you would have something like a five-year plan to develop the university, but that hardly happens here. Once they create a new university by fiat, they will turn to TETFUND to get money for the take-off. The 12 new universities established by the Jonathan administration, took money from TETFUND.
When we keep proliferating institutions that we don't plan to fund, we compound the problem of public education and it seems like we don't have the interest of the people at heart.
What are the other issues that have not been addressed?
Our politicians in Nigeria have turned universities into constituency projects that they have to take back to their constituencies. They are talking about campuses for Army University, the Navy-University is coming up, and the Air Force University is in the pipeline as well.
At the end of the day, they will also have campuses. Lawmakers at the National Assembly who are moving the motion for having them in each geo-political zone want the campuses to be located in their villages. That is the level of recklessness with the circle of politicians in Nigeria.
They don't have the interest of the system at the heart otherwise what we are witnessing today in Nigeria's public university system should not be happening. They are turning universities into nursery and primary schools such that somebody can just wake up today and say, “I want to have one in this neighbourhood.”
We have to place an embargo on establishing new tertiary institutions and come back to our agreement that they will re-fertilize existing public universities with a total of N1.3tn.
If the government had kept faith with our agreement with them in 2013 that they will inject funds into universities in Nigeria, by now, we would have seen a significant turnaround. Our laboratories would be able to respond to emergencies as we have seen with COVID-19.
Our hostels are accommodating 12 instead of 4 and students are sleeping in shifts. We found that chemistry laboratories are using kerosene stoves instead of burners and they fetch water to the laboratories. You can imagine the kind of results that will come out from such a laboratory.
What should be done?
The best thing for the government to do is to declare a state of emergency on the Nigerian education system, particularly on university education because that is the crowning glory of education. From university education, you will begin to see cascading effects and it would rub on lower levels.
That is the best way to guarantee the future of education in the country otherwise, we would continue to dance in the circle of ignorance and we will be producing graduates that we cannot vouch for.