NIGERIA universities continue to be on the edge of precipice, as they have been endemically challenged by poor funding and the attendant academic disruptions by staff unions, blamed, often times, by the latter on the insensitivity of successive governments. While acknowledging the outlandishness in expecting government to solely fund university education, the new government of Bola Tinubu has been categorical about the imperative of allowing the universities attain full autonomy, including in funding, as he initiated the process of divesting government of funding university education by resuscitating student loans, to allow indigent students access university education.
GIVEN the inability of state and federal governments to fund public universities, for which they are proprietors and visitors, these universities have resorted to the introduction of new fees like acceptance fee and increment of existing fees like tuition and accommodation to stay reasonably afloat. The implication is that parents and guardians are forced to pay more in a depressed economy. The House of Representatives recently intervened in the concerns expressed by students and stakeholders about fee increment, thereby calling for the suspension of fee raise in federally owned universities, as part of the attempts to provide succour in the face of the economic discomfort and dislocation caused by the removal of fuel subsidy.
EVEN though Nigerian universities are faced with existential challenges, we have continued to stress the need for the Nigeria university system to live up to the expectation of providing needed knowledge and manpower for national development. To say the least, the traditional gown and town engagements are almost nonexistent in Nigeria, as universities continue to exist in isolation, and in a bipolar relationship with the society. In terms of research output and patency, we regret to note also that Nigerian universities have not fared well, as the country continues to rely on developed and other developing countries for agricultural, medical, and technological breakthroughs that are desperately needed to drive development in Nigeria.
CONTRARY to the poor outing of Nigerian universities in global rankings of institutions in the past, The Hope noted with delight what was recently tagged Nigerian universities impressive outing in the first Times Higher Education 2023 Sub-Saharan Africa rankings. the methodology deployed for the rankings were reportedly based on five major strands of: resources and finance (20%); access and fairness (20%); teaching skills (20%); student engagement (20%); and Africa impact (20%).
THE Hope, however, is aware that for the global Webometrics ranking for 2023, which is usually driven by web visibility of institutions, University of Ibadan ranked as the leading university in Nigeria, with number 1117 in the world, followed by Covenant University in number 1342.
AS heartwarming as these feats appear to be, the rankings neither reflect the realities on ground nor vitiate the existential challenges confronting Nigerian universities, as the institutions have not delivered on their mandates of a better economy, improved technology, and enhanced humanity. Therefore, government and all other stakeholders (administrators) should sit up and do the needful. It is regrettable that most public universities are set up as bureaucratic entities, with no pragmatic specific objectives and mandates for them. Those with clear mandates have since abandoned them to chase mere shadows, induced by quest for economic survival. Appointments of institutional managers have been open to tokenism and political patronage.
NIGERIAN universities are handicapped by faulty curriculum that do not tally with industrial trends, and allow for adequate access to practical experience at the workplace. The institutions are limited by poor research funding, leading to woeful research outputs. They struggle with overcrowded classrooms and poorly equipped laboratories, among others. Research is deficient in Nigerian universities, whereas that is one of the things that make a university stand out.
TO scale the many hurdles before them, The Hope is of the opinion that Nigerian universities must emplace a multidimensional approach to reversing the unacceptable order. Government must ensure appropriate funding of the universities, with accountability stressed in the usage of funds made available by the government. Requisite managers should always be appointed to run the universities. The universities must consciously build synergy with the private sector, to ensure that their curriculum and research activities tally with that of the private sector. The universities should attract funds, grants, endowments, scholarships, and bursaries from both local and international donors, and ensure that funds received are applied appropriately.
THE Hope insists that Nigerian universities must not exist in isolation, but must be conscious of the needs of the environment, which would form the basis of their research, in fulfillment of their mandates as the fulcrum of knowledge production, sharing and development. Beyond the celebration of the rankings that are almost redundant, Nigerian universities must creatively confront their existential challenges, and meet the mandates of a greater Nigeria.