Mega Universities to the Rescue

Ruqayyatu Rufai, minister of education
Ruqayyatu Rufai, minister of education

National Economic Council approves the conversion of six universities into mega universities as a way out of the persistent admission quagmire in the existing universities

By Anayo Ezugwu  |  May 27, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT

FOLLOWING the increased number of people seeking admission into Nigerian universities, the federal government has concluded plans to convert some universities in the country to mega universities to address this constraint. The initiative, which has been approved by the National Economic Council, NEC, would involve the conversion of one university in each of the six geo-political zones in the country to a mega university as recommended by the Peter Obi-led technical committee on the Needs Assessment of Nigerian Universities.

The council also endorsed the recommendation of the committee that both the federal and state governments should prioritise funding by raising budgetary allocation to tertiary institutions.  It  also endorsed the strengthening of the composition of the governing councils of universities by increasing the number of members, who have direct stake in academics on the board. The NEC also approved the introduction of attractive incentives to promote post-graduate education and the upgrade of the academic qualifications of all lecturers to PhD level within a given period.

Obi said the council’s decision to expand the intake of students to 200,000, as against 30,000 currently admitted by some of the biggest universities in the country was informed by the recommendations of a technical committee. He said NEC endorsed the committee’s recommendation that the six mega universities should be located in each geo-political zone. Obi explained that the upgrade of the designated universities would be in medium term and it would assist in clearing the backlogs of students seeking admission.

Governor Peter Obi

Some educationists said the idea of establishing mega universities has illustrated the crisis in the nation’s educational system from primary to tertiary. But they acknowledged that the country needs such development to help revive the sector. Steven Alumona, lecturer at Nnamdi Azikiwe University Awka, Anambra State, said the idea is a positive development and would help in absorbing the number of candidates seeking for admission every year. He explained that government has not taken any decision on the institutions that will be involved in the conversion and the nature of the expansion.

“Expansion of admission spaces in the nation’s universities and other tertiary institutions is long overdue, considering the increasing number of candidates that take the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination, UTME, and the limited number offered admission each year. Available statistics show that out of 1.7 million candidates that sat for the UTME this year, only about 520,000 will be offered admission into universities and other institutions of higher learning in the country. The paucity of admission spaces in Nigerian universities is a cause for concern,” he said.

According to him, expansion of admission spaces need to be preceded by expansion of physical facilities such as classrooms, libraries, laboratories, lecture halls amongst other things. It will also require increase in academic and non-academic staff. He said government must be ready for the challenge of funding the expansion of facilities in the planned mega institutions. He noted that a recent survey of Nigerian universities revealed a dearth of qualified lecturers needed for their programmes. It revealed that only 43 percent of academic staff in the institutions had doctorates. Only seven universities in the country have up to 60 percent of their teaching staff with a Ph.D.

“If the government is serious about converting some existing universities into mega universities, it must be ready to do all that is necessary to improve staffing as well as develop physical infrastructure. Government should encourage more qualified candidates to pursue doctorates, locally and abroad. This can be done through granting of scholarships to those interested in pursuing the programme. Another area that government should address frontally is funding. The nation’s education sector is seriously under-funded.”

Matthias Chibueze, an educationist, said the idea of a mega university indicates that government is becoming aware of the crisis facing the nation’s education system, especially at the tertiary level. He said it is also coming at a time most of the existing federal universities are groaning under poor funding and depleting manpower.

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