Almost 300 new universities could be created in Nigeria in the near future to help the west African country cope with its rapidly growing youth population, a senior state official has said.
Abulrasheed Abubakar, executive secretary of Nigeria’s National Universities Commission, said that his organisation was processing 292 applications from institutions that hope to become private universities. If all are approved, it would almost treble the number of higher education institutions in Nigeria, which now stands at 163 for a population of almost 200 million, said Professor Abubakar.
While many of those seeking accreditation are fairly small and specialist institutions, such as private medical schools and creative arts colleges, the new institutions will be vital in Nigeria’s plans to expand student numbers by 20 per cent over the next five years, Professor Abubakar said.
Speaking at the annual conference of the UK’s Quality Assurance Agency, the former vice-chancellor of Bayero University said that a dire shortage of university places in Nigeria undermined the country’s political stability. Only 19 per cent of the 2 million students who applied to university were accepted last year, with about 30 per cent either going abroad or pursuing vocational studies, Professor Abubakar said.
“This is a very serious situation – 1 million students do not get access to university not because they have failed their exams, but because the capacity [to admit them] is not there,” he explained.
“It is a dangerous thing to have this problem of frustrated youths who are left out on the streets,” he added.
The shortage of student places is likely to become even more acute over the next few decades, with Nigeria’s population set to more than double to 399 million by 2050, making it the world’s third most populous country, Professor Abubakar said.
To this end, Nigeria hopes to recruit and retain an extra 10,000 university lecturers by 2023, above the current total of 62,000 – about 30 per cent short of what is required. “In reality, we need about 88,000 academics to cater for our needs,” he said.
Finding more places for students in public universities without being able to charge tuition fees would also be difficult as “you have to provide more staff, more facilities and more equipment”, added Professor Abubakar.
“All public universities are virtually free, but universities are deprived because they are not properly funded,” he said, adding that he hoped that “somehow a loan or bursary scheme can be introduced which would allow universities to charge fees to parents of students who can afford to pay”.
Meanwhile, creating more private universities would also help to alleviate what Professor Abubakar described as the overwhelming power of academic trade unions.
“Calendars have become so unstable and unpredictable [because] when lecturers go on strike they can close universities for six months,” he said, adding that the recent 14 days of walkout over pensions at many UK universities was mild in comparison.
“When we saw these strikes in the UK, we just smiled,” he said.