The National Assembly is working to create 80 new federal universities, polytechnics and colleges of education despite poor funding for the existing tertiary institutions.
If these new institutions are created, it will bring the total number of federal educational institutions to 164.
The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has been on strike in the last three weeks over inadequate funding of research and infrastructure in the federal universities.
Daily Trust findings revealed that there are presently 80 bills at various legislative processes pending before the Senate and the House of Representatives for the establishment of tertiary institutions across the country.
In the 2018 budget, the 84 existing federal government tertiary institutions across the country were allocated N367 billion out of the over N600 billion approved for the education sector.
The 80 proposed federal institutions, spread across the 36 states of the federation and the FCT, comprise 27 universities, 22 colleges of education, 19 polytechnics, six institutes, one police academy, one federal college of agriculture, a federal college of forestry, one para-military academy and one federal college of veterinary assistants as well as a school of mines and geological studies.
Out of the 27 proposed federal varsities, 10 are for education, eight are for agriculture, four for technology, and one each for science and tech, medicine and medical sciences, aquatic studies and health.
A total of 37, out of the 80, are from the Senate, while 36 are in the House of Representatives with seven other bills concurrently undergoing legislative processes in both chambers.
It was learned that many of such bills will still come up before the expiration of the current 8th National Assembly in June.
If established, the new institutions are expected to gulp the federal government hundreds of billions of naira annually for both salaries of staff, research, infrastructure as well as day-to-day operations.
In the past few years, academic staff unions of other federal polytechnics, colleges of education, among others had embarked on strikes to press home their financial demands.
Our correspondents report that all the bills that came up for public hearing had received massive support from all the stakeholders, indicating acceptance for the establishment of the institutions. Only a few of the bills are yet to come up for the public hearing.
Most of the bills came up from late 2016 to date as the lawmakers devoted much of their time at the initial stage to the bills on constitution amendment.
Going by legislative practice for bill passage, either of the two chambers that passes a bill that is not with the other chamber shall transmit the same to the other chamber for concurrence, and vice-versa.
Varsity, poly, COE for every state
In January this year, senators approved a report on modalities of establishing federal universities, polytechnics and colleges of education in the country.
They said federal polytechnics and colleges of education should be established in the states without any of these institutions.
“The Federal Government should focus on upgrading already existing tertiary educational structures to specialised institutions,” they added.
Since the resolutions, there appeared to be a surge in the number of bills seeking to establish federal tertiary institutions in the Red Chamber.
Where they will be located
The breakdown of the proposed institutions according to states showed that Kaduna and Anambra have the highest with five each, while Kano, Borno, Cross River, Abia, Taraba, and Ogun have four each.
States that will have three institutions each include Gombe, Bauchi, Benue, Plateau, and Ondo, whereas states such as Kebbi, Ekiti, Adamawa, Edo, Sokoto, Jigawa, Rivers, Osun and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), will have two each.
The findings indicated that states with one proposed institution each are Yobe, Niger, Bayelsa, Katsina, Imo, Kogi, Delta, Nasarawa, Akwa Ibom, Enugu, Ebonyi, and Lagos.
During a recent public hearing on some of the bills, the chairman of the House Committee on Tertiary Education and TETFUND, Aminu Suleiman, said the committee would be thorough, fair and objective.
“A number of factors will guide our action. But we promise to be thorough, fair and objective; above all, necessity and the co-operation of host states, would be the deciding factors,” he said.
We don’t need them – ASUU
President of ASUU Prof Biodun Ogunyemi told Daily Trust that there was no need for any additional university in the country, but that what Nigeria needed was for the existing ones to be improved upon.
“We don’t need them. What we need is to improve what we have. What are we doing to fund the universities we have? What are we doing to bring them up to speed with their mandate? Government isn’t addressing that.
“Why is ASUU on strike? ASUU is on strike because the existing ones have been neglected? So, it’s sheer politics, and when you over politicise education, it cannot be used for national development,” he said.
“If you allow them, everybody would want to have a university in their backyard, because it appears that is the only thing they can take back to their constituencies and show them as evidence of contributing to legislative development.
“These same legislators cut education budget in order to finance elections. So, they’re interested in education just for the sake of it, not because they’re committed to quality education.
“There’s a difference between quality and quantity, and there are situations where you can find a meeting point. We know that Nigerian universities have not been developed to their fullest capacities.
“We have universities in other climes with 250,000 students. In fact, some universities in Egypt and Malaysia have over 500,000 students. If it’s about expansion and stocking the system with requisite human resources, these are the two basic ingredients you need to get a university going.
“Inject the quantum of resources, human and material, and back it up with finances. University will then be empowered to produce the best quality for human capital to carry out ultimate research and support community and national development.”
Also, ASUU chairman, University of Ibadan, Dr Deji Omole said: “The move to establish new tertiary institutions in Nigeria at this point in time is nothing but a misplaced priority. There is even the cry currently that the governments do not have the capacity to fund the existing universities, and they are going ahead to establish new ones.”
On his part, ASUU chairman in the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Dr Ifeanyichukwu Abada: “Surely, this is a political jamboree. Why go ahead to establish new tertiary institutions when you cannot fund the existing ones? It is just a political game, and there is a big difference between political universities and real universities.”
We’re addressing admission challenges – Reps
However, the House of Representatives said it was part of its desire to address the admission challenges faced by millions of Nigerian students seeking a higher education that informed their decision to come up with such bills.
“We felt that given the fact that we’re representatives of the people, we realised that most of our constituents don’t get admission on account of the fact that placements in the universities are very limited.
“So, we felt that given the population of the country, which is said to be around 200 million, as well as a large number of students taking JAMB, we should have additional higher institutions.
“Even ASUU complained that the pressure on the existing institutions is too much, that they’re overstretched. So, there is a need for more universities to be able to cater for admission shortcomings.”
We need quality, not quantity- CISLAC
Reacting to the development, the Executive Director of the Civil Society Legislative and Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, said the National Assembly should have paid more attention to the quality of education in the country.
He said the lawmakers should have engaged educational experts that would give them the direction on the actual educational needs of the country.
“Unfortunately, due to lack of prioritization and internal capacity to timely deal with matters of national importance, they lost significant time which should have been utilized for effective and legislative work for a political crisis and misplacement of legislative action,” he said.