Recall, the Senate passed some bills for assent to the presidency for the establishment of nine new tertiary institutions, which will add to the existing 43 universities, 28 polytechnics and 22 colleges of education in the country.
The reasons lawmakers gave for establishing more tertiary institutions in the select locations were increased access to tertiary institutions and the need for federal presence.
However, the existing institutions, stakeholders have complained, lack adequate funding so much so that the Academic Staff Union of Universities, Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics and the Colleges of Education Academic Staff Union all went on strike at one time or another in 2018 to insist on better funding for tertiary institutions.
The unions have collectively called on President Muhammadu Buhari to delay assent to the bills until the existing institutions are functioning at optimum capacity.
In an interview with our correspondent on Monday, the President of ASUU, Prof Biodun Ogunyemi said Nigeria had suffered for too long because the Federal Government had failed to pay attention to funding and provision of facilities in institutions.
He also said the education sector was ailing from the government’s lack of interest in advancing and retaining the best and the brightest in educational institutions to make them stand global competition.
“Yes we need more tertiary institutions, but we can expand facilities in the existing ones instead. Our position is that the proliferation of institutions is not the best for this country. If we have not managed those we have effectively; if we are not funding them adequately, if they don’t have the right stock of human and material resources in them, the facilities are collapsing, going into decay and rot, then what we need is to revitalise them and not to create new centres of crises.
“We see them as potential sources of crises because the last 12 new universities that were established under the last administration (the Goodluck Jonathan administration), today, are crying loudly for help to survive. What we have seen over the years is that successive governments have been establishing institutions that they don’t have plans to develop. We have always spoken against any attempt to turn the establishment of new higher institutions into constituency projects because that will not augur well for the stability of the system and overall development of the country,” Ogunyemi said.
He added that ASUU had objections when public hearings were held over proposals to establish new institutions because the union had not seen, over the years, the government’s multi-developmental plans and the firm commitment to funding new tertiary institutions.
Ogunyemi, however, said, “It is not too late for the government to delay assent until and unless they can come out clearly with what they want to do with those institutions in the next five to 10 years. A minimum requirement for funding, equipping, staffing and providing all basic necessities for proper education must be put in place for the last 12 new ones before we can talk of having more institutions. Otherwise, let the government focus on the existing ones and implement the revitalization agenda to take our educational institutions to higher grounds.”
Also, the National President of ASUP, Mr Usman Dutse, accused the government of not being sensitive to the existing issues in the tertiary education sector since the Senate was looking to create more tertiary institutions to add to the problems.
He said, “I think the government is not being sensitive to the existing issues. Our priority now is adequate funding, more equipment and infrastructure so that the existing ones will work to capacity and improve the quality of output.
“The Senate and presidency should understand that they should not be after just accessibility and federal presence. They should be after quality, not quantity. If more students are admitted and they end up graduating half-baked without acquiring the adequate knowledge required to be employed, it will become a wasted effort.
“The last regime established some. Up till now they are not fully operational. Some have not started admitting students, but for the past five years, they have been collecting funds without having the required conditions for proper teaching and learning on the ground. Meanwhile, the funds should have been diverted to the existing ones for better conditions of service.”
Lamenting the gross manpower deficit in the existing tertiary institutions, the National President of COEASU, Mr Nuhu Ogirima, said he did not see where the government would get the needed manpower for the new institutions.
Ogirima said, “Rather than create new institutions that will be underfunded, why not create space for more candidates and expand the carrying capacities of the existing ones. They also have to take personnel deficit into consideration. From the figures released by NUC, universities need 45,000 lecturers, especially those with PhD, for them to have the requisite manpower. So, when new institutions are established, where will they get the manpower?
“Those in the system are already overworked. Also, you have to note that private institutions also get their manpower from the existing federal institutions. This should be taken into consideration. That is why we are opposed to it.”
Also accusing lawmakers of going after their own interest, Ogirima added, “It has been said that some of those bills for the establishment of new institutions are for political reasons, not for the benefit of Nigerians. Those lawmakers are doing this to make it seem as if they are doing something to benefit their people, not really because they think it is the necessary thing to do. They are just using Nigerians as pawns in their chess game.
“But the real request for establishment of institutions that we know of, we have told them that it is uncalled for. The manpower and funding is not there, even for the existing one. There was a workshop we attended in November at the Government House, where the government said it needed about N26trn to adequately fund education in the country. Where do you sustainably get such funds? And how do you get funds for new ones? They are not necessary.”