The National Universities Commission (NUC),  last  week held  a two-day National Summit on Private Universities, at the Idris Abdulkadir Auditorium of the National Universities Commission (NUC) Secretariat, Abuja.

In a keynote address, the Honourable Minister of Education (HME), Mallam Adamu Adamu said that the deregulation of University Education by the Federal Government to allow private involvement was to give room for Private Universities to complement government’s effort at providing quality university education in Nigeria.

Giving a historical insight into the development of Private Universities in Nigeria, he recounted that the journey began in 1983, when the Supreme Court granted legal backing to the proprietor of Imo State Technical University. The action of the Supreme Court, he said, resulted to the establishment of 26 Private Universities in the Country.

He however, stressed that the motive behind the establishment of these Private Universities was based on monetary gains; as a result, Decree No. 19 of 1984 was promulgated prohibiting the establishment of private universities, which also retroactively closed down existing ones and stipulated punishment for any person, including corporate bodies that contravened its provision.

Mallam Adamu Adamu, noted that government then later realised that the thirst for higher education had reached such a level that it became a social responsibility for both government and well-meaning private organisations to rise to the challenge and provide access to higher education for the ever-increasing number of candidates seeking opportunities for self-improvement. According to him, government quickly identified the potentials of the private sector in the areas of developing tertiary institutions and took bold steps to allow companies /organisations incorporated in Nigeria or individuals to own Universities.

The Hon. Minister added that it was a welcome development when the Education (National Minimum Standards and Establishment of Institutions) (Amendment) Decree No. 9 of 1993 was promulgated repealing Decree No. 19 of 1984 and stipulating new guidelines on establishment of private universities, adding that the need for the Nation to allow constructive efforts by private sector organisations to provide quality university education was rekindled, considering the quality and magnitude of development oriented university education that must be made available to the Country.

The Minister, who was represented by the Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Education, Dr. Sonny Echono, stressed that since the promulgation of Decree No.9 of 1993, Nigeria had witnessed a surge in the number of private universities from the first three established in 1999 to 79 today, and still counting.

He opined that private universities had the key to the revolution of higher education in Nigeria, through expansion of access and bridge of gap thereby providing the much needed spring-board for socio-economic transformation of the nation.

Mallam Adamu lamented that even with the current 79 Private Universities in the country access to university education was still limited, due to the perceived high cost of fees charged by private universities. He advised all

proprietors that a university at its incubation stage was not a profit making venture, adding that they should see the role they play in the sector as that of complimenting the efforts of government in providing quality university education to the society.

Explaining further, the Minister said that other problems limiting private universities from achieving their potentials included: staffing, poor or non implementation of University Governance arrangements, excessive proprietor influence, inadequate funding as well as student admission quota.

He tasked the proprietors and the management of the NUC to take advantage of the Summit to address these challenges in order to reposition private universities for optimal delivery of their mandate.

He congratulated the NUC and all participants for successfully convening the first National Summit on Private Universities, which, he acknowledged, underpinned the multi-stakeholder nature of private university education management presently in dire need of being repositioned to play its role as the bases for national development. The Minister expressed hope that the participants would at the end of this Summit be stimulated and inspired to implement all recommended strategies towards taking private university education delivery to the next level.

The Executive Secretary, (NUC), Professor Abubakar Adamu Rasheed, min, MFR, FNAL, while presenting the lead paper titled, “Regulating Private University Education Delivery in Nigeria: The Role of the National Universities Commission” said there was need to review the requirements for establishment of private universities in line with current realities.

He stressed that it was no longer visible for individuals or corporate organisations to own land up to 100 hectares in present day Nigeria, where land had become a scarce resource due to the increasing population growth and urbanisation. He insisted that with well over 1.5 million candidates, who sat for the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) seeking admission into higher institution, there was need for government to continue to seek ways of expanding access.

The Executive Secretary hinted that the Commission was currently processing well over 300 applications for the establishment of private universities. He assured that the Commission would scale down its requirements on land acquisition to enable prospective proprietors with less than the required 100hectares invest in the sector.

He said, “last year, we licensed a private university in Kano. The University currently run at its take-off Campus, with a 17-storey story building. The space in the building had been well managed, with good lecture rooms and well-equipped laboratories and lectures offices. NUC, he said, know clearly that there could be small universities with few programmes unlike the bigger Universities, with a concentration on specialised programmes within available smaller spaces in the City.

The NUC scribe assured that the Commission in collaboration with development partners was working to provide finance as a loan scheme, where students with admission who could not afford their school fees could borrow from the scheme and pay upon graduation. He added that the scheme when fully established would be all inclusive for both students of Public and Private Universities. He assured that the scheme would be of immense benefit to Private Universities as it would enable students with admissions in these universities pay their fees with ease thereby increasing access.

Professor Rasheed lamented the increase in the number of illegal universities in Nigeria, adding that the Commission was doing all within its powers to stem the activities of these individuals establishing degree mills and defrauding unsuspecting parents and students. He called on participants at the Summit to continue to partner with the Commission to expose the activities of such fraud stars.

He said: “we have identified 68 degree mills in the country and they are currently facing prosecution by the law enforcement agencies and we know there are more of them out there that we are not aware of.  Kindly partner with us to rid our educational system of these fraud stars. On our part we will continue to inform the public of their activities as we continue to publish their names on our weekly bulletin and website” he said.

He expressed hope that despite the present challenges limiting private institutions from achieving their full potentials, they still remained the key to unlocking the socio-economic potentials of the nation. He assured NUC within its regulatory mandate would reposition the private university for optimal delivery of quality higher education in Nigeria.

In his good will message, the Registrar, Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB), Professor Isha’q Oloyede lamented that in a bid to solve the problems of higher education in Nigeria, government had created new problem within the system with the emergence of Private Universities. Although these problems are not insurmountable, he said, “We only hope that this Summit would be a fertile ground for us to share ideas on how we can solve these problems”.

He called on the proprietors to seize the opportunity provided by the NUC to find lasting solutions to the problems limiting the growth of Private Universities in Nigeria.

The proprietor of Pamo University of Medicine, Dr. Peter Odili, who spoke on behalf of the proprietors, thanked the management of the NUC for creating such a plat form for proprietors of Private Universities to dialogue with government on issues affecting the development of Private Universities in the country.

The former Governor of Rivers State assured that proprietors of Private universities would continue to do their best to partner with government in the delivery of quality higher education in Nigeria.

Other papers were presented at the Summit including those of Former ES NUC, Emeritus Professor Munzali Jubril on Good Governance in Private University Education Delivery in Nigeria: The Role of the Proprietor, Board of Trustees, Governing Council and the Senate, among others.

Also present at the event was the former Executive Secretary, NUC, Professor Peter Okebukola, Co-founder of Michael and Cecilia Ibru University, Owhrode, Delta State, Mrs Cecilia Ibru; Country Director, Agence Francaise De Developpement, Alice Ribes; host of other Proprietors of Private Universities, their Vice Chancellors as well as Directors and Staff of NUC.