By Gabriel Dike Industrial action by the non-academic staff in the Nigerian University System (NUS) on Monday disrupted the on-going screening of candidates offered admission for the 2017/2018 academic session. Members of the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU), Non Academic Staff Union (NASU) and National Association of Academic Technologists (NAAT) in federal…
Private varsities deserve public commendation
By Fred Eze, Abuja
The Chairman, Association of Vice Chancellors of Private Universities. Prof. Debo Adeyewa doubles as the Vice Chancellor of the Redeemers University, Ede, Osun State.
He is aware of the notion of the people about private universities and profiteering and he told The Education Report that is fallacy and the private varsities are not just out to swindle stakeholders and the society.
What is your assessment of Nigerian university system against the perceived drop in quality and standard?
My assessment is that we had it big and wonderful in the past, but over the years, the attention to education dropped significantly. It is painful that government has not been strategic enough with issues of education. It may interest you to know that education defines the future of any country. There is no doubt that its quality has dropped significantly. What it means is that we have improved in terms of number of institutions but depreciated in quality and standard.
The good news then is that private universities have intervened, and are springing up daily with great academic, social and moral programmes that would equip future generations with requisite skills for exploit.
Take Redeemers University for instance, our students are doing amazing things in research and innovations. Recently, some of them developed diagnostic tool for Ebola and Lassa fever. These are self motivated efforts that need to be supported by the government. But unfortunately, such support seems not coming. The bottom line is that we have no option but to invest in education, particularly in research, and in no distant time, we will, individually and collectively, reap the harvest thereof.
But most Nigerians believe that private universities are after profit. How true is it?
I must tell you that it is a fallacy to say that private universities in Nigerian are profit driven. Running a private university in Nigeria is capital intensive. For example, in Redeemers University, several millions of naira were spent on research works, one of which I mentioned earlier. During the outbreak of Ebola epidemic, we spent thousands of US dollars on research, and up till now, the government never showed concern on what we do or have done to better humanity.
Here are some statistics that will shock you. Our recent budget for an academic session was N4.2 billion. It covers salaries of workers, infrastructural maintenance and other running cost. Meanwhile, the expected revenue from schools was about N1.1billion. It will also shock you to know that we have spent over N6 billion in infrastructure development in our campus. Now use your simple sense of judgment and mathematics to confirm who loses. Obviously, the school is running at loss. So, it is indeed an abuse of language to say that we are in university education to make profit. To simplify it, I could only say that we are in one business, which is to support and subsidize quality education for the Nigerian child. To set the record straight, we charge N305,000 per student in humanities courses, N310,000 for management sciences student, and N315,000 for students in natural sciences and physics. This, obviously, is far from what was expected, given the condition of operations and the terrain we operate. But yet people complain that our fees are expensive. Visit schools in Canada and other parts of developed world that operate at same standard with ours and you would discover that their fees hover around $15,000 for the same courses that we charge N315,000. Convert it to local currency and see the difference. So, I feel very sad each time I hear people say that private universities are profit driven. What profit? Government has lost confidence in local researchers. In fact, the research work we did on Ebola and Lassa fever was supported by the World Bank.
It might interest you to know that we approached TETFund to fund the research but we were told that we could not access research fund simply because we are private university contrary to what is obtained in developed world where research funds are made available to anyone who could contribute meaningfully to knowledge. In addition to that, private universities have certain standards and don’t permit some things that you see in public universities.
For instance, a situation where hundreds of students struggle to find space in a lecture hall that ordinarily should accommodate half of them was not tenable. In private universities, few students are allowed access to equipment for optimum usage and result. So, it is in our best interest to support people who might have invested huge sums of money to ensure that our children get the best of university education instead of castigating them outright.
With the figures you mentioned, it is obvious you run at loss. How do you augment to remain afloat?
You are very right. It will interest you to know that the proprietor and the General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), Pastor Enoch Adeboye, has been supportive, financially, materially and in other ways that he could. He believes in good and quality education for individual and national development. It baffles me whenever I hear people accuse churches that own schools of doing nothing but exploiting members. I take it to be that they are speaking or acting out of ignorance. It seem people want us to change our school fees to N20,000 or lesser but that won’t be possible because of the circumstances we have found ourselves in.
Are you in support of loan facilities that students could access and repay after graduation?
See! I am not happy that the federal government kept hobnobbing with various unions in education sector, and had refused to come to the reality of the fact that giving educational access to average Nigerian student should be priority in their list.
Such loans, as is available in other developed worlds are very important for students, particularly those from poor background who could not fund their education. I believe that provision of such loans would enable such students purchase the education wherever they want. Such students are expected to repay the loans in line with specified terms of agreement. That, undoubtedly, would go a long way in assisting the children of the poor acquire quality education. It is advisable that we attack our problems with sustainable solutions instead of chasing shadows.
Out of several private universities, yours was chosen for exhibition at the Committee of Vice-Chancellors meeting in Abuja. Why?
It was earned. It might interest you to know that Redeemers University attaches great and significant importance to research, and we encourage our students to carry out their research conclusively. We also invest a lot of resources in acquiring talented and diligent lecturers. We pay them handsomely and also provide them with well equipped laboratories to enhance their research works. I assure you that you cannot find the kind and quality of equipments in our laboratories in any other university in sub-Saharan Africa, except in South Africa. We spent so much to equip our science and research laboratories with modern and sophisticated equipment to aid research.
Another thing we prioritize is quality assurance. We don’t joke with that. We regularly monitor our students and lecturers to ensure that guidelines are duly complied with. We also have a feedback system that helps us monitor and assess our students and lecturers.
Were your expectations met at the recent higher education summit?
Yes! I was particularly impressed with the turn up and contributions of the Provosts and Vice Chancellors, and other stakeholders that attended the summit. I was happy that issues believed to have hampered higher education development in Nigeria were extensively discussed at the meeting. My suggestion was that the organizers should submit the resolutions of the meeting to the federal government for implementation. On its part, the federal government should also play active role in the implementation of the resolution for the good of Nigeria’s higher education sector. There is no doubt that education is the bedrock of development in any society, and you don’t need to pay lip service to it. Nigeria education system requires major intervention. Not only that, our society must also support and encourage the effort of individuals who invested heavily in education in order to provide a veritable platform through which our children could acquire good and quality education.