The National Universities Commission (NUC) has cautioned against the inclusion of private universities in proposed World Bank interventions in higher education in Nigeria.
NUC Executive Secretary, Abubakar Adamu Rasheed stated this during a recent visit of the Head, World Bank Project Lagos Office, Ms. Sarah Osaka to the university regulatory agency headquarters in Abuja.
Professor Rasheed noted that the rationale behind the establishment of private universities was not for them to be money making ventures, but to expand access to university education adding that they were mainly accessible to children of the elite.
EduCeleb.com learnt that Ms Osaka was at the commission to assure it on the bank’s willingness to support the Nigerian University System (NUS) through collaboration with private universities to enhance their operations.
She said that the bank was ready to partner with interested private universities through funding, to augment their areas of needs.
According to her, her team had already been interacting with seven private universities in Lagos and three in Abuja on possible areas of interventions that would address their respective challenges through access to loan facilities by World Bank, while thinking about creative ways to expand their reach and also improving quality control.
She revealed that her team had also met with some banks that had shown willingness to work with the government in helping private universities and the students.
“We are trying to get the banks to give out the said loans which would be immediately impactful but payment could be spread over a period of time.”
On the issues of quality assurance, she commended the NUC, especially on the aspect of reviewing and increasing the flexibility for curriculum development.
Responding, Professor Rasheed appreciated World Bank for its partnership and support for the Nigeria University System.
He cautioned on the proposal to include private universities in the world bank facility because the fees they charge were only accessible to the children of the elites.
He revealed that most of the private universities did not usually invest in staff development which was very important to the system, adding that the commission found it worrisome that students could be charged heavily in private universities while such universities refused to invest in human capital.
He however agreed that there were areas that would require intervention in the private universities, saying that NUC had been encouraging them to go into relevant research to pull investments such as agriculture and well-equipped Medical centres that could attract more funding. He emphasised that most private universities needed to stick to excellence by running small institutions where quality was highly maintained.
He informed Osaka and her team that the Commission was concerned about quality in the system, especially on the efforts towards ensuring internal quality assurance within the universities. For effective running of private universities in line regulatory requirements, he said that the Commission’s role was to ensure that those universities continued to operate as academic structures answerable to Nigerian government.
In this regard, he said that NUC had set up a committee of experts to draw up a corporate governance code for private universities with sanctions for default, to stop private universities from being solely run by either the proprietors or religious leaders of faith-based institutions.
The Executive Secretary recommended to the team that the World Bank loan should come in form of scholarships for indigent students which would cut across board to ensure social mix within the universities. He said that would break the continuous dichotomy created by social class in the country.
EduCeleb.com reports that Nigeria is home to 72 private universities. If the additionally proposed intervention in forms of loans to the universities succeed, it would complement existing support some of these universities are getting through the African Centres of Excellence (ACE) project, also of the World Bank.
The ACE has so far given access to three of Nigeria’s private universities to access loans around $8 million. Current private university beneficiaries are the Redeemer’s University in Ede, Covenant University, Ota and the African University of Science & Technology, Abuja.
Private universities in Nigeria are mainly self-funded and do not currently get to benefit from the returns of the education tax accruals disbursed through the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND) for research and infrastructure.