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By Onche Odeh (Lagos) and Innocent Oweh (Abuja)
Seven private universities in Nigeria recently got the unsavory serving from the National Universities Commission (NUC), as their operational licenses have been suspended by the body mandated by law to regulate the administration and otherwise of universities in the country.
NUC’s action came barely days after it announced the suspension of part time programmes in all Nigerian universities.
Details of the recent decision of the regulatory body shows that it suspended the operational licences of Madonna University, Okija, Lead City University, Ibadan, Tansian University, Umunya, Caritas University, Amorji-Nike, Enugu, Joseph Ayo Babalola, Ikeji-Arakeji and Achievers university, Owo but withdrew the licence of Obong University at Obong Ntak for failing to meet the requirement for renewal of the provisional licence after the statutory three-year period.
Some of the affected schools that think they have cases in their favour have come out with public statements against the NUC’s action, whereas others, it was gathered, are making effort to approach the NUC authorities to amicably iron out issues.
The action of NUC has put the Executive Secretary of NUC, Professor Julius Okojie, on the spotlight, as he has been criticised by some section of Nigerians. Others have, however, hailed the action of the regulator.
Zonal Coordinator of the Ibadan Zone of Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Professor Emmanuel Ajisegiri, told ****Daily Independent**** in an interview that NUC has acted rightly.
“Licences are offered to universities by NUC based on attainment of Minimum Academic Standard as is the practice globally. It is, however, obvious that some of the private universities were granted waivers on some of the prerequisites for licensing because of the government policy which seeks to encourage establishment of private universities to cater for the inadequate placement spaces in the Federal and state owned universities,” Ajisegiri said.
He, however, noted that the private universities that were granted those wavers based on promises that they would brace up afterwards.
“Most of the private universities that were granted licences to encourage them have not been able to improve upon their standard years after. On such basis, I think NUC has done well,” he said.
The ASUU chief also noted that, although the academic standards in the government owned universities are not where they ought to be, comparing their situation with that of the private universities “is like comparing sleep with death.”
“Most private universities have only 20-30 per cent of their academic staff as tenure, others are visiting,” Ajisegiri said, adding also that, “how do you justify a situation whereby someone would leave a public university as a lecturer-I to become associate professor in a private university.”
Meanwhile, the NUC executive secretary, in apparent disregards to his critics said the rationale for the suspension followed persistent violation of existing rules and operational guidelines by the affected institutions.
Among reasons Okojie gave for the action was that the universities have persistently violated laid down procedures regarding implementation of the provisions of the academic brief and master plan documents as well as express provisions of the letter conveying approval for their licence through commencement of part time and other academic programmes without requisite approval.
Okojie also explained that some of the affected universities have over the years failed to properly constitute their governing councils and in some instances did not appoint Pro-chancellors as required by their university laws and in line with university tradition and global best practices.
He said these lapses have brought about the overbearing presence and interference of the promoter in the day-to day running of the universities.
NUC also cited poor management of academic activities, adding that some of the affected universities have been engaging in the establishment of academic programmes without the requisite approval by NUC and consideration for adequate human and material resources, to ensure quality of programmes.
He said in some of these universities, the commission has observed generally poor learning environment where ICT, teaching and learning resources are poorly deployed, including the mismanagement of students’ examination records.
“The commission, in the course of its regulatory duties has also observed that some of the universities employ unconventional approaches to the management of examination and records.
“These include generally poor examination administration and failure to prepare and release examination transcripts to students as and when due, “the NUC boss added.
In the course of unraveling what led to the suspension, Daily Independent also gathered that the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) has been directed to distribute qualified candidates who applied to any of the affected universities for the 2012/2013 academic year to other universities of their choice and that the universities should discontinue admission of students into their programmes until a forensic audit is conducted.
However, one question that still prick the minds of observers, especially those who have been following the recent trends in university education is that why is the NUC, as the sole regulatory agency of universities coming out with these hard stance suddenly, when it actually gave approval for their establishment.
Although NUC reserves the constitutional right to withdraw the operational licence of any university in the country it finds wanting in the violation of certain provisions, it is mandatory for its officials to first of all embark on assessment tour of these universities before licences are issued.
Deputy Director, Information and Public Relations at NUC Ibrahim Yakassi, who corroborated Okojie’s position said the issue goes beyond mere suspension.
He said over time, the regulatory agency had detailed and itemised the ills committed by these universities through press advertorials but that they had consistently failed to adhere to the provisions.
Yakassi insisted during an interview that the issues revolving round their suspension bothered on poor governance structure, poor examination administration as well as non release of transcripts of students on time among other lapses.
He said these discrepancies in academic activities have a way of impacting on the general academic quality, especially their output.
“Most of them do not have good governance structure, there are a lot of anomalies in the way they govern themselves and that we felt would impact on academic quality in general,” he said.
According to Yakassai, “There are so many issues like poor examination administration which also includes non release of transcripts of students as at when due among.”
He said the rule is very clear on this.
“You do not start academic programmes without first applying to the commission and getting approval after the process of verification, we do not just approve programmes we have to verify, “he said.
Management of some of the affected schools are kicking, but little has been heard from them about how much they are doing to remedy the facility and academic standard deficits in their institutions.
Ajisegiri, however, offered a chip for respite. “The academic standard in Nigerian universities forms a major part of the agitations by ASUU. However, NUC should liaise with ASUU to build on available standards, facilities and quality for better outcomes,” he said.
The suspension and withdrawal of licences of the affected institutions means that they technically moribund academically, as they are not allowed to admit new students neither are they allowed to continue the conduct of lectures for old students until further notice.
The gladdening news, however, is that NUC has said it is just a suspension that would be lifted as soon as the affected schools correct the issues raised.