Minister of Education Malam Adamu Adamu recently said the Federal Government will establish six new Universities of Science and Technology in a bid to increase access to tertiary education in the country. This plan is both heart warming and challenging. Over the years, lack of space to admit more students has been a critical challenge confronting tertiary education in the country. About 1.5 million candidates sit for the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) annually but only 150,000 candidates, or 10 percent, get admitted. According to data recently released by the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB), 66,000 candidates who chose the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN) as their first choice would sit for the university’s aptitude test (or post-UTME) for the 2016/2017 academic session but UNN has only 9,000 admission spaces available. This is one of the main justifications for the creation of additional universities in the country.
Inability to secure admission into public tertiary institutions has forced parents who can afford it to seek admission for their children in private universities. The same reason has also led some parents to send their children abroad, including to neighbouring West African countries. It is not in the country’s strategic interest that many young Nigerian boys and girls study in some foreign universities where quality is neither guaranteed nor is the curriculum compatible with Nigeria’s national educational philosophy and goals.
Besides space expansion, the fact that the six new universities are science and technology based underscores the decision by government to lay more emphasis on science. One of the realities of the modern world is that development in human society is dependent on the scientific and technological advancements achieved by it. “The future of the world”, the minister said, “depends on science and technology”. The minister also announced that government will establish a technical school in each state and vocational centres at the ward and local government levels.
Government’s resolve to strengthen science and technical education at the basic level of education is commendable because it is the foundation upon which science at the university level is built. Science, Technical and Vocational Education was incorporated into the Nigerian education system as a national development strategy. Its broad goals, according to the country’s National Policy on Education, include training and imparting necessary skills to individuals who shall be economically self-reliant. It also aims at providing trained manpower in applied sciences and technology.
Establishing schools is one thing, but government must provide the workshop equipment needed for practical lessons in order to make science and technical education functional at basic and senior secondary levels. This should be helped by the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology’s establishing the Scientific Equipment Development Institutes (SEDIs) in Enugu, Minna and Lagos. These institutes were founded decades ago with a core mandate of designing and producing machines and equipment required by school workshops and laboratories. The Federal Ministry of Education should reject any request to import such machines and should see such as part of the corrupt practices that characterize our national life. The little fund that may be provided to SEDIs by government should be judiciously used for the purpose it was appropriated.
Although the Minister of Education has said the six new science universities would be sited in the country’s six geo-political zones, we advise that unnecessary sentiments should be avoided when deciding the site of the universities in the respective zones. Recall that 12 federal universities were established by former President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration in 12 states of the federation that had no federal universities. The influence of political sentiments is noticeable in the siting of these 12 federal universities.
Apart from establishing these new science universities, government should also expand facilities in already existing universities. This will increase the total space available in our universities. While increasing quantity, we must also work for greater quality, without which the emphasis on science and technology shall be a mirage.