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Private universities—Nigeria’s saving grace?

Nigeria’s 61 private universities are a boon to the country, academics tell Research Africa.

Nigeria’s many private universities are often vilified for offering education for the wealthy elite in exchange for exorbitant tuition fees that the average Nigerian family cannot afford.

But academics working at the institutions tell a different story. They say the private universities—considered by some to be academically inferior—are on the heels of their public sector counterparts in terms of both quality and quantity. And they say the private institutions offer students and lecturers a more stable working environment, as they do not get embroiled in public sector academic strikes.

Nigeria’s government opened the door for individuals to own and operate universities in 1999. The move was intended to expand access to higher education, as public universities were struggling to meet demand.

Since then, aspiring students have had more choice in where and what to study, says Suliaman Audu, a sociology lecturer at the private Mountain Top University.

According to Audu, private universities have grown in quality and quantity over the years. Many Nigerian students who might have gone abroad at an earlier time now shun foreign universities, as they believe they can get the same quality education at home, he says: “My university was established in 2002 and we are already a force to reckon with.”

He says private universities might hold the key to boosting research in the country: “I believe that in a few years, because of a whole lot of research and new construction work in private universities, there will be a turn-around in research and science development in the country.”

Stephen Adubi, a lecturer in the science and technology department at Covenant University, is equally positive: “Private universities are reviving the education sector of Nigeria today. The gap [between federal and private universities] is gradually reducing.”

Federal universities may still be ahead, he says, but if private universities maintain momentum they will rewrite the story of Nigeria’s university sector—a story he says is currently not good enough.

Private universities have provided employment for academics struggling to find employment in the public sector, he points out, and private universities also bring academic stability, since they do not get involved with the strikes that often distract the public sector institutions.

“Consistency in study duration in private universities remains a plus both for students and the nation at large,” he says.

Do you agree with the people in this story that Nigeria’s private universities are catching up with the country’s public institutions in terms of quality? Post your comments below.