By Ireoluwa Bello, for The Oyemaja Foundation.
As of 2023, Nigeria boasts of 170 universities across 36 states; 79 are privately owned, 43 are federal universities and 48 are state-run universities.
How does Nigeria compare to other countries? India has 5,288 universities, dwarfing Nigeria’s measly 170. The United States has 3,931, and Indonesia has 2,595. Closer to home, however, is the United Kingdom. The UK has 160 universities.
Nigeria started out with one university – the University of Ibadan in 1948, during the colonial era. It built more over the years but it wasn’t until 1999 that the first private university – Igbinedion University, Okada, was built. This encouraged the construction of many others by private persons and investors.
The demands for founding a university, public or private, are fairly the same. These requirements occupy a long list that might prove overwhelming at first glance; but difficult is not the same as impossible. This might explain why we still have only 79 private universities after 24 years.
The National Universities Commission (NUC) oversees the creation and development of universities in Nigeria. Building and accrediting a university in Nigeria requires a stamp of approval from the commission with the guidelines stated by the Nigerian government’s policies on education. Asides manoeuvring the huddles put in place by the commission, it is essential to know in good detail what it takes to start and maintain a university in Nigeria.
We have grouped these requirement into five parts:
University funding in Nigeria takes a village. It is an expensive quest, and intentionally so. Our best guess is that the NUC is set to discourage any Tom, Dick or Harry with a pipedream for better education from erecting a few blocks of classrooms and calling it a university. Unlike the primary and secondary education system, higher education in Nigeria needs an impeccable design, plan, implementation and lots of money.
The first tranche of expenses would be the form fee of a million naira, a processing fee of five million naira and a grantee of funds of two hundred million Naira. Oouu! Considering the state of the economy, this is a handful of paper. That’s not all; the proprietor must consider staffing, equipment purchases and the construction of needed facilities. Although a university can be a good business venture, the chance of getting a turnover in 15 years is not a guarantee.
The point is not to discourage anyone with genuine passion but to enlighten them on the cost of starting a large enterprise like a university.
A university can be similar to a small city if properly structured and staffed. The University of Ibadan has a staff strength of 5,339 while Covenant University has over 2000. The staffing of a university is the most versatile of all organisations. It includes both the educated and uneducated, ranging from all works of life and all literacy levels, in various faculties, colleges, units and subunits, with each person serving an integral role in the system's growth. There are towns in Nigeria that are said to have doubled their population by the presence of a university.
Nevertheless, the staffing of a university cannot be handled with levity. For example, the board of trustees usually consists of highly ranked and respected members of society in their various fields. These highly-ranked persons make up principal officers like the pro-chancellor, vice-chancellor, deputy vice-chancellors, chief-librarian, bursar and registrar. The proprietor must carefully select individuals who subscribe to his dream.
Academic staffing must also be considered. Each department in the university is expected to have a staff list of professors, associate professors, senior lecturers, lecturers, assistant lecturers and associate lecturers. Very few universities in Nigeria boast of a rich list of academic staff. Most make up for it by hiring a lot of adjunct lecturers.
The NUC requires a detailed plan of everything that would be implemented in your university system. It’s like submitting a business proposal, but instead of funding, you get an approval to proceed. Amongst the documents required are: a draft of the academic brief (faculties, departments and programs), a draft of the university law (staff and students), and a draft of the master plan(facilities). It is essential to draft these documents to a T, as the NUC expects all planning documents submitted to follow the proposed implementation to the letter. These will be monitored during the NUC’s visit to the school, and accreditation can be denied if vital structures are not in place.
A Realtor would say, “location location location”; everything is about location. For approval and accreditation, a university need to have a minimum of easily accessible 100 hectares of land. Afe Babalola University, Ado Ekiti, currently occupies 130 hectares of land, while Osun state university has six campuses scattered across the six zones of the state. Disassembled or put together, you need evidence of land proving your ability to house standard university structures like faculty buildings, lecture halls, hostels, accommodation, staff quarters, administrative buildings, sports facilities, hospitals etc.
Although the NUC does expect your university to open with all these in place (for example, the University of Jos, Nigeria moved to its permanent location after 44 years), a proposed permanent site and a master plan are required for approval. Accessibility of such land to the neighbouring communities should also be considered. Some private universities seek the intervention of local leaders to secure suitable land.
Branding and Marketing:
Like every other business, a university needs a brand. The name, logo, brand voice etc need careful deliberations before release. Unlike other companies that go through several rebranding, universities rarely have that luxury. A few tweaks can be done in specific places, like the landing page of their website, but identities like name and motto are generally a big deal. Remember the uproar when University of Lagos was to be renamed Moshood Abiola University? It did not end well.
Marketing is another factor that goes with branding. Even if everything like money and planning comes easy, the university management must find ways to publicise the school aggressively. It is an unending process, especially in the institution's early years. Means like radio, print media, social media, billboards and so on are helpful publicity tools. Items like hoodies and t-shirts are also useful.
Starting a university in Nigeria requires tremendous diligence, hard work and careful planning. The process from start to maintenance (not finish) is rigorous. It is possible, but it is crucial to count the cost before starting and not go under only after a few years.