IN their desperation for university education, Nigerian students now rush to Ghana, where most of them fall prey to the scam of burgeoning degree mills to acquire certificates of dubious distinction or no academic value. The racketeers operate from one-block institutions or portakabins, pompously labelled as universities. There are 50 privately-owned universities approved by the Ghanaian government, most of which are involved in this academic charade. The Executive Secretary, National Universities Commission (Nigeria), Julius Okojie, said in August 2013 that Ghana had only four recognised universities. This is instructive. The rest are affiliate institutions.
The rot in these so-called citadels of learning was the focus of a 10-day tour by The PUNCH late last year. There are about 110,000 Nigerians currently studying there, according to records at the Nigerian High Commission in Ghana. They pay outrageous tuition, just as their brethren in business who are fleeced before being allowed to operate despite ECOWAS protocol on free trade. According to Wale Babalakin, Chairman, Committee of Pro-Chancellors of Nigerian Universities, these fees result in capital flight of about N160 billion annually from Nigeria to Ghana. This figure was higher than Federal Government’s education budget in 2011.
At one such one-block university — Accra Institute of Technology — which claims to be the equivalent of the famous Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA, there are about 2,000 students, out of which 1,200 are reportedly Nigerians. The school also runs a “doctoral programme” in a rented and uncompleted structure, and charges between $1,300 (N202,800) and $1,510 (N235,560) per session, accommodation and feeding excluded. However, at public universities, fees for foreigners vacillate between $6,000 (N936,000) and $8,000 (N1,248,000) per session, while those studying medicine pay as much as $18,000 (N2,808,000).
The bottom line is that whether in a legal or a sham university, a Nigerian student in Ghana pays through his/her nose. Nobody knows this better than Ademola Onafowokan, Nigeria’s High Commissioner to Ghana. He laments, “…thousand and one, one-block and many mushroom universities (are) set up to target Nigerian students yearning for education…. But, sadly, they are not cheap as Nigerians pay in dollars. These universities are just pure business ventures.”
Apart from the difficulty of gaining admission at home, many youths may have been attracted to these schools by their compromising incentives of completing a four-year academic programme in three sessions, and admission of those without requisite entry qualifications. From reports, infrastructure deficit makes a resonant statement in these institutions. Well-trained lecturers, teaching and research, all of which aggregate to define a quality ivory tower are alien to these pseudo-academic set-ups.
A university worth its name is a global heritage. As an intellectual enclave, it is riveted by the pursuit of knowledge. These quacks in Ghana do not even hide their pretensions. Regrettably, our youths do not understand the difference between the two. Many of them may have fallen victim already, but many more need not be caught in the labyrinth any further. Through enlightenment by the NUC and the Nigerian High Commission in Ghana, a rescue drive could reduce the damage. It is in this context that we situate Okojie’s effort in stopping the University of Education, Winneba, Ghana, from awarding its degrees to students studying at one Hallmark Educational Bureau Nigeria Limited. The two institutions, NUC says, ran foul of its regulations on affiliation.
Indeed, the situation in the country is barmy. In May last year, the NUC closed 41 illegal universities out of the 67 that have found Nigeria a safe haven. Lagos alone is home to 12 of such institutions. Students from these bogus institutions, who are in their thousands, may have been the patrons of the one-block institutions in Ghana to satiate their appetite for university degrees. One of the schools, with just four rooms, runs undergraduate and postgraduate programmes up to the doctoral level. As a purported affiliate of a Caribbean university, it did not care a hoot about obtaining a licence to operate. “As a business school, our affairs are not run by the NUC, hence, certification from the NUC was not required,” an official of the school cheekily said. We disagree with this.
Again, recurrent strikes by Nigeria’s university lecturers, which make the academic calendar indeterminate, compel parents who can afford it to enrol their children in Ghanaian universities. For instance, from July 1 to December 17, 2013, academic activities in public universities were frozen by a strike, which the Academic Staff Union of Universities embarked on over decrepit state of infrastructure and unpaid allowances. It was only called off after the Federal Government acquiesced to the immediate release of N200 billion and a commitment to inject N1.3 trillion into the system over a five-year period, to address the rot.
Pointedly, our students’ exodus to Ghana is etched in our misbegotten public policies and ethos that have relegated education to the background. The carrying capacity of the universities cannot match the exponential increase in the number of students seeking admission annually. Out of the 1.7 million that applied for admission in 2013, only 520,000 got admissions to universities, polytechnics and colleges of education.
The facts starkly stare everyone in the face. A government that gives N1 billion each to its nine newly-established universities for take-off, but unashamedly budgets N64 billion for the Abuja City Gate, apparently, has not got its priorities right.