‘Nigeria needs to earnestly apply 26% of budget to education’ - Diversity Media || Your 1st Choice

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‘Nigeria needs to earnestly apply 26% of budget to education’

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Professor Nasiru Idris is the Dean, Faculty of Environmental Sciences, Nasarawa State University, Keffi

Professor Nasiru Idris is the Dean, Faculty of Environmental Sciences, Nasarawa State University, Keffi. In this interview, he spoke on environmental studies, university admission crisis and the need for private-public partnership in establishing universities among others. Excerpts:
What do you think is the solution to the admission crisis in Nigeria where many are seeking admissions but with only few slots available?
It’s only in Nigeria that admission is secured through a Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB). Let’s look at the Asian Tigers for example. You secure admission directly through the Admission Officer of each university, but in Nigeria that’s not the case. The population of Nigeria is about 190 million but with only few universities.  Malaysia has 32,350,893 people but with over 100 universities. Therefore, there is need for more universities in Nigeria.
In Nigeria, it is only Ogun State that has 15 universities. In other states there are just two universities – one for the state and the other for Federal Government – and there is high demand for admission. As such, we need more universities in Nigeria as well as expand the departments and faculties, because the more you have more of these, the more the students.
More universities are very important but as the case may be in Nigeria, private universities are very expensive. An average state in Nigeria needs to have seven or eight universities to accommodate applicants from JAMB.
But there are fears that if there are more universities, there will be decline in standards.
UNESCO says you should allocate at least 26 per cent of annual budget to the education sector but in some states it is less than 5 per cent. So, if the 26 percent is allocated or even 10 per cent, it will go a long way. That is why we have Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund), Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) among others as government need to do something. The quality of education will continue to go down as long as we don’t allocate the required percentage to the sector in the budget.
You were recently elected as Dean, Faculty of Environmental Sciences, Nasarawa State University, Keffi. How did it come about?
There was a popular saying that ‘Rome was not built in a day.’ When I secured a job at Nasarawa State University, Keffi, I was appointed coordinator of a programme in the Department of Geography and after a few months, I became the Director of Environmental Studies and later contested for the Deputy Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences and won. Later the vice chancellor appointed me as Head of Department of Geography then I initiated the establishment of the Urban and Regional Planning programme as a unit under the Department of Geography.
If you look at issues as regards climate change, there is need for us to have a Faculty of Environmental Sciences. Let’s even look at the state of deterioration in Abuja, the facilities are overstretched so there is need for environmental managers to come and cater for Abuja very well. And other universities close by do not have environmental studies programmes. I realized the need to establish such faculty at Nasarawa State University because of the proximity to Abuja and that is what led to my election as the Dean of the Faculty.
I also initiated the establishment of Architecture, Building, Estate Management, Urban and Regional Planning and Environmental Management programmes.
How will these courses help Abuja? Did you identify some environmental challenges?
Let us go back to the reasons why Lagos ceases to be the capital of Nigeria. This was because Lagos was fulfilling a dual role of a capital city as well as a state capital and does not have space for further expansion. Lagos also has a big problem of waste management because of large population, and not centrally located. Some of these problems are in Abuja – overstretching of facilities, waste management is becoming a problem so also is urbanization and maintenance of the city. That was why during the administration of Nasir el-Rufai as minister, all government houses were sold, because government cannot cope with the maintenance. That was very important but now there are private developers and even as they are expanding, still the facilities are being overstretched.
This is so because government is not doing its own primary responsibility for the expansion of the city. Sites and service scheme is very important but now we don’t have that. The FCT has a Satellite Towns Development Agency but are they doing their primary responsibility? I don’t think so. That is why if you go a few kilometers out of Abuja City Phase I, everywhere is ghetto. Therefore, there is need for a review of the Abuja Master-Plan and who are the primary people that will review the master-plan? It is the people that will be graduating from environment-related courses.
Nasarawa State University has a Faculty of Environmental Sciences but are people really interested in the sector?
There is rapid influx of students from Abuja into the university to study environmental sciences. There is high demand for the courses. People want to know what is happening in their environment. You have climate change, flooding, desertification and people want to have the basic knowledge.
One good thing about environmental-related courses is you don’t need the government to employ you.
There has been back and forth between government and Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) in terms of lack of infrastructure among many other things. What is the way out?
Earned allowance which is key to the 2009 agreement, should be incorporated into monthly salaries, but cumulatively it will be too much to pay.
Presently, there are many private universities being established in Nigeria. Does it affect the standard of education?
Private universities are being established because the quality of many public universities in Nigeria is going down. And many parents want their children in private universities so that they can be monitored rather than take them overseas. But if you look at the tuition fee in private universities is very expensive and an average Nigerian cannot afford it. If you go to neighbouring private universities they are not expensive. We can also have private universities that are not expensive.
Government can have public university but private-driven. So government can evolve a public-private partnership university and it will go a long way and reduce the burden when it comes to admission.
Source: Daily Trust

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