Liberalization Policy and Spread of Private University in Nigeria: The North-South Dichotomy in Perspective

Abdulhamid Ozohu-Suleiman, Ph.D., Shehu Mustapha Liberty, Ph.D.


Contemporary Nigeria provides an excellent example of a society in the labyrinth of the era of mass education. This era is particularly underscored by the quantum leap in the demand for higher education. Scholars of development studies have predicted this social change, referring to it as a significant attribute of societies in transition. Thus, in the last three decades or so, the increasing demand for higher education has been met with the liberalization of tertiary education by the federal government. Liberalization which seeks to unbundle government monopoly in the provision of tertiary education has equally been received with an impressive intervention by the private sector. Today, there are 111 private universities in Nigeria and the list is likely to grow considering the spate of applications by prospective investors. The paper seeks to examine this spectacular development in terms of the spread of investment in private university across regions. In specific terms, the paper undertakes a comparative study of southern and northern regional responses to the liberalization policy. It argues that the spread of private universities across regional divide leaves much to be desired, the implication being that a preponderance of the gains of liberalization of tertiary education is skewed against the northern region of Nigeria. This is predictably so in the light of the historical predisposing factors for western education in Southern Nigeria when compared to the north dating back to the colonial time. The paper established that apart from the historic poor reception of the north to western education, the equally poor private investment in tertiary education in the region, are some of the factors that extenuate spread. Moreover, the higher incidence of poverty in the north when compared to the south is partly responsible for the poor investment in the region, considering that the return on investment may not be attractive to sustain the enterprise. The paper concludes that though, the withdrawal of state monopoly in the provision of higher education is a welcomed development, the policy cannot be pursued at the expense of even spread that can contribute to improved access among the constituent regions. Therefore, it recommends among other that, the federal government should adopt an incremental approach towards meeting the UNESCO minimum benchmark of 26% budgetary allocation for education and that, while encouraging private participation in the provision of higher education, a deliberate policy to encourage even spread in investment in private university should be implemented.

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