The Establishment and Deregulation of University Education in Nigeria: A Historical Overview

Ugochi Onya
Department of Arts and Social Sciences Early Childhood Education Unit
Federal College of Education, Akoka, Lagos
Ikenna Ukpabi Unya (Ph.D)
History Unit
College of General and Communication Studies
Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike, Abia State,


The role of the university education is to provide the much-needed manpower in accelerating the growth and development of the economy, and to acquire both physical and intellectual skills that will enable individuals to be self-reliant and useful members of the society. The demand for university education by Nigerians, which the government alone  cannot provide led  to the deregulation of the system to enable private sectors participate. The objective of this paper is to assess and evaluate the historical development of university education in Nigeria. The findings of this paper reveal that deregulation enhances diversity and accessibility to university education. The paper concludes by recommending that private and corporate bodies should increase their involvement, while the federal and state governments should adequately fund the public schools to increase the rate of intellectual collision in Nigerian universities.

Key words: Establishment, Deregulation, University, Education, and Overview


The role of university education as an instrument for promoting the socio-economic, political and cultural development of any nation cannot be over-emphasized. Higher education contributes to human resource development in many ways. For instance, Kinbrough (2013) observes that the university is a place where intellectual collisions can occur. A place where students learn and grow through intellectual collisions in and out of class, with professors, staff, and peers, and where the community comes for similar experiences. Kinbrough goes ahead to say that the university provides an intellectual foundation for a chosen profession, a great place to make lifelong friends, meet a spouse, develop professional networks and discover mentors.

University education according to Martin (2013) is a place for preparation for complexities of a world that needs rigorous analyses of its problems and synthetic approaches to solving them. University education is for learning how to think clearly, write beautifully, and put quantitative skills to use in the work of discovery. Good universities according to Wise (2010) find a balance where students are free to form their long view of the world while at the same time acquiring the knowledge and skills to pursue a rewarding profession. A place for students to decide what and how they want to contribute to society, to the economy, to their communities, and to the well-being of their families.

The National Policy on Education (2004) highlighted the aim of university education thus:

  1. To contribute to national development through high-level relevant manpower training;
  2. To develop and inculcate proper values for the survival of the individual and the society;
  3. To develop the intellectual capability of individuals to understand and appreciate their local and external environments;
  4. To acquire both physical and intellectual skills which will enable individuals to be self- reliant and useful members of the society;
  5. To promote and encourage scholarship and community services;
  6. To forge and cement national unity; and
  7. To promote national and international understanding and interaction.

The belief in the efficacy of education as a powerful instrument of development has led many nations to commit much of their wealth to the establishment of educational institutions at various levels. The funds allocated to higher education should not be considered a mere expense, but as a long-term investment of immense benefit to the society (Ajayi and Ekundaya, 2008). University education is expected to directly engage in the creation, transmission and evaluation of knowledge. Its purpose according to Opatola (2003) is to ensure the continued pursuit of academic scholarship and intellectual inquiry in  all  fields of human understanding through research and teaching.

The aim of this paper is to assess and evaluate the development in university education in Nigeria, especially in this era of deregulation of university education. To achieve this objective, the paper has been divided into sections. With this introductory overview, the paper will proceed to discussing the historical development of university education in Nigeria. The third section will conceptualize deregulation of education; the fourth section will discuss reasons for the deregulation and problems of deregulation of university education. The final section is the conclusion which briefly discussed the implications of deregulation and finally makes policy recommendations.

Historical Analysis of University Education in Nigeria.

The history of university education in Nigeria started with the Elliot Commission of 1943, which led to the establishment of University College, Ibadan (UCI) in 1948. UCI was an affiliate  of  the  University of  London (Ike,  1976).  In  April  1959, the  Federal  Government commissioned an inquiry (the Ashby Commission) to advise it on the higher education needs of the country for its first two decades. Before the submission of the report, the Eastern region government established its own university at Nsukka (University of Nigeria, Nsukka in 1960). The implementation of the Ashby Report led to the establishment of University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife) in 1962 by the Western region, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria  in  1962  by  the  Northern  region  and  University  of  Lagos  (1962)  by  the  Federal Government.

Babalola et al (2007) posited according to Ajayi and Ekundayo (2008) that the University College,  Ibadan  became  full-fledged university in  1962. This  meant  that  UCI,  Ibadan and University of  Lagos became the  first  two  federal universities in  Nigeria –  the  other three remained regional until the federal government took them. In 1970, the Mid-Western region which was carved out of Western region established the Mid-West Institute of Technology (MIT). The Institute converted to a university status – the University of Benin. The six universities established during this period 1960 – 1970 are still referred to as first generation universities.

The Third National Development Plan (1975–1980) made provision for the establishment of seven more universities to be located in States where there were none at that time. This gave birth according to Ogunu (1990) to the ‘Seven Sisters’ or Second Generation Universities in 1975. The universities were established as follows:

  1. The University of Calabar, which began as Calabar Campus of the University of Nigeria in 1973
  2. The University of Jos, founded as a Campus of University of Ibadan in 1971.
  3. The University of Maiduguri, 1975.
  4. The University of Sokoto, 1975
  5. The University of Ilorin, which was former Campus of the University of Ibadan but became a full university in 1977 after becoming a University College in 1975.
  6. University of Port Harcourt which took off initially as a University College in 1975 and

affiliated to the University of Lagos. It became a full-fledged university in 1977.

  1. Bayero University,  Kano,  which  started  as  Northern  Government  owned  Abdullahi Bayero College in 1961, became Bayero University College of Ahmadu Bello University in 1962 and a full university in 1975.

The 1979 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria placed university education on the Concurrent Legislative list. That meant that, apart from the Federal Government, State Governments who wished could establish their own universities as was the practice before 1975 when  university education  was  put  on  the  Exclusive  Legislative  list  by  the  then  Military Government. Between 1979 and 1983, the following eight State universities were established:

  • Bendel State University, (now Ambrose Ali University, Ekpoma, 1980
  • Anambra State University of Science and Technology (now Enugu State University of Science and Technology 1980
  • Imo State University (now Abia State University, Uturu) 1981
  • Rivers State University of Science and Technology 1981
  • Ondo State University, Ado-Ekiti (now University of Ekiti) 1982
  • Ogun State University (now Olabisi Onobanjo University, Ago-Iwoye) 1982
  • Lagos State University 1983 and
  • Cross River State University, Uyo, 1984.

In 1988, the Federal Government announced the establishment of the University of Abuja. Other federal universities established since then are:

  1. Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University, Bauchi 1988
  2. Federal University of Technology, Owerri 1980
  3. Federal University of Technology, Akure 1981
  4. Federal University of Technology, Minna 1982
  5. Federal University of Technology, Yola (now Modibbo Adama ) 1988
  6. Federal University of Agriculture, Makurdi 1988
  7. Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta 1988
  8. Federal University of Agriculture, Umudike (Michael Okpara) 1992.

All the universities established between 1980s and early 1990s are collectively referred to as third generation universities. The fourth generation universities are those established between 1999 when civil rule returned in Nigeria till the present date. They include the recent Federal Universities; State Universities, Open University and Private Universities. Nigeria now has 46 federal, 40 state, and 61 private universities. Their full names and year of emergence will come shortly. Let us turn our attention now to conceptual consideration – deregulation of education.

Conceptual Clarifications


Deregulation according to Investopedia (2016) is the reduction or elimination of government power in a particular industry, usually enacted to create more competition within the industry. This means that government rules and regulations governing the operations of the system are relaxed or held constant in order for the system to decide its own optimum level through the forces of supply and demand.

Deregulation  is  when  the  government  reduces  or  eliminates  industry  restrictions to improve the ease of doing business. The government removes a regulation when businesses complain it interferes too much with their ability to compete, especially with foreign companies.

However, consumer groups also prompt deregulation by pointing out how industry leaders are too cozy with their regulatory authorities.

Deregulation occurs according to Amadeo (2016) in one of three ways. First, Congress can vote to repeal  a law. Second, an agency can remove the regulation, usually under an Executive Order. Third, the agency can simply stop enforcing the regulation.


  • Allows more innovation from small, niche players.
  • Allows the free market to set prices. Often prices drop as a result.
  • Businesses in regulated industries controlled their agencies and created monopolies.


  • Allows asset bubbles to build and burst, creating crises and recessions.
  • Prevents industries with huge initial infrastructure costs, like electricity and cable, to get started.

Deregulation did not start with education. Rather, it started with decreasing government of industries with a view to creating more competitive markets that provide services at lower costs to consumers.

Deregulation of Education in Nigeria

Deregulation of education means breaking the government’s monopoly of the provision and management of education by giving free hands to private participation in the provision and management of education in the country (Ajayi and Ekundayo 2008). Deregulation of education according to Olatunbosun (2005) is the sale of knowledge to the highest bidder, which has the effect of lowering standards for the attraction of customers. As a deregulated sector, education will become a private enterprise undertaken by private individuals or corporate bodies that hope to maximize profit from their investment in education.

Deregulation of university education in Nigeria is a recent past. Over the years, the struggle between proponents of regulation and proponents of no government intervention raged, until the emergence of Olusegun Obasanjo as President in 1999. The government issued licenses to private and corporate bodies to establish universities to complement governmental efforts at providing university education to the masses.

There were a lot of reasons and factors that made the federal government to deregulate the education sector. This study identified population explosion as a major factor. For instance, in 1960, Nigeria had a population of 45.148.000 (approximately 45.2 million people) with only two universities (Ibadan and Nsukka) with a total of 1,399 students. In 1961, the number rose to 2406. In 1962/63 academic session, the total university enrolment stood at 3,646. This increased rapidly to 8,888 in 1966/67 section but suffered a reduction during the Nigerian civil war between 1967 and 1970. The set-back was temporary as enrolment doubled every four or five years during the period 1970 and 1985 (Ogunu, 1990). The population of Nigeria rose to 140 million in 2006 and was estimated to be 182.2 million in 2015. With this population explosion, the government alone would not have been able to provide the facilities that will provide university education to the masses. We now look at other reasons for the deregulation of university education in Nigeria.


Reasons for the Deregulation of University Education

Ajayi  and  Ekundayo  (2008)  gave  the  following  as  reasons  for  the  deregulation  of university education in Nigeria:

  1. Increase access to university education: Following the perennially acute shortage of places in the public universities and the need to increase the number of enrolments, private hands are called upon to create opportunities for the teeming number of youth seeking tertiary education. According to Oyebade (2005), the license given to private investors in university education is meant to address the problem of excessive demand over supply. Although, access is in this case provided for those who can afford the high fees charged.
  2. Address the problem of scarce educational resources: Akangbou (1992) asserts that national education systems have always seemed to be tied to a life  of crisis. Most universities  in  the  country have  consistently inadequate  resources,  which  invariably affects the quality of output they produce. Besides, as Utulu (2001) points out, another factor that accounts for the decline in the quality of university output in Nigeria is lack of physical   facilities.   The   universities   in   Nigeria   operate   in   adverse   conditions; overcrowding and deteriorating physical facilities, lack of library books, educational materials and so on. Addressing this problem calls for the involvement of the private sector.
  3. Raise alternative ways of funding the university: Apart from the poor quality of graduates, as a result of poor physical facilities, another reason for the involvement of private hands is in the provision and maintenance of university is the under-funding of the education sector. Over the years, this problem has been generating a lot of strife between ASUU  and  the  government.  However,  the  presence  of  private  hands  in university education is considered an alternative means of funding university education in the country.
  4. Improve the quality of university education: The government is of the view that the growth of private universities in the country will allow for competition between the public and the private universities, in terms of instructional delivery and other activities put in place to produce quality graduates for the economy. Competition brings improved quality of educational inputs and outputs (Ibadin, Shofoyeke and Ilusanya, 2005).
  5. Enhances efficiency: Ibibia (2003, in Akinwumi, et al 2005) posits that pro-university deregulatory schools of thought opine that deregulating the system will enhance efficiency. According to the author, with more players in the university system, there would be more rational and efficient allocation of resources in the short term. The long- term effect  is  to  stabilize  the  cost  of  operation, with  an  attendant increase  in,  and improved quality of production.
  6. Align with practices in other parts of the world: It has been observed that in the more advanced countries of the world, both private and public sectors of the economy are involved in the provision and management of university education, and Nigeria cannot be an exemption – hence the need for private involvement in the provision and management of university education in Nigeria.
  7. Irregular academic calendar: The varying crises in the university sector, which had been paralyzing the academic calendars over the years, constitute a source of worry to the stakeholders in the  sector.  However,  there  is  need  for  the  establishment of  private universities, which are less prone to disruption in their academic calendars.


Problems of the Deregulation of University Education in Nigeria

Again, Ajayi and Ekundayo (2008) observed that despite the immense benefits of private involvement in university education, they are often criticized on various grounds, among which are:

  1. Private universities are profit-making ventures: Private universities have been criticized on the basis that they are profit-making ventures. According to Etuk (2005), private universities charge high fees. However, not many Nigerians can afford to pay these fees.
  2. It widens the social gap: It has often been said that the deregulation of the university system will bring about greater inequality and widen the existing gap between the ‘haves and the ‘have nots’.
  1. Quality may be sacrificed for profit: The private universities have again been criticized because,  potentially,  they  may  not  produce  the  expected  quality  of education, as the proprietors are business owners who want big returns on their investment. Hence, cost and returns-recovery may jeopardize quality.

Diversity and Quality Assurance in our Universities

Diversity is a concept that can be viewed in different ways. According to Opara and Onoja (2012), diversity is looked at in terms of the commitment to recognize and appreciate the variety of features that make individuals unique in an atmosphere that promotes and celebrates individual and collective achievement. Access to higher education through private universities and public universities enable the student populations become increasingly diverse in terms of their academic pursuit, capacities, motivation and interest. Private universities complement or provide diversity, particularly in terms of competition they offer. Private universities, like all other universities in the country, provide diversity in terms of faculties, student population and recruitment.

Diversity is very critical to the sustenance of university education. This is because it brings a lot of interactions in and out of class, learning and living among students from various racial, ethnic, cultural, geographic, socioeconomic, linguistic, and religious backgrounds, with wide array of academic, extracurricular, and social interest. This has a multiplier effects because it does not only benefit the students but the university as a whole. Students’ exposure to diverse views and individuals provide them with greater personal development and challenges, broadening their perspectives and increasing their knowledge of the world (Opara and Onoja, 2012).

Quality assurance on the hand is  a  method of  ensuring quality in  the provision of university education. Ebong and Efue (2005) posit that it is a holistic term that is directed towards education as an entity, while Enaohwo (2003) observes that the concept of quality assurance in education system can be looked at from two angles, viz: the internal perspective (within the system) and the external measures (checks and balances by the regulatory agencies). Private and public universities in Nigeria must be seen to vigorously pursue excellent academic credentials, provide safe, supportive environments, academic rigour and success, outstanding facilities and excellent learning resources in order to be able to compete favourably with other universities in the world.

For quality assurance to be maintained, a lot of measures have to be put in place to ensure that the products of Nigerian universities especially the private universities conform to societal needs. The National Universities Commission (NUC) as a regulatory agency of the universities has vital role to play in ensuring that the standards laid down are strictly adhered to, since deregulation only confers ownership on the private education provider, the Federal Government is still in control of university system. For quality assurance to be maintained in our private universities, the following strategies must be in place according to Ajayi and Ekundayo (2008):

  • Availability of adequate and modern facilities;
  • Adequate funding;
  • Appraisal of educational programmes;
  • Quality teaching personnel;
  • Prevention of the establishment of illegal campus; and
  • Proper monitoring.


Conclusion and Recommendations

In this paper, we have accessed and evaluated the development of university education in Nigeria since 1960 till this present era of deregulation, and its impact on academic and students’ diversity. Nigeria’s population is  fastly increasing and university education is  also in  high demand now. Allowing private and corporate bodies to participate will increase the rate of intellectual  collision  and  help  stabilize  the  academic  calendar  that  is  usually disrupted  by incessant ASUU strike in Nigeria.

To ensure that private universities contribute meaningfully to university education, the government must stick to the minimum standard set for the would-be proprietors. This will guide against the establishment of sub-standard universities. It is therefore, recommended that the Ministry of Education should strengthen existing public universities alongside the private ones through adequate funding, capacity building and provision of infrastructure to enable them cope with the current reality (Opara and Onoja, 2012).  If the federal and state governments can invest heavily on university education in Nigeria, then, our universities can take advantage of the on- going academic globalization to improve to international standard.

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