On Tuesday, January 26, 2021, Deltans woke with the news about the establishment of three new universities in the State.

Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, in a letter sent to the Delta State House of Assembly sought the approval of the House to upgrade three existing tertiary institutions in the State into full fledged universities.

The Bill seeks to upgrade the Anwai Campus of the Delta State University into Delta State University of Science and Agriculture, Anwai-Asaba; Delta State College of Education, Agbor, into Delta State University of Education and Delta State Polytechnic, Ozoro, into Delta State University of Science and Technology, Ozoro.

Reading the introductory letter that accompanied the Bill, the Speaker of the House of Assembly, Chief Sheriff Oborevwori, explained that the move was necessitated by the rising population of Deltans jostling for space in the few existing universities.

He stated that the decision also aligned with the Federal Government’s resolve to upgrade technical education in the country by having degree-awarding institutions in these areas.

The governor requested the House to expeditiously approve the Bills to enable the State Government commence academic activities in the institutions in the 2021/2022 academic session.

The news of the establishment of the new universities instantaneously elicited joy as Deltans welcomed it as worthwhile and progressive. It also sparked criticisms, especially in sections of the Urhobo speaking part of the state, which claims being marginalised in the distribution of the new universities.

However, a cursory look at the distribution of tertiary institutions in the State proves glaringly otherwise. For clarity, Delta Central Senatorial district is host to majority of the higher institutions in the State – Federal University of Petroleum Resources, Effurun; Petroleum Training Institute, Effurun; Delta State University, Abraka; Western Delta University, Oghara (private); Michael and Cecilia Ibru University, Agbara-Otor (private); School of Midwifery, Sapele; School of Nursing, Eku; Delta State Polytechnic, Otefe-Oghara; Delta State University Teaching Hospital, Oghara; College of Education, Mosogar and College of Health Technology, Ofuoma.

Delta North has Delta State Polytechnic, Ogwashi-Uku; a campus of Delta State University at Anwai; Federal College of Education (Technical), Asaba; College of Education, Agbor; School of Midwifery, Asaba; School of Nursing, Agbor and Novena University, Amai (private).

Delta South is home to School of Marine Technology, Burutu; Maritime University, Okerenkoko; Edwin Clark University, Kiagbodo (private) and Delta State University, Oleh campus.

Considering the above, the only presence of university in Delta North and Delta South is the campuses of the state university at Anwai and Oleh and one private university in each of the two areas. Ownership of private university is, of course, beyond the reach of regular salary earners. It suffices to state therefore, that Governor Okowa was right to have submitted the Bill for new State universities in these senatorial districts to provide youths more opportunities to acquire university education at affordable rates.

The fact that a total of 1.9 million candidates sat for Joint Admissions and Matriculations Board (JAMB)’s University Matriculation Examination (UME) in 2020, but available space in our already overwhelmed universities could only accommodate 26 per cent of these candidates regardless of their performance, reinforces the truth.

According to the JAMB report for 2018, a total of 80,131 Deltans representing 4.85 per cent of admission seekers nationwide sat for the above mentioned examination while 26 per cent were offered admission because of inadequate entry space. Therefore, the reaction of the Delta State Government, swift and reassuring, best assuages the development.

Justifying the state government’s action, Commissioner for Higher Education, Professor Patrick Muoboghare, said the decision to upgrade three existing tertiary institutions to universities was to bridge the gap in the educational needs of the State, eliminate wasteful expenditure and expand admission spaces for Deltans seeking university education. Muoboghare told journalists at a news conference in Asaba that the state government was spending N458 million on 1,895 staff for 2,888 National Certificate of Education (NCE) students in the state’s three Colleges of Education as emoluments.

He stated that students, enamoured with the fancy of university degrees, had since lost interest in NCE programmes, which accounted for their low number in the colleges, adding that with no fewer than 500 public secondary schools and more than that number of private secondary schools in the state, turning out Senior Secondary (SS3) graduates every year, the number of students seeking university admission annually, had hit all-time high.

According to him, keeping brilliant children on the waiting list for university admission for too long is a recipe for indolence and crime.

“For the 2019/2020 admission, 25,896 candidates chose Delta State University, Abraka, as first choice. Out of this number, 22,358 qualified, applied for and wrote the post-UTME examination; only 4,854 could find space after the admissions, leaving the remaining 21,042 candidates stranded and almost hopeless.

“We need to provide for these qualified and ambitious children and this we are doing through the establishment of new universities by upgrading three existing tertiary institutions,” Muoboghare explained.

He said that the state government intended to commence academic activities in the new schools in the 2021/2022 academic session once the State Assembly passed the Bill establishing them, and insisted that it would make for efficient, effective and qualitative delivery of service and funds management.

The commissioner noted that upgrading the institutions would provide opportunities for qualified Delta State youths seeking university admission who were edged out due to the quota system and limited available spaces.

On funding, he said “no government in the world can fund education 100 per cent, but the state government’s policy is aimed at making the institutions self-sustaining.

“The State government currently funds the monthly wage bills of N457.5 million for the three colleges of education at Agbor, Mosogar and Warri, with a total staff strength of 1,895 and student population of only 2,888, while the monthly wage bill for the three polytechnics in the State: Ozoro, Ogwashi-Uku and Oghara was N342.2 million.

“The Federal Government, by a deliberate policy, is phasing out HND programmes from its institutions, meaning that the three polytechnics and the School of Marine Technology in Burutu, will be left with the production of only graduates of ND programmes.

“We decided that one of the polytechnics be upgraded to university to absorb those who will graduate from the polytechnics, since HND is gradually being phased out.

“We have three Colleges of Education established for the NCE programme. Each of the institutions can accommodate 5,000 students but the facts point to the situation where it is obvious that our children are no longer interested in NCE programmes. We decided to upgrade one of the colleges of education to university to absorb those from the other two NCE-awarding institutions.’’

Commissioner for Information, Mr. Charles Aniagwu, who was with his Higher Education counterpart, said that the move by the government was to position the State on the part of continuous development and place it on a pedestal where it becomes not only comparatively competitive but also towers above other States in terms of growth towards improving human capital development.

Aniagwu said that the universities would offer opportunities to the people of the State and other Nigerians seeking university education, adding that the government, society and individuals had a role to play in funding education.

A journalist and publisher of Advocate Newspapers, Mr Shedrack Onitsha, said that nobody was against the upgrade but wondered how the new schools would be funded considering government’s complaints of inadequate finances.

For Anthony Ukpagba, a Deltan from Olomoro in Isoko South Local Government Area, the upgrade is justified because people had also lost interest in pursuing polytechnic education. He argued that university degree were rated higher than polytechnics and colleges of education certificates,“ whereas the amount of money spent in acquiring a university degree is the same amount of money you will spend in acquiring a Higher National Diploma.

According to him, those castigating Okowa will realise the importance of the schools upgrade in no distant time.

Jesutega Onokpasa, a lawyer, said Okowa was right in upgrading the three institutions.

“As for statewide equity in the distribution of tertiary institutions, the insinuation that Governor Okowa, via the proposed upgrade, seeks to unduly favour Delta North is unfounded. The State’s current university is mainly domiciled in Abraka in Delta Central senatorial district.

“The Federal university – Federal University of Petroleum Resources – is in Effurun also in Delta Central where the Petroleum Training Institute, PTI, is also domiciled. The State’s other Federal university is at Okerenkoko in Delta South which is the same senatorial district hosting one of the institutions to be upgraded, the Polytechnic in Ozoro. With the upgrades, Delta Central will have two universities, one Federal and one State; Delta South will similarly have two, one Federal and one State and Delta North will equally have two, although both of them will be State-owned, which arguably is not as high profiled as what obtains in the other two senatorial districts. If equity is mistaken for sectionalism, we should be addressing ourselves to more cogent issues.” Onokpasa said.

The diverse viewpoints obviously weigh heavily in favour of the upgrade. It is obvious that in spite of the challenges in the education sector, the State government, under the leadership of Senator Ifeanyi Okowa, has demonstrated an uncommon resolve to reposition the sector. The Okowa administration apparently through prudent allocation of scarce resources, which each sub sector competes for, put adequate modalities in place to boost the education sector, with the upgrade of three institutions into full fledged universities given the decline in the search for College of Education certificates and impeding downgrading of polytechnics to the award of ND certificates only.

A sure ascendancy to the elimination of wastes and creation of more admission spaces for the teeming number of Deltans and Nigerians seeking university education.

Going forward, Delta is on the threshold of achieving what many States of the Federation are yearning for, a workable and practical school system built on professional and sound ethical best practices.

There is the optimism that adequate provision would be made for development of the universities and employment of more qualified teachers for the universities when the take-off comes during the 2021/2022 academic session.

This is an upgrade worth supporting by all Deltans as it boldly signals sustainable development and a legacy of fulfilment for people in love with education.