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The Dilemma of Post-Colonial Universities

Yann Lebeau
Mobolaji Ogunsanya

IV. Towards a Restructuring of Higher Education

Privatization and Public Morality: Professional Ethics and the Privatization of Tertiary

Education in Nigeria

Kolawole A. Owolabi

Texte intégral


1It is axiomatic that a strong reciprocal relationship exists between a nation's economy and its educational system. The reciprocity of this relationship has been driven home by the on-going development crisis and the attendant problems in the educational sector of sub-Saharan Africa. These economy crises have affected the educational system in a significant way, and this is most evident in the area of financing. The prevailing debt crisis in the continent, and the attendant structure] adjustment programmed (SAP) prescribed for its alienation, have resulted in serious shortfalls in educational financing. Coupled with this, the deregulation policy, which is a significant aspect of SAP, has also discouraged the state from financing education and other social services. The withdrawal of state support to these sectors encouraged the phenomenon of privatization.

2Privatization, which is the process of allowing institutions other than the state to perform functions hitherto reserved for it, is a common feature of most African societies today. It is a manifestation of the success of neo-liberal ideology as a result of the decline in the effectiveness of socialist ideology. Privatization in relation to the educational system refers both to the situation where state government-owned institutions rely on finance from private institutions for their survival; and also to the policy of encouraging private groups to establish and manage educational institutions due to the fact that the state can no more effectively perform this role. The essence of this present study is to investigate the implication of privatization on education.

Objectives of the study

  • 1 'L.M. Brown 1985. Justice, Morality and Education. The Macmillan Press, London

3The precise objective of this work is to see whether or not privatization of education will lead to the neglect of public morality, professional ethics and social values in general, given the fact that the purpose of education is to develop the individual's potential in such a way as to make them compatible with social values1. The study seeks to investigate the implication of the management and finance of education with respect to the 'professional ethics' guiding the practice of education in particular and the entire public morality guiding ail individuals within the society in general. The questions that will guide our investigation in this study can be summarized thus:

  1. Given the fact that education is the means by which a society sustains its overall values and inculcates those norms into new generations; can a society afford to confer the management of its education to private individuals and groups without compromising its overall value - system and the public morality that ought to guide the relationship between members of that society?

  2. Given the fact that private institutions will have interests that can be less altruistic, what will be the implication for the society? Given that profit maximization is the fundamental goal of private institutions; will this not be detrimental to the promotion of professional ethics? How can private institutions continue the enterprise of funding education and maximizing their profit, without affecting the professional ethics that ought to guide the relationship between teacher and student?

  3. Finally, what are the necessary policy measures to be put in place such that privatization of education will not compromise professional ethics, public morality and societal norms that education ought to promote, in the first instance?

Methodological clarification

4As indicated earlier, this study intends to verify the hypothesis that privatization of education will lead to the neglect of public morality, professional ethics and the quality of knowledge disseminated in educational institutions. To achieve our aim, we have decided to focus on the polytechnic system. This is because virtually all studies on post-secondary education in Africa have been centered on universities, to the neglect of data and information from the polytechnic sector of educational system.

5The data and information employed for this present study were collected from two polytechnics: (i.) the Federal Polytechnic, Liar; and (ii.) Lagos City Polytechnic. The Federal Polytechnic, Hero, is a state-owned institution, with support from private individuals in the form of school fees and other forms of financial encouragement; Lagos City Polytechnic is a private polytechnic in Nigeria, it was established by a private individual with all its financial sponsorship from the proprietor. The curriculum and operation of Lagos City Polytechnic are similar to government-run polytechnics and follow the guidelines established by the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE) — a body established by the Federal Government of Nigeria to moderate and control the curriculum, financing and development of polytechnic education in the country.

6This present study adopts the interview and observation method. Our interviews were carried out with the students, members of staff and members of the management team of the institutions. We deliberately decided to employ the interview method rather than the distribution of questionnaires because we believe that personal interview will be less formal and, thereby, allow for the revelation of candid facts and information.

7We need to clarify a serious objection that can be raised about our methodology, on the question of whether facts collected from two institutions will be adequate to conclude on the nature of ethics and public morality promoted by post-secondary institutions. The answer is that, though our data may be limited for arriving at the conclusion on the entire country, the objective and criticism will be a general one that should be directed at the inductive methodology in general. Any attempt to interpret general matters on the basis of limited data cannot be foolproof.

Professional ethics, public morality and privatization of education: A theoretical Framework

8Two areas of study are of interest to us in the present discourse. They are the 'ethics of education' and the 'economies of education'. The first, 'ethics of education', seeks to investigate the marker TN which the process of education is carried out, whether due attention is paid to the common good of all the people involved. On the other hand, the 'economies of education' is that area of study that seeks to investigate economy issues involved in education such as financing, management and investment in education. While practitioners of the latter study have persistently subjected education to the laws of economies and conceive investment in education as a matter of cost-benefit' analysis, defenders of the ethics of education have insisted that education is a sui generis, and so ought not be subjected to the laws of economies. Rather, education, according to the advocates of the ethics of education', should be concerned with the issue of whether or not education can promote public morality, and by this, help sustain social order. To them the purpose of education is essentially to inculcate in the individual the training, discipline and knowledge that will help him to survive in the social set-up of the larger society.

9The prevalent privatization of education in Africa is a response to the argument of the liberal tradition in the economies of education', whose position is that rational investment in education demands that the private sector should control its operation. The belief that the educational market, like any other market, should be responsive to forces of economies, and the attendant assumption that private institutions rather than public ones can effectively invest in education without compromising their moral or financial foundations inform the present policy of privatization of education in Africa.

  • 2 Van der Hoeven and Sziracki, eds.1977. Lessons of Privatization. London issues on developing and tr (...)
  • 3 D.A. Cracker 1991. Towards a development ethic. World Development 19 (5).

10Privatization of education as a product of liberal economy ideology has been adopted for two reasons as an omnibus policy which could reduce the budget deficit by foregoing subsidies to public enterprises'2, and to improve on the quality of services rendered by the public institutions. These two arguments alluded to by the mainstream liberal scholars have been severely criticized. The neo-radical scholars question the oversimplification of the educational investment and financing debate, by the liberal scholars. To the neo-radical school, the educational system of any society is too strategies and sensitive to be left to the forces of demand and supply. Indeed, a whole body of literature3 is now emerging that questions the belief that development, which is defined merely as economy growth, should be attained at the expense of other values and ethos. The neo-radical scholars are presently conceiving development not just in terms of economy growth. Increases in productivity and financial stability, but in a holistic manner that will include other non-material values. The scholars particularly posit that in every form of economy investment, the ethical dimension should always be considered. In the same vein, they warn that care should be taken such that values are not treated as they often are in the literature on economy development, 'as purely instrumental objects in promoting development'. The argument can be raised therefore, whether a cost-benefit analysis is adequate to justify the trend toward privatization of education in Africa. Should we not consider moral and strategies factors before deciding to confer the management of our educational system on private individuals and institutions? If the argument for privatization is that only private individuals can effectively see investment in education as one that should generate profits, how then can we sustain the quality and moral standard of this type of education controlled by private hands?

  • 4 Brown, op cit.
  • 5 Ibid, 3.
  • 6 Ibid, 34.

11Education, by its very nature, is an instrument of promoting public morality and has a very strong affinity and linkage to ethics. This strong relationship between the educational system and the body of moral values of a society has been poignantly established by L. M. Brown in his book: Justice Morality and Education: A new focus in ethics in éducation4 in this book Brown affirms that education develops the individual's potential consistent with social values.5 He further defines morality as 'a practical consideration of others' interests.6 These definitions of education and morality clearly indicate that both concepts buttress the social and public role of education. This is the central issue: if education seeks to make the individual adhere to the public ethos, and ethics is a way of making individuals altruistic and considerate of the interests of the public rather than the private is the process of privatizing education not of contradicting the essence of the two ideas? Putting it in another form: How can private individuals manage the financing of education in a way that will promote the interests of all, given the fact that the essence of private organizations in any act of investments to defend their self-interests in the forms of profit maximization?

12While the first ethical poser is whether the private management of education will not defeat the purpose of public morality, the second challenge is the issue of professional ethics. We need to ask whether the desire for credit maximization will cause professionals in the field of education to jettison their responsibilities and rather commit themselves to the struggle for profit maximization. How far, and to what extent, has the phenomenon of privatization of education affected post-secondary education in Nigeria today?

Privatization of education: The Nigerian experience

13The idea of private individuals and institutions managing and financing education is not new to Nigeria. Indeed the history of modern/Western education indicates that this form of education was introduced to Nigerian society by Christian missionaries. The first attempt by the state to intervene in educational matters was in 1877, when the Lagos administration provided a supporting grant to the missionaries. Although mission education and public education grew side by side in Nigeria, the government fully took over took over ail the mission schools in the seventies, and reduced the participation of private institutions in the business of education.

14It can be said that the level of the state's involvement in education was determined by the financial standing of the state at every point in time. The oil boom and prosperity of the early seventies made the government to embark on policies that actively or passively prevented private individuals from opening schools. Backed by enabling decrees, the different rungs of government took up the burden of financing education at every level. This financial support took divergent forms such as the outright establishment of schools, subvention and subsidies to institutions, the award of bursaries and scholarships to students, and so many other ways of shifting the cost of education from the private to the public. Virtually all privately established post-primary institutions were taken over by the government, with some governments embarking on the Universal Primary Education (UPE) policy.

15The economy depression of the late eighties, however, forced government to shift gear once again, and the state was formed to encourage private entrepreneurs to invest in education. The rate at which private institutions became involved in education has greatly increased since then.

16The policy of structural adjustment emphasized the reduction of public finance, and the Nigerian government of the post-1980s responded by encouraging private sponsorship of education at various levels. Although stringent measures are still in place to control the participation of the private sector in post-secondary education, the economy crisis and the weakness of the state to affect strict control, have been exploited by the private sector, so much so, that there is a boom in the business of education at the post-secondary level in Nigeria.

  • 7 Newswatch (3 November 1997).

17All over Nigeria today; there are numerous private post-secondary institutions, with virtually 90 per cent of them illegally constituted. Newswatch magazine reported that a number of religious institutions in Nigeria have established post-secondary institutions affiliated to universities and institutions outside the country.7

18According to this report, these institutions have been awarding all kinds of degrees to their students. The proliferation of the educational space of Nigeria by these legal and quasi-legal institutions is presently generating concern. The facts on the ground reveal, however, that these institutions have emerged to cater to the huge number of young people who desire higher education, a role which the state alone can no longer provide.

19The need for more financial support than it is presently receiving from government has caused public institutions to resort to charging various fees to generate more revenue (e.g. utility fees, development levies, caution fees, educational material levies, etc.) The average public institution in Nigeria has to resort to placing a levy on the students, in order to make ends meet. Education has, therefore, become a sort of merchandise advertised for ail. In this respect, virtually all the various public institutions of higher learning in Nigeria have satellite schools throughout the country, particularly in the urban areas. These satellite campuses are supposed to attract part-time students who are willing to pay exorbitant fees in order to be qualified and receive certificates.

20A serious question arises from this: Won't this quest for education at any cost compromise the quality of education disseminated, the professional relationship between the teachers, proprietors and students, and the entire public morality, that any form of education is supposed to uphold, either directly or indirectly? The answer is yes, to the extent that the overall educational system in Nigeria has been affected by this attempt at survival, so much so that the quality of education is being compromised in one form or the other. Newswatch magazine that focused on the educational crisis (cited earlier in this paper), observed that the private institutions, in their bid to attract students and finance, are prepared to compromise ail the conventional means of maintaining standards and a good quality of education.

21We will now proceed to examine how privatization of education has affected the moral standards in post-secondary education in Nigeria. This implies that we will look at, among other things, the quality of educational materials and ideas disseminated by post-secondary institutions in Nigeria during this period of overwhelming privatization. It also seeks to analyze the moral relationship that exists between teachers and proprietors on the one hand, and the students and their parents on the other; in addition, it reflects on whether proprietors still give serious consideration to the interests of their students. Finally, and most important, the research seeks to know whether or not the phenomenon of privatization of education has affected the social morality of the larger society as a result of the pressing need for financial stability by the educational institutions.

22Our research method employed the interview technique and focused on two institutions: Federal Polytechnic Liar and Lagos City Polytechnic. Federal Polytechnic, Hero was established in 1979 by the Federal Government of Nigeria. And like ail federal institutions, it relies on the federal government for its financial base and receives its subventions through the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE). The institution, like all other federal institutions, dams to be tuition-free, but the reality reveals that an average student spends up to 20,000 naira each semester on transportation, boarding, educational materials, books and ail other forms of formal and informal financial demands which need to be met before the student can benefit maximally from the system and cope with its academia demands.

23Lagos City Polytechnic was established in 1995, and was the first private polytechnic in the country. It set up by private individuals with students paying specified formal fees. Lagos City Polytechnic, unlike government institutions, is realistic about the need for students to pay tuition fees. It does not concern itself with boarding, transportation, etc. The institution has strict rules and regulations forbidding the sale of educational materials by the teachers to their students. It therefore fully relies on the tuition paid by the students for its day to day financial commitments. Comparatively, the students of this institution demonstrate a higher level of confidence in their school than students attending public institutions.

24The present research revealed, among other things, that the crisis of morality within the educational system of Nigeria occurs not necessarily because of the privatization of educational management and financing, but mainly because the federal government lacks the courage to fully privatize and would rather pretend to provide 'tuition-free' education. The collapse of ethical relationships between teachers and students, and between proprietors and their clients, occurs not because those who operate within the system are morally bankrupt, but because the state which controls the system remains unrealistic and unmindful of the particular interests of the professionals within the system. The failure of the privatization project in Nigeria, as it is in other African countries, is the failure of the state. The weakness of the state to affect realistic and effective policies that will promote privatization is responsible for the moral crisis that we are presently witnessing in our educational system.

25Our research reveals that this crisis is endemic at public institutions, while it remains minimal within the private sector of the educational system. The public institution that we examined confirmed that the federal government claims that the institution is tuition-free, however, no provision is made for ail the materials the students need to receive a qualitative education. This gives room for professional misconduct. What is more, can the federal government expect teachers who are poorly paid not to take advantage of their enormous power by coercing students to purchase educational materials?

26The point we are making is that the breakdown of professional ethics at the public institution under focus (which is acknowledged by virtually all of the respondents, including the professionals themselves), is a product of three factors, namely: The lack of necessary educational materials that ought to be purchased from the tuition fees of the students; the poor salaries received by the professionals; the absence of clearly defined codes of conduct and modes of discipline for erring professionals. Ail the three factors identified can be subsumed under a major factor: the weakness of the state. But the state's weakness is due to its willingness to operate where it cannot. The simple way out of this dilemma is for the institutions to receive autonomy so as to be able to effectively control the code of operations of their teachers.

27The explanation for the moral decadence in the educational system is further supported by the result we received from our research within the private institution. The initial assumption that qualitative education and ethics of education will be more easily compromised at the privatized institution than at the public institution appears arguable. Rather, we discovered that the institution under focus, due to the strict control it receives from the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE), has strove to maintain its credibility and ethics. Our research revealed that the various 'illegal' charges, such as payment for educational materials, are not encouraged in the private institutions. The Lagos City Polytechnic is serious about maintaining quality and professional ethics in its teaching staff. This stands in contrast to the laissez faire attitude that characterizes the dissemination of education at the public institutions.

28What are the ethical challenges raised by the privatization of post-secondary institutions in Nigeria? Evidence from this present research reveals that:

  1. Contrary to the expectation that the quality and standard of education in private institutions will not be consistently good is false, indeed, the reverse is the case. The strict control that the monitoring agencies have over the private institutions, such as NBTE, ensures that they do not derail. On the other hand, it is the public institutions whose survival is gradually being threatened by poor finance. As a result they resort to all kinds of certificate programmers and non-degree courses which undermine the standard and quality of education.

  2. The quest for private finance by the public institutions in order to survive has also raised the question of professional ethics. The poor remuneration of the professional in this sector has seriously lied to the degeneration of professional morality. This problem is minimal, however, at private institutions because of better remuneration and the stricter control that the management has on the staff in these institutions. The breakdown of professional ethics in public institutions and the flagrant disregard for the interests of the students have become the rule rather than the exception. On the other hand, the issue of professional ethics implies professional dignity. The various indignities suffered by the teaching professional at these public institutions and the way the profession is perceived by the larger society has put the issue of professional ethics within the educational sector in jeopardy. After all, it is a basic principle of ethics that a moral agent can only recognize and respect the interests of others if, and only if, his own interests are being respected.

  3. What is the implication of the privatization of education, for public morality? Evidence from this research reveals that in privatizing the educational system, and by commercializing and deregulating the educational sector, the government is sending the signal that material values ought to be primary and more important than the dissemination of ideas. Our research reveals clearly that education which ought to be the mode of disseminating and sustaining public morality, has become an avenue of promoting negative values. Students and professionals regard education as a means rather than an end. Credentials are therefore acquired, not because of the ideas and knowledge they symbolize, but because of the material gains they can generate. Public morality, as the attitude of believing, and defending the interest of the whole as against the interest of the individual, cannot be sustained within the prevailing situation. Evidence from the present research confines that the privatization of education is a significant factor in the current decline in public morality. In the quest for material upliftment by the professionals whose interests are being compromised daily by the state, and with the privatized institutions ultimately defending their personal interests rather than those of the public, education in Nigeria and indeed throughout Africa has lost its primary function as a means of promoting public morality.


29The present research has revealed that privatization of education does not necessarily lead to the demise of educational standards. Why then do we have this strong correlation between the phenomenon of privatization of post-secondary education and the decline in ethics of education? Why is it that the more privatized public institutions become, the more they erode professional ethics and public morality? The answer we have arrived at, based on evidence from this present research is that privatization, in contemporary Nigeria, gives room for gross abuse and flagrant disrespect of the code of ethics that ought to guide the dissemination of education. The fact that state institutions, more than private ones, manifest more visible moral decadence indicates that the pretension of the state in not declaring its inability to fund the educational system gives room for serious abuse by the professionals whose interests have been seriously jeopardized by the system.

30The entire system of education in relation to the privatization project needs to be revisited. The state ought to seize the bull by the horn and recognize its incapability to maintain and finance these public institutions. The failure of the state in this respect dictates that if the state cannot hand over majority of the schools under their control, autonomy and significant independence should be allowed other institutions. This autonomy is not without prejudice to the type of control that the state ought to give, in order to make these institutions live up to their names as custodians of public ethics.

31Privatization of education, without any doubt, is a necessary policy that becomes inevitable within the prevailing economy crisis being witnessed by African countries. But privatization as it is being operated cannot but lead to moral crisis within the educational system. It is suggested, therefore, that the state should allow the various institutions under its control to initiate means of generating funds; while the state remains an instrument of control and quality assessment. What should be of utmost interest to the government should not be the raising of finance to fund these institutions, but rather the setting up of well-defined rules, regulations and a code of ethics that will guide these activities. It is only when the state becomes realistic, that we can witness a return to the traditional essence of education as a mode of sustaining public ethics in Nigeria.


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1 'L.M. Brown 1985. Justice, Morality and Education. The Macmillan Press, London

2 Van der Hoeven and Sziracki, eds.1977. Lessons of Privatization. London issues on developing and transitional countries. International Labour Organization, Geneva.

3 D.A. Cracker 1991. Towards a development ethic. World Development 19 (5).

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© IFRA-Nigeria, 2000

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