Friday, June 1, 2007

The Afro Beat takes on Nigerian Universities

Following up Kome's comment on the "Who Needs an Education" post last week and given that the state of tertiary education in Nigeria is a topic we're particularly interested in, we thought it would be nice to discuss this further (you can vote on this through your participation in this discussion but we hope you deem it a worthy cause too). In case you weren't convinced by the afore-mentioned post, we thought this Guardian Newspaper article put it in another perspective.

Nigerian universities and world ranking

THE latest worldwide universities' ranking shows that Nigerian universities have dropped out of reckoning because of the poor quality and scope of research conducted by indigenous academics. No Nigerian university featured on the world best 500 universities list. Indeed from the African continent, only the University of Cape Town, South Africa made the list. More embarrassing was the fact that even among the contending universities in Africa, the best Nigerian university was ranked number 44, trailing behind some universities in Kenya, South Africa, and Ghana.

Last year, five Nigerian universities were among the first 100 universities in Africa. This time, only four...their ascribed positions were embarrassing. While OAU came in a distant 44th position, UI, Nigeria's premier was #65, and Uniben #79. Unilag made an embarrassing 90th position. [No other universities featured.]

This should be bad news to the Nigerian government and educationists. It should also be bad news to Nigerian academics who, under the aegis of ASUU, are currently on strike over working conditions. The verdict of the ranking system speaks for itself. If Nigerian universities cannot feature among the best 500 in the world and are ranked from Position 44 downwards in Africa, then there is something fundamentally deficient in the system. What is the quality of research that goes on in the universities? Are there research opportunities and facilities in the universities? If there are, are these research findings published in reputable journals across the world? Does this not re-echo the call of our nation's eggheads that the universities need resuscitation through a massive injection of funds?

Numerous problems beset Nigerian universities. Inadequate funding, lack of commitment, poor or unavailable infrastructure, epileptic power supply, and paucity of funds to attend international conferences are some of the challenges which the average academic has to contend with. In the universities that are well ranked, funds are routinely available for scholars to attend conferences where their findings and contributions to knowledge are presented and discussed. Also, because of the sound quality of research their essays are accepted and published in international reputable journals.

The Nigerian academic is not so lucky. He is entitled to attend international conferences about once in two years. If he must attend other conferences, he is required to look for funding from other sources.

Universities need to be proactive in the areas of management and resource mobilization. Some Vice Chancellors are so parochial that they simply see the position as a reward for many years of service. They then fail to rise to the challenges of the office. Some Governing Councils also fall into the same trap. Endowment funds and donations from wealthy patrons apart from government subvention are other sources of income for universities. For example, it should be possible for corporate organisations to provide seed money, invested in bonds, securities and real property in form of endowments on behalf of the universities. This was part of the intention behind the Education Tax Fund. Sadly, this has become another bureaucratic waste pipe.

The world ranking of Nigerian universities ought to be a wake-up call to all stakeholders, including the State and Federal Ministries of Education, the National Universities Commission (NUC) and the universities.

So how can we solve the problem? I know this is highly hypothetical, seeing as the first thing that needs to be done is a due diligence on the state of Nigerian tertiary education. But given what we know, what are some practical steps that you would recommend be taken by the administrators of these universities, given that they cannot obtain an increase in funds from the FG anytime soon? We're interested in "little ideas" about how (1) we, (2)the universities, and (3)the government, can most efficiently improve Nigeria's universities.


Misan said...

Is it better to pick a few federal universities, pump in more $$ to revamp the facilities, ensure that admin/lecturers are compensated competitively, increase the JAMB entry requirements, so that you're taking in only the brightest students, and know that you have these few "centres of excellence" where the brightest students can still be guaranteed a "World class" education.

Alternatively, is it better to try and tackle the problem slowly, making sure that all universities move/improve at the same pace?

Also, do all the universities need to offer the usual wide variety of courses? Places like FUTO (Fed University of Technology Owerri) specialize in certain subjects. So what about having more universities specialize?

Just some basic ideas i've been thinking about...

Anonymous said...

This potential solution may be a bit far-fetched since Nigeria cannot just seem to stick to its promises but anyway here it is: I think the government should send a few bright students abroad each year on a scholarship which binds them to serving as lecturers at universities back home (after they've completed their studies). Kinda their own "end of the bargain". So in exchange for free world class education, they have to spend a certain amount of time teaching at nigerian universities (say about 5 to 10 yrs compulsary and then they may choose to leave or stay). Of course the government will also have to ensure that the appropriate facilities have been provided and that when these students come back to serve the country, they are appropriately compensated (salary-wise). I think this approach, if abided by strictly, will tackle the problem of the lack of willing and able lecturers who are and should be the backbone of every educational institution. Moreover, the students enter into the bond out of their own free will and would obviously be familiar with the terms and the committments they're making.

Misan said...

welcome anonymous! thanks for your input. I honestly think that's a great idea. Like you said,the individuals who choose to enter these contracts would know the terms and know exactly what they're getting themselves into. And as long as the government held up its side of the agreement, and compensated them well (wherein lies one the big problems - funding), this scheme could just work.

It's really tempting to look to the US model of university funding through alumni donations, and more importantly, setting up endowment funds that cannot be dipped into anyhow (for example, my school uses only 5% of its endowment fund for its operating budgets and the rest has to be raised from alumni funding, grants etc). The $$ in these endowment funds would be invested in the Nigerian stock exchange and would be managed by full-time investors etc. Not only would you be buttressing the economy but you're creating employment opps (few, but still...) as well.

Of course, it would be hard to get pp who graduated from these universities in the last 10 years to feel indebted to their alma maters for the quality of education they received, but there's the previous generations of grateful (& successful) alumni who wouldn't find it difficult to donate a bit, as long as they were convinced of the credibility of the scheme.

ok, enough ranting on my part. more suggestions pls...