Nigeria’s Top 20 Research Universities Emerge; A Comment


Lawrence Obibuaku



The National University Commission [NUC] reported an exercise aimed at ranking Nigerian universities on the basis of the quality of their research output. The report, which appeared in THISDAY of March 3, 2005, listed twenty universities as topmost among the 65 universities in the country. While the Commission is to be congratulated for its effort in assessing the performance of the nation’s universities, the publication left the reader uneasy because it failed to show how the scores compared with those of the universities of the countries of Europe, North America, Asia and South America since it claimed the rating idea and method used came from the 2004 World University Ranking Exercise. Without such comparison the report is meaningless because the Commission may have listed the best among poorly performing universities.


Of greater concern is the fact that the NUC tended to give contradictory and inconsistent pictures of the standing of the universities. THISDAY of March 9, 2005 carried yet another article captioned, “Searchlight on the Quality of Varsities’ Academic Staff,” which was the ranking of the same universities, this time, on the basis of full professors in each university. The ranking, of course, was at variance with the previous one. According to the Commission, the quality of an academic staff was measured by the output in research, teaching and community service. It was assumed that full professorial rank, the pinnacle of   the academic career in a university embodied the best in manifestation of the attributes of quality, and it was on this assumption that the Commission pitched the indicator of quality in the ranking exercise.  


Considering the foregoing principle, the more one looks at the rankings the more confused one becomes. If indeed the quality of an academic staff is measured by the quality of his research output why is there lack of agreement between the score obtained by a university on the quality of its research and one based on the quality of its academic staff? One would have expected that the higher the quality of the staff, the higher the quality of a university’s research output would be .An illustration of the discrepancy is provided by the university of  Jos which ranked second on the quality of staff but did not feature among the top twenty or score  up to ten points .The same thing applies to the University of Nigeria which was listed among the first ten in the quality of staff but could not make the first twenty in the quality of research rating or  to score up to ten points.                                  


The NUC should go further and find out why a large number of the country’s universities scored low on the quality of research although they were heavily loaded with professors. Forty-five out of the 65 universities or over 75 per cent scored less than ten points on a scale not disclosed by the Commission. It is necessary to ascertain whether the long-established principle that an academic staff can only attain the post of a professor by proven evidence of high level scholarship as attested by the quality of his research output as well as tested teaching ability is now violated by Nigerian universities.


When a doctor diagnoses a disease for an individual, the next step is to seek for a remedy. The NUC has found out that all is not well with Nigerian universities.  It should therefore take the next step, namely, to seek remedies, and in this regard a number of steps are suggested. The need for adequate funding has already been hinted The NUC and the Ministry of Education should make sustained effort not only to adequately fund research but education generally. Countries that seek development in real terms devote significant part of their budget to education. The United Nations recommends that 26 per cent of a country’s annual budget be set aside for education sector. Nigeria should take note .The next step is to further empower staff to acquire the latest research information and research tools by contact with renowned research universities and institutions in other parts of the world. Grant of study leave and in-service training programmes should not be seen as a   waste of money or as a luxury. Additionally, the universities should search for and attract the best brains in science and technology from wherever they can be found and offer them inducement pay if necessary.                             


 These observations and suggestions are meant to persuade the NUC to revisit the exercise taking all salient parameters into account and come up with a clearer, objective and coordinated ranking that will assist students and their parents when considering universities to which to seek admission. The purpose of this write-up is to indicate that the exercise undertaken by the NUC is a step in the right direction and of great interest to the nation. The need to stimulate Nigerian universities to be productive and to aspire towards excellence cannot be overemphasized particularly as their role and contribution to society is currently questioned in some quarters.  For example, the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Mr.Olusegun Obasanjo, once declared that Nigerian universities did not contribute to the nation’s development and   for that reason allowed them   to remain closed and rot away for more than six months.


While on this subject, it is important to draw attention to the pillars that support research work. Research takes a lot of effort and demands a great deal of money.  If an academic staff is to research and publish in reputable journals outside the country, he should have the funds and laboratory equipment he needs to do his work. This is the way it is done in both developed and developing countries where scientific and technological advances are taking place .If Nigeria is going to catch up with and get into the main stream of development in the twenty -first century, her universities must be alive to their research responsibilities   because research is essentially the cutting edge of scientific, technological and economic development. The products of science and technology, which Nigerians consume with unbridled avidity, take their root from world-class universities and research institutions. It has therefore become imperative that the country should become a contributor to and participant in the current advances in science and technology. Nigeria has resources both human and material to accomplish this goal. What is lacking is committed, insightful and informed leadership to give teeth to the nation’s potentials.


In addition to a probe into and doing something about the research capabilities of Nigerian universities, NUC should look into the content of courses taught .The educational system adopted in Nigeria has been in vogue from the colonial era .The country’s educational planners and policy makers seem oblivious of the changes going on in the world which call for adjustment in the content and methods of imparting knowledge to students .All the stakeholders in the educational system should stop and ponder whether the anomalies that have lately  besieged the system  at university and sub-university levels are not related to the kind of education  the students are receiving. Is it reasonable to wonder whether the incidence of occultism, shooting of lecturers, membership of armed robbery gangs, arson and frequent absence from classes with which students are reportedly associated in recent times is a protest against an educational system that has become irrelevant to the future aspirations and lives of students? Is it possible that their frustration is aggravated when they notice that the shiny certificates paraded by their predecessors do not attest that they possess marketable skills or know-how that can lead to self-employment in the present day world? Does the system look to them like a broken promise of silver lining at the end of the tunnel that has turned out to be a mirage?      


These questions are compounded by some others that may turn out to be more troubling and may constitute a plug in the wheel of progress now and in the future .One of these is corruption which is reported to have tackled the key players in the educational system. In a broadcast to the nation reported in the Daily Independent Online of March 23,2005,the President told Nigerians that the Minister of Education, his Acting Permanent Secretary, five Directors in his Ministry, the Executive Secretary of NUC, the Chairman and some members of Senate and a member of the House of Representatives were either givers or receivers of the sum of N55 million bribe .He further revealed that a Vice-Chancellor was involved in the same shocking bribery act by providing the sum of N25 million during 2004 budget     


Ordinarily, this kind of news would not have come to Nigerians as a surprise bearing in mind the stories that float around the country and elsewhere about the uncanny financial activities of Nigerian office holders. What makes the just unearthed scandal worrisome is that it strikes at the root of Nigeria’s very existence. Education of the young is the medium through which the culture and values of a people are transmitted and preserved. It is the means through which young people acquire the skills and capabilities that will enable them to survive in the environment in which they find themselves. Education, principally, prepares the young for leadership through the opportunities it offers them for competition and cooperation .One wonders what type of leaders students will make when they watch their Vice-Chancellors, Principals, and other players in the system indulge in acts inimical to the norms of society.                                                               


Nigerians should take note of what is happening to the nation. The Minister of Education is a professor, the Executive Secretary of NUC is a professor, and so is the Vice-Chancellor, all of whom are trapped in the web of corruption. In the past, professors devoted all their time and energy to research, teaching and international conferences where they engaged themselves in intellectual discussions and exchange of ideas.  


They were not rich but they were contented. They loved hard work and showed results both in the quality of their research and that of the graduates they produced. All these have changed and that to the detriment of society. What really went wrong?


The answer to the above question is not far to seek. Money has taken over the front burner in the psyche and aspiration of Nigerian leaders and has become the driving force in every thing they do. Values such as hard work, honesty, integrity, respect for public funds and others, which were previously esteemed, are now replaced by unrestrained love for money, laziness, corruption, lack of accountability and more. Secondly, the country’s lawmakers influence what happens in the country, good or bad. Their life-style, including their display of what money can buy helps to weep up people’s appetite for good things of life even when they cannot afford them. That some legislators were involved in the Ministry of Education’s corruption saga is an illustration of the deep-seated source from which the cankerworm spreads. It is necessary to urge the law-makers to listen to the President when he said, “I want to reiterate my appeal to the National Assembly to be moderate and cautious about what it puts in the budget for its own remuneration and upkeep which has tendency to encourage corruption and lack of accountability.” The salaries and retirement benefits, which the legislators awarded to themselves in the past, had no parallel to the condition of service at any level in the public service.  Perhaps the Nigerian government can take a cue from the government of Great Britain. In the year 2004 that government, noting the inflationary trend in the country, decided to grant percentage increase to the salaries of all public servants. The percentage increase ranged from four to twelve, the top increase going to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The day following the announcement of the increase saw all mass media up in arms and forced the Government to scale down the Chancellor’s rate. The argument was that since the Chancellor bought from the same market as other people, the long gap was unjustified.  This, I think, is an object lesson.  



The Author is a retired Professor from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka.