Government should tackle the underlying cause of the poor ranking of the country’s universities,

writes Vincent Obia

The Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2016-2017 was recently released with a list of the 980 top universities in the world, and only one Nigerian university made the list. The country’s premier university, the University of Ibadan, was the only institution in the league of world class universities, which had 26 universities from nine African countries.

UI placed a distant 801 on the list of the world’s best universities. They were graded on the basis of performance indicators grouped into five areas, namely, teaching (the learning environment); research (volume, income and reputation); citations (research influence); international outlook (staff, students and research); and industry income (knowledge transfer). Nigeria lagged behind South Africa, Egypt, Ghana, and Uganda. Nigerian universities have maintained a pattern of consistent poor performance in international ratings. In the Times Higher Education World University Rankings for 2015/2016, UI was also the only Nigerian university in the rankings. It placed 601 then, and fell 200 steps lower, to 801, in the latest edition.

The poor performance of Nigeria in the global ranking of universities has aroused a lot of concern. The federal government, institutions, and individuals have decried the problem, with some attributing it to the attitude of the managers of the institutions. For others, the government is to blame for the low ranking of the country’s universities. The contributory factors are legion, but the federal and state governments must take the blame for the poor placement of the country’s universities. The university system in the country is plagued by multifarious problems. They include poor funding, inadequate facilities for learning and research, cultism, and corruption. The university system study, a report published in 2013 by a group set up by the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission and the National Universities Commission, identified corruption in various aspects of the system. ICPC chairman, Mr. Ekpo Nta, said the study was motivated by petitions from stakeholders.

The study discovered various levels of corruption in the areas of admission, research, financial management, teaching, promotion, and discipline. The blame for most of the problems with the university system can be laid at the government’s door. Poor funding and inadequate regulation are ostensibly the underlying causes of the low performance of Nigerian universities, and the federal and state governments are to blame for these. Education is among the least considered sectors in Nigeria in terms of budgetary allocation. Despite the strategic place of education in the development of the country, and the recommendation by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation to especially developing countries to allocate a least 26 per cent of their annual budgets to education, Nigeria lags far behind in education funding.

On the average, less than nine per cent of federal budgets have been allocated to education since the inception of the Fourth Republic in 1999. In 1999, education was given 11.12 per cent of the federal budget; 2000, it reduced to 8.36 per cent; reduced further to 7 per cent in 2001; 5. 9 per cent in 2002; and 1.83 per cent in 2003. In 2004, education got 10.5 per cent; it took 9.3 per cent in 2005; 11 per cent in 2006; 8.09 per cent in 2007; 13 per cent in 2008; 6.54 per cent in 2009; and 6.4 per cent in 2010. In 2011, 1.69 per cent was allocated to education; 10 per cent was allocated in 2012; 8.7 per cent in 2013; 10.6 per cent in 2014; and 9.5 per cent in 2015.

In the 2016 budget, education got N369.6 billion, representing about 6.01 per cent of the budget. Amid poor capacity to attract education grants, these paltry allocations are expected to cater for 40 federal universities, 21 federal polytechnics, 22 federal colleges of education, and 104 unity colleges. It is hard to see how the 187 institutions could be adequately funded from those budgets. The same story of poor budgetary allocation to education applies in many of the states. The federal and state governments must intervene urgently to ensure that the country’s 40 federal and 44 state universities are well funded.

Following from the problem of poor funding is the issue of inadequate lecturers. The 152 universities in the country, comprising 40 federal universities, 44 state universities, and 68 private universities, are said to have only about 69 per cent of the required number of teachers for effective teaching and learning. Some estimates put the percentage even lower, considering the retirements of teachers without prompt employment of new ones and the explosion in admissions. Besides, it has been widely observed that a good number of those who teach in the government institutions are the same teachers that the private universities rely on through part-time arrangements.

Regrettably, in the midst of this rather shambolic situation, the federal and state governments are still building new universities. And the federal government is still granting licences to private groups and individuals, many of who, apparently, have doubtful capacities to build and maintain universities. The federal government must urgently address the funding and regulatory issues that have kept Nigeria on the bottom rungs of the world university system.