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Published by Tribune on Thu, 06 Sep 2012

RECENTLY, the International Colleges and Universities released the performance of Nigerian Universities in Africa for 2011/2012. University of Lagos (UNILAG) was ranked best in the country, finishing 16th in Africa. It will be recalled that in the 2010/2011, University of Lagos ranked 58th while the Nigerian best performer was the University of Ilorin, which ranked 20th. This year, University of Ilorin emerged second in Nigeria and 30th in Africa trailing University of Zambia and University of Zimbabwe. University of Ibadan, third in Nigeria, was 40th in Africa while the Obafemi Awolowo University, fourth in Nigeria ranked the 42nd in Africa and the University of Benin, fifth in Nigeria, finished 45th in AfricaOVERALL, six Nigerian universities were ranked among the best 100 in Africa but they trailed behind universities in Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Botswana, Ghana, Morocco and Sudan. All the universities in the top six were from South Africa, with additional two, making the best 10, alongside two universities in Egypt.THE ranking organisation (4icu.org) claims to be 'an international higher education search engine and directory reviewing accredited universities and colleges in the world, that includes 10,000 colleges and universities, ranked by web popularity, in 200 countries'. The aim of the organisation 'is to provide an approximate popularity ranking of the world universities and colleges based upon the popularity of their websites. This is intended to help international students and academic staff to understand how popular a specific university/ college is in a foreign country'THIS released ranking report has attracted reactions from some prominent Nigerians. Former Vice Chancellor of University of Lagos, Prof. Ibidapo Obe, while lauding UNILAG's performance, blamed the poor showing of universities in the country on failure to do the right things that affect the growth of universities in very positive ways- conferences, inputs and strategies, harnessing enormous potentials, making those working in the universities happy, motivated, confident and assisted to perform. Ranking of universities, he said, is necessary as it helps to boost the confidence of the teachers and draw students to study in the performing institutions. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo was unimpressed by the ranking, while the immediate past president of the Academic Staff Union of Nigerian Universities (ASUU) attributed the poor performance to the rot that had lingered on for several years in the system.CRITICS have, however, argued that the ranking was not a true reflection of the realities in Nigerian universities, since the ranking organisation depended on the visibility of the universities on the cyber space. Webometric ranking, they further argued, considers the number of foreign students and professors in the institutions, publications of the teaching staff and student population, among others.IN its early years, the Nigerian university system was highly regarded both at home and abroad. Its products were greatly valued and accorded enviable status among their counterparts world-wide. Views from the system were taken with all seriousness. In effect, the nation used to look up to the system to show the way and direction to follow. However, in recent years, this position has become altered. The confidence of the public has waned greatly. The quality of graduates from the universities has continued to be questioned by all stakeholders, particularly industries and employers who have to resort to spending fortune to re-train the products of these universities.THE major factors responsible for this unhealthy trend is attributed to poor funding, decadent infrastructure, unprecedented number of strikes, brain drain among others. In essence, the Nigerian university system is better known today for the following factors which have negatively impacted on its standard and the quality of its products: over-enrolment of students, increasing number of prospective entrants and pressure for admission placements, inadequacy of infrastructure, poor library facilities, inadequate academic staff both in number and quality, undue proliferation and lack of relevance of academic programmes, cultism and related vices, unstable university calendar, disharmony and lack of focus within the system, examination malpractices and extortion 'sorting'. This presupposes that Nigerian Universities have been affected from all fronts. There is no doubt that its rich culture and ethics have equally been negatively affected.WE agree that the low rating of Nigerian universities is a product of the escalating rot in the system. In an atmosphere of brain drain, where both teachers and students are moving out in droves to teach and study in foreign countries, because of the nation's poor environment, we can not rank high with the above stated criteria.WE concede that since the inception of the Fourth Republic in May 1999, there has been a fair improvement in the funding of the Federal Government universities. It is pertinent to note that despite this, what is made available is still inadequate to the numerous needs of the universities For the universities to break even and forge ahead to accomplish their mission of producing highly qualified manpower to manage both the national and international economies, a critical review of the situation is most desirable.IN this regard, Nigeria has to rediscover the factors that have sustained the great universities in the world. Over the years, great universities have been built and sustained based on effective combination of the following: grants from the proprietor(s), for example, government/ private concerns; contributions form major stakeholders (students parents, alumni and foundations/ endowments). In the Nigerian experience, virtually all the funds available to the universities are from government sources. The alumni occupy a central role in ensuring that these other sources are made to play their part as effectively as required.THERE is urgent need for assessment in all the Nigerian Universities, the result of which should determine what each university requires in order to raise their level to acceptable standard. All stakeholders should contribute to the funding of the university. Part of the problems facing the Nigerian universities are the impact of over centralisation in all its ramifications, In terms of capital and overhead grants, universities should be given their grants on a quarterly basis in order to enhance proactive planning.
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