Nigerian universities and global rankings
In the last 20 years, the number of tertiary institutions in Nigeria has increased a great deal. This has widened choices for students and also allowed academics a wider selection space to build a career. It has further permitted institutions to cater to specific verticals in the student market.
This positive development notwithstanding, there is the concern that unlike the 1970s and 1980s when Nigerian universities ranked among the best universities globally, the universities in recent time rarely feature in global ranking systems.
Universities are usually ranked globally by such bodies as World University Ranking by Times Higher Education (THE), Academic Ranking of World Universities by Shanghai Ranking and QS Stars by Quacquarelli Symonds (QS).
According to Nle Bisong, it is not that Nigerian universities are not good enough. The problem instead seems to be that of visibility. Bisong’s view is supported by the fact that many Nigerians who schooled in the country have proven to be equal if not better than their counterparts in the global labour market.
According to 2017 data from the Migration Policy Institute, more than half of Nigerian immigrants (54 per cent) were most likely to occupy management positions, compared with 32 per cent of the total foreign-born population and 39 per cent of the US-born population.
Most of these Nigerians had their first degree at home before moving abroad. This simply suggests that the system is not as bad as some paint it. However, that is not to say Nigeria does not need the global rankings rather to buttress the fact that the country’s tertiary institutions need to make the education system more visible.
Quality students are products of functional teaching. Students are the brands that sell institutions; their quality is a reflection of the quality of lecturers and facilities on ground
And to do this, funding and proper infrastructure management are needed. Funding, no doubt, is critical to getting the tertiary institutions in Nigeria to rub shoulders with their counterparts at the international levels. But funding without being in the limelight amounts to faith without work which is said to be dead.
No nation can achieve world class academic level without facilities. The parameters for ranking tertiary institutions indicate that without certain incentives, institutions cannot get to the top 10 ranking. And this translates to funding. It is not a bread and butter issue
It needs to be pointed out that tertiary institutions funding goes beyond hand-outs from governments. Multinational firms, well-meaning individuals and alumni associations have roles to play in funding tertiary institutions.
There is no gain saying that Nigeria is blessed with human resources but to get the best out of these resources, there is need for infrastructural development. No matter how good a lecturer is, he or she will need teaching aids to drive home his teachings. And no matter how good a student may be, he or she needs practical demonstrations for him to understand the lesson better.
It is sad to note that many Nigerian universities today teach computer science without computer laboratories and/or systems. All that the lecturers do is to read out the books. Many Mass Communication Departments do not have broadcast studios or print media facilities.
It beats the imagination how a student from such an academic background would ordinarily compete with his equals who have had the practical exposures.
Harvard, Cambridge and many other top universities have brand in terms of the quality of students they produce. Quality students are products of functional teaching. Students are the brands that sell institutions; their quality is a reflection of the quality of lecturers and facilities on ground.
We believe that the university is a human resource manufacturing centre. That is to say, they are meant to groom students that will fit into the labour market. This is why we are of the view that universities need to find solutions to the problems in their host communities. And this calls for proper funding and quality academic staff to groom the students.
We agree with the late Abubakar Momoh that the long and short story of what exists as the university in Nigeria is a system that is neither acceptable nor sustainable. It is a conspiracy against the future to let the current situation prevail because the universities as they exist today cannot produce graduates who can represent the country well at any serious level.
Amid so much chaos in the education system, it would seem futile to worry about global university ranking. The fact remains that many tertiary institutions in the country are merely surviving. University ranking has its own place in the scheme of things, hence, its necessity.
We are of the view that higher education operates as a market and we are aware that this is also the concern of many in the sector. If we accept that this is the case, then global ranking is its problematic single indicator of success.
For this reason, there is need to run tertiary institutions as a business entity with an eye for dividends. But the reverse is the case as most of the management personnel in charge of our universities are more interested in their promotions than getting the system to work.
We see similar characteristics between University rankings and GDP. They are both single indicators seeking to signify the success of multi-faceted and hugely complex entities. They are both composite indicators which seek to incorporate different facets of those entities, but simultaneously fail to incorporate some of their vital qualities.
Global university rankings have come to stay and Nigeria cannot afford to be left out. As a country and a global citizen, we need to equip, fund and put the right people in place to manage our tertiary institution in order to measure up.