Last week I started an examination of the effect of the bills currently pending before the National Assembly for the creation of 80 new Federal Institutions of higher learning. I detailed how this would be counterproductive given that most of the existing institutions continue to be starved of much required funding leading to the ongoing strike by members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). As stated earlier, the focus should not be in creating more universities, but ensuring that the current ones are brought up to the level that they can compete with other universities regarded as world class around the world.
Indeed in Nigeria, the term “world class University” has become a colourful and feel good catchphrase, often invoked by Chancellors and Vice Chancellors. Very often we hear things like, “our university is world class.” Similarly, in many countries, politicians have leveraged the phrase “we will build world class universities” when canvassing for votes. In Russia, for example, President Vladimir Putin announced his key policy objective of moving five Russian universities into the top 100 of the Times Higher Education World University Rankings by the year 2020. In Japan, President Shinzo Abe has said that there would be 10 Japanese universities in the world top 100 by 2023.
However, the question of what truly makes a university world-class university remains elusive and does not lend itself to a straightforward answer. Phillip Altbach, a famous American education scholar, once summarized the complex dialectic and paradox of defining what a world-class university truly means when he noted as follows:
Every country wants a world-class university. No country feels it can do without one. The problem is that no one knows what a world-class university is, and no one has figured out how to get one.
Adequate funding is required to make our universities world class
Becoming a world class university is not achieved by self-declaration. A world class university cannot be proclaimed into existence. According to a comprehensive World Bank study titled The Challenge of Establishing World Class Universities:
becoming a world class university is a recognition and status conferred on an institution by the outside world on the basis of:
- excellence in research;
- quality of teaching;
- highly qualified faculty;
- level of government and non government funding;
- international and highly talented student body;
- academic freedom;
- well defined autonomous governance structures;
- well-equipped facilities for teaching, research, administration and often student life; and
- University’s contribution to society.
The report also noted that:
In academia, the adage “you get what you pay for” appears accurate regarding better-quality work being done where salaries are relatively highest. World-class universities are able to select the best students and attract the most qualified professors and researchers
Furthermore, in another study, Times Higher Education in the UK compiled the characteristics and attributes of the top 200 universities in the world, based on its most recent World University Rankings, and noted as follows:
- Economic: each of the top 200 universities in the world has a total net annual income of not less than $751,139 per academic year (about N300 Million Naira net income after deducting salaries, overheads and operation costs)
- Research Income: each has a total research income of $229,109 per academic year (N103.5 Million Naira income based on competitive research grants or patents received by faculty members)
- International Publications: Each faculty member publishes 43 per cent of all research papers with at least one international co-author; and publishes at least 43% of his/her research papers in high ranking international journal per year
- Staff Ratio: Each has a student-to-faculty ratio of 11:1 (average of 1 lecturer per 11 students).
- Global faculty: Hires 20 per cent of its staff from abroad (i.e 2 out of 10 lecturers are foreign trained or recruited from another country)
- Global Student body: Has a student body made up of 19 per cent international students
This information provides some clear pointers for any academic leader or any government serious about building world-class universities. The key question before us today is do we really have world class universities in Nigeria? If so, how many Nigerian Universities can boast of these statistics?
From the foregoing, it is evident that building a world-class university requires three essential ingredients:
- A world class university must be significantly well funded: Building a world-class university requires significant financial resources. Ranging from the cost of constructing and maintaining world class learning infrastructure (including adequate buildings, well equipped lecture rooms, sanitation facilities, safe drinking water); recruiting highly qualified scholars both nationally and internationally; achieving a balanced lecturer-student ratio; and providing cutting edge IT facilities, laboratories and research centres. All of these commitments require significant financial layout. This explains why developed countries spend a significant amount of their yearly budgets on education. The United Nations recommends that every country should spend no less than 25% of yearly budgets on education. For example, Canada expends 28% of yearly national budget on education. Same for neighbouring Ghana which spends about 30 percent of its budget on education (almost 9 percent of its GDP), currently the highest in the world.
Unfortunately, however, despite perennial rhetoric by successive Nigerian governments on their plans to build world-class universities in Nigeria, they have consistently failed to meet the UNESCO funding benchmark. For example, in the 2017 budget N448.01 billion was allocated to education, representing only about 6 percent of the N7.30 trillion budget, contrary to the recommendation by UNESCO. Failure to prioritize and devote significant resources to education has resulted in the perennial underfunding of our Universities. Our Universities simply do not have the financial wherewithal to compete with other universities around the world. With many of our Universities struggling to meet their overhead cost, talk of having a significant net annual income is so far away. This points to an urgent need for the Nigerian government to inject financial stimulus into all Nigerian universities to make them financially equipped and self-sufficient.
Furthermore, advanced countries have quickly realized that Government alone, with all its responsibility for infrastructure development in other sectors, cannot construct and build the required quality Universities that will accommodate the citizenry. That is why in addition to providing robust financial support for public Universities, special financing is set aside to support the establishment of private Universities that can bridge the gap of insufficient space for interested and qualified University candidates. Some of the greatest and most dynamic Universities in the world are private Universities. Harvard University, Yale University, and Afe Babalola University.
However, unlike Harvard and Yale that have been extensively supported through direct research grants and aid by the American government, the Nigerian government expects private Universities to survive or perish at their own expense. For instance, ABUAD is the first and only Nigerian University in history to have commenced operations with all faculty buildings up and running. Similarly, ABUAD is the only institution in the country that currently has what is known as, Talent Discovery Directorate where students are made to discover their gifted areas early enough and get mentored through provision of the right type of equipment, until they are nurtured to stardom.
Also, ABUAD recently commissioned its University Teaching Hospital, a state of the art and magnificent hospital, comparable to the best in the world. Only very recently, Aster Hospital, Dubai, the largest hospital in the Middle East entered into strategic partnership with ABUAD to provide high level medical facilities and support in areas of providing maternal care, laparoscopy, emergency surgery, orthopaedics, liver care and more.
To be continued.