BY MARTINS E. SULE
With the rapid global economic and technological growth, and growing interest in higher education in recent years, many universities are trying to reposition themselves to achieve a world class status.
Nigerian universities are not left out in the search for such global recognition, as they are becoming more conscious that they need to step up their ranking to meet up with the growing trends of development.
One of the federal universities that has caught my attention in this journey to raising its rank is the University of Abuja.
Easily the only public university in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), the University of Abuja was established in 1988, though academic activities began in the institution in 1990. This university has been insufferably slow in embracing the opportunities around it for growth, especially its proximity to the seat of power. Such a slowness is ostensibly a result of the clueless and inexperienced leadership that has largely characterized the university in its over thirty years of existence.
But with the coming of Professor Abdul- Rasheed Na’Allah as the 6th substantive vice chancellor of the University in 2019, this institution has been witnessing some revolutionary changes. You only need to listen to Na’ Allah at various fora talk about his vision of lifting the university to greater heights and making it a world class institution to know where the university may go from its present status. In the over two years that he has held the reins of government, the professor of comparative literature and former vice chancellor of Kwara State University, Malete, has made impressive progress in the development of the university as he makes effort to meet the standards of world class institutions.
Na’Allah has focused principally on both academic and structural developments in his drive for actualizing such a vision by enhancing and sustaining the foundations for effective teaching and research, innovation, community services and infrastructures.
Using the Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) of the University, for instance, the administration of Professor Na’Allah started Academic Conference Centre, installation of street lights and completion of the Institute for Legislative Studies. His administration has also tried to sustain the percentage of programmes with full accreditation, digitalize the university and make two-way communications possible, providing desktops on every desk to ensure that staff can use the advantage to create better visibility for themselves. Already there is a strong active Virtual Classroom system which has been running for two years in the university. The centres he set up such as Centre for Undergraduate Research; Centre for Sponsored Projects; Internship and Linkages Services; the revitalized Centre for Industrial Work Experience Scheme and Student Employment (CSSME); Centre for in-House Training, among many others have all contributed to deepening academic and professional experiences of staff in the university.
Some physical projects completed by the administration of Na’Allah include extension of electricity from academic core to the Institute of Education, access road from academic core to Agric Farm and Staff Quarters (Appropriation). The new constructions that are almost completed are the Faculty of Law 500- capacity lecture theatre, academic office complex for Faculty of Law, 150-capacity lecture theatre for Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Academic Staff Complex for Faculty of Environmental Sciences, Academic Office Complex for Faculty of Basic Clinical Science, and Academic Office Complex for Faculty of Agriculture, all of them advancing rapidly.
At the moment, new structures including the new Senate Building, an International Conference Centre, Central Laboratory, Student Activities Centre, Staff Social Centre (otherwise called the Staff Club), Indoor Sports Hall, a Mini Stadium, new classrooms and new Lecture theatres, and much more are already under construction. Faculty of Social Sciences and Faculty of Education, two of the 12 faculties of the university now at the mini campus, Gwagwalada, are likely to be moved to the Main Campus. New student hostels, staff housing, are all being constructed now.
Through the doggedness of this vice-chancellor, the Central Bank Nigeria, which had slowed down work on its six big projects since 2014, has resumed. The projects are: the Postgraduate Students Hostel, ICT Centre, Postgraduate School complex, Faculty of Science building (new), Faculty of Engineering building (new), and Medical Students Hostel, Gwagwalada.
While ranking has its own criteria and even though to be well-ranked takes more than these aforementioned developments, there is no doubt that the position the university occupies at the moment lends credence to a conscious effort on the part of its leadership.
So Sometime in July 2021, the webometrics, one of the largest academic ranking of higher education institutions released the results of its Ranking of World universities, and it’s of interest that among the 279 universities in the country being ranked, consisting federal, public, private, and other universities, the University of Abuja came 22nd ahead of Federal University of Technology, Akure; Landmark University, University of Calabar, University of Benin, University of Jos, University of Ilorin, among other equally well rated universities.
Also when the final report of the NUC Ranking of Universities was released in December 2021, the University of Abuja was among the first 16 (sixteen) federal universities in Nigeria, fourth-best Federal University in the North-Central geo-political zone and 55th out of the total 113 universities ranked that year. The University thus came before Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria; Federal University of Technology, Owerri; Bayero University, Kano and Usman Danfodio University, Sokoto which previously ranked higher especially in 2020.
Given the pace at which the vice chancellor is working, it is possible that the university will rank much higher – among the first three – in the next couple of years. But it would need to work harder.
For instance, the lecturers must be prepared to explore more research so as to be able to present better contemporary scholarship to their students instead of largely rehashing and regurgitating several-year- old lecture notes in the classroom. The lecturers need to be sensitized to know the essence of increasing the number of scholarly citations in Good Scholar), and generally visible and strong google scholar presence with clear contributions to knowledge in their various fields.
Besides, the university administration would need to increase the percentage female students, full professors, foreign (international) staff, international students and programmes with full accreditation, strengthening its physical and e-learning experience, smart classrooms, computer laboratories, science and technology laboratories with relevant equipment, as these are very critical to helping university raise its ranking.
The university administration led by Professor Na’Allah may be able to do its part, but government support is also seriously needed if this institution, and indeed, several others must grow to meet world class status.
In this vein, the federal government needs to come in to help the university too especially through viable policies, one of which can help bridge the gap between the ratio of students and lecturers. And this cannot happen if the university is not empowered to employ more tenure staff at all levels.
Sule writes from House 12 Federal Housing Estate, Kubwa, Abuja