An international university or world class university stands on four pillars:
1. International outlook of staff and students
2. Quality of research
3. Quality of teaching
4. Global Graduate employability
Let me attempt to contribute on why Nigerian universities have poor International outlook of both staff and students. Almost all Federal, State and private universities in Nigeria have about 50% of the staffing from the state, 80% from the geographical zone and 99.99% are Nigerians. Near zero international staff and students.
Once upon a time in the 80s during my undergraduate days, my HoD was a Ghanian, some staff of the university were from different continents of the world. The staff mix in all the departments of the university cut across many states of the federation. An Igbo man was the VC of FUT Makurdi, an Edo man was the VC of Unijos, Prof Shehu from Borno was the VC of UNN, Prof Bekki from Kano was the VC of Uniben and Prof Gomwalk was the VC of FUT Owerri. They contested and won on merit without political interference. We were among the top universities in the world.
After graduation, I didn’t need to apply to be a lecturer. The Department selected their best graduating students and forwarded their names to the university and we were invited for interaction. There was no single lecturer from Plateau state in my Department, Electrical/
Electronic Engineering when I was called. No “long legs” and no letter from senators, house of Rep members, traditional ruler or government house. I didn’t need to press any button and that’s how all the lecturers were employed across Nigerian universities. I was called allong with my friend Smart Ochieoyamhen who is from Edo state but he opted for the oil sector.
Suddenly politics dominated the selection of lecturers, selection of VCs, selection of everything in all Nigerian universities. I don’t know if the promulgation of a law establishing Federal Character Commission was in good faith for the universities. How do you share or distribute lecturing position which requires distinction based on state of origin as if you are sharing meat after hunting in the village. This opened door for mediocrity to have place in lecturing positions.
All state and federal universities have resorted to employing mainly from their “catchment areas”. Based on the law establishing Federal character commission, no provision or quota is given to international staff. All lecturers must be Nigerians only with NO International outlook. If you see any international staff, he is an old stock waiting to be discarded. That makes our staffing LOCAL and not world class.
Secondly, there is only one gateway into Nigerian universities: you must pass JAMB. Jamb forms are sold online but payment must be in Naira and Naira is not an international currency. All the cyber cafés accredited by jamb to register students on their website are all in Nigeria. If you want to apply to any Nigerian universities you must buy return ticket to fly into Nigeria and stay in a hotel, register for jamb and go back to your country. Take another return ticket to come and sit for jamb, stay in a hotel and fly back. Buy another return ticket, come to buy a scratch card to check if you pass or score above 180 points. Buy a return ticket to come to Nigeria for post utme exam/screening and finally pick another ticket to come in for registration if you are admitted and screened.
For God’s sake how can a foreign student need five return tickets into Nigeria, spend money on Visa, spend money on hotels and local runs just to seek for admission you are not sure of getting? That Money can pay your school fees for more than a session in South Africa.
Our law makers, administrators, traditional rulers and opinion leaders have most of their kids schooling in oversea universities and they got their admissions in the comfort of their homes without a single Trip. Nigeria is the only country I know that students must write a local examination to be admitted into universities. Why not scrap WAEC and NECO if they are not sufficient test for university admission? So you must be a Nigerian or residing in Nigeria to be admitted into Nigerian universities. That makes our students to be local without international outlook.
Thirdly, Jamb have a strick admission quota that Federal universities must follow. The quotas are:
1. 40% merit
2. 35% catchment area
3. 25% Educationally less developed states. The states are Ebonyi, Cross Rivers, Bayelsa and all the 19 states in the North.
No provision is made for international students in the quota. International students must compete to fit into the 40% merit quota.
Lecturers, students, staffing are all from neighbouring communities and at best neighbouring states. That makes our university students local without national or international outlook. How can an international university have 40% of its admission on merit and 60% not on merit?
We are the largest economy in Africa and we stand to attract foreign students from other African countries and beyond, and investment into our universities through research grants if we recruit the right staff, admit the right students and create the right academic atmosphere.
In Wales, student cash supports 2.6% of GDP and 35,000 jobs. And in Scotland it counts towards 1.26% of GDP and supports 109,000 jobs. Universities in UK contributed around £39.9bn to GDP in 2011-2012 and accounted for 2.8% of GDP (more than four times as much as agriculture). In Nigeria, the universities contributes near zero to our GDP.
In the same UK, student expenditure supports some £80bn of the UK’s economic output and international students contributed (profit); a net contribution of over £2.8bn to the economy through tuition fees, spending and hosting family and friends coming to visit. Finally, international Research collaborations are worth more than £3.5bn. In simple terms UK universities contribute about N54 Trillion to the economy and foreign students yearly turn in N1.6 Trillion.
Nigeria can also build our economy around the universities by:
1. The national assembly revisiting the law establishing Federal Character Commission and exempting the universities from its supervision. This will allow the universities to employ the best researchers with global reputation to attract grants.
2. Abrogate the law establishing JAMB. Just scrap it and allow each university to develop their admission requirements.
3. HoD, Deans and VCs should be globally advertised to entrench competition as its done in best practices. Appointments should be based in funds lecturers can attract. That will also means our law makers will amend the law establishing the universities.
Many countries are using Education Tourism to build fortunes for their economies and Nigeria cannot do less. If we are serious with this business of economic diversification, the universities present our lowest economic fruits to plug.
By Dr Nentawe Yilwatda Goshwe