Establishing and nurturing Nigerian elite universities – Part 2


Continued from yesterday
Regarding funding, in addition to special substantial Take Off phase grant that should be provided for each elite university in 2020/2021, each university’s annual budget (based on parameters used for funding other federal universities) should include a top up of about 25% from 2021/2022 to 2029/2030 Furthermore, the six universities should be exempted from the prevailing free tuition policy in federal universities. They could be requested to set their tuition fees at about 50 percent of the average of prevailing fees in private universities with respect to the different disciplines. This proposed funding, with some tweaking from one year to another, is likely to help ensure “sizable budgets” for the universities. However, each university would need to ensure that no Nigerian who meets its criteria for admission is denied the opportunity because of his/her inability to pay prescribed fees. The following are some measures that could help finance bright students from deprived backgrounds: bursaries, merit-based scholarships, need-based grants, and work and study programmes.

Besides finance, there are four other issues that should be addressed by each university throughout the three phases of development: (i) quality of teachers; (iii) quality of students; (iii) adequacy of physical and educational infrastructures; and (iv) the “combination of freedom, autonomy and leadership”.

Quality of Teachers: A major issue to address during the Take Off Phase should be the two-pronged “crisis in manpower” in many universities that is highlighted in the report of the Committee on Needs Assessment (2012): shortage of academic staff and over-staffing with non-teaching staff that “doubles, triples or quadruples that of teaching staff”. And I would strongly recommend that each elite university should embrace the idea of a differentiated remuneration within the professoriate. In other words, there should be explicit differential contracts and levels of remuneration for professors, determined by their output at internationally competitive levels. This would mean the abandonment of fixed common salaries for professors. This performance-linked remuneration should cascade down to the levels of lecturers. I would also recommend that each university should consider the desirability of teachers’ assessment by students, a practice in US universities that is widely credited with positive impact on the quality of teaching.

Furthermore, based on strong evidence of rather low standards among university teachers in the country, each elite university should design and implement appropriate retraining and remediation programmes for its weak academic staff across all levels (from lecturers to professors) during the Take Off phase. Finally, academic staff and other staff unions should operate within terms and conditions specific to each university.

Quality of Students: The elite universities should be excluded from centralised admission of students through the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB). This will restore a critical aspect of university autonomy to the institutions.

Each university will determine the criteria that would help ensure that it admits only quality students. However, admission processes must be open and competitive .As is the case with elite universities in many countries, each of the six universities should set annual targets that would ensure close to 50:50 share between undergraduate and graduate students by 2030. Students’ unions, like academic staff and other staff unions, should also operate within terms and conditions specific to each university.

Adequacy of Physical and Educational Infrastructures: The inadequacies in public universities with respect to physical and educational infrastructures are laid out in some detail in the report of the Committee on Needs Assessment (2012). Each university would be expected to spell out specific interventions to meet its needs and assure that infrastructures would be adequate throughout the period covered in its Strategic Plan.

Combination of Freedom, Autonomy and Leadership: Although I have argued for the immediate restoration of an aspect of university autonomy relating to the admission of students to the elite universities, the restoration of autonomy regarding the admission of students should be extended to all public universities in the country sooner than later. While other aspects of autonomy in public universities in the country should remain the same (notably with respect to the award of degrees), I would argue for two changes with respect to leadership in the elite universities: (i) extension of search for vice-chancellors (VCs) to include senior Nigerian professors in the Diaspora and (ii) salary packages of the VCs in elite universities should be differentiated from those of VCs in other federal universities: they should be significantly higher but subject to contract terms that would include specified conditions on abridgment of tenure.

First, I would recommend that the six selected elite universities should constitute themselves into a group (Group of six, Go6), similar to the Russell Group of twenty-four elite universities in the UK (highlighted in Part One). Two others in the Commonwealth are: Australia’s Group of eight (Go8) elite universities (1999) and Canada’s U15 Group, an association of fifteen public research universities (1991). Additional examples include: the Ivy League in the United States of America, a much older formal grouping of eight elite private universities; Imperial Universities, a grouping of seven elite older universities in Japan; SKY (universities), a group of the three most prestigious Korean universities; and China’s C9 League (comprising the country’s nine most prestigious universities). Nigeria’s Go6 would certainly be able to learn from the experiences of these formal/informal groupings of elite universities.

Regarding possible relationships between an elite university and one or more public universities within the country, the obvious emphasis would be on shared research interests. Specifically, the research partnerships would be with other public universities that would have won recognition as a Centre of Excellence in related research areas. For example, fourteen Nigerian universities across the country host seventeen of Africa Centres of Excellence (ACE) designated by the World Bank in 2018. Another related example is the University of Lagos that currently hosts two of the thirteen CoEs designated by the 16-memberARUA. Furthermore, some Departments, Faculties and Institutes in different public universities that draw on their distinct capabilities as well as on advantages offered by their specific locations to distinguish themselves at national, African and international levels would be obvious candidates for partnerships with the appropriate counterparts among the elite universities.

A critical role for the elite universities would be the expansion and deepening of the existing limited relationships between Nigerian universities and industry. For obvious reasons, the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) programmes in these universities would have a leading role to play in the development and nurturing of these relationships.

Strikingly, one of the criteria used in T.H.E World University Rankings is “Industry income” – evidence of the mutually beneficial results of university-industry relationships: innovations for industrial enterprises and earnings for the universities.

Finally, I would suggest that each of the six selected elite universities should proceed to review its existing partnerships/linkages with external universities with a view to dropping any university that has not been ranked among the top 1000 in T.H.E World University Rankings during the last five years. By the end of the Take Off phase, each elite university ought to have established functioning relationship(s) with one or more African and/or international universities that regularly rank among the world’s top 1000.

Following the formal selection of the six elite universities along the lines discussed in Part One, primary responsibility for implementation would lie with each university. The key implementation instrument will be the Ten-Year Strategic Plan recommended in Part Two and it should have distinct sections focused on implementation and the combination of monitoring and evaluation.

It would be desirable for each university to have a small unit with responsibility for Implementation, Monitoring and Evaluation. The Unit should be attached to the Office of the VC and its professional staff should have the requisite expertise.

Unlike implementation that would be largely internal, there should be a dose of external involvement in monitoring and evaluation (M&E). Furthermore, I would strongly recommend the conduct of a comprehensive external audit of all-round performance of each university at the end of each of the three distinct phases. Each audit team should comprise experienced professionals with requisite expertise. I would add that the leadership of each university should be obliged to make public the audit reports.

Concluded .

Professor Adamolekun writes from Iju, Akure North, Ondo State.

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