Nigerian universities still struggling among continental peers

Nigerian institutions are still struggling for reckoning in the global university pecking order, as indicated in the latest Times Higher Education (THE) Emerging Economies University Ranking 2021.

Out of 606 ranked universities, no Nigerian university (public or private) made the 100th mark, with the University of Ibadan in 115th position, Lagos State University (151), University of Lagos (172), and Covenant University (in the 201-250 category). 

Overall, university education in Africa’s most populous nation appears to have left the gear on one, barely shifting beyond two since independence in 1960. In the rankings highlighted above, China’s Tsinghua University came first. Africa was represented in the top 15 by South Africa’s duo, University of Cape Town (10) and the University of the Witwatersrand (12).

According to QS Quacquarelli Symonds, the world’s provider of services, analytics, and insight to the global higher education sector, while many of the world’s top universities produce high-achieving graduates every year, employers frequently express concerns that academic institutions are not doing enough to prepare their students for the world of work. Soft skills, in particular, are mentioned repeatedly, while there is a notable ‘skills gap’ in some industries, notably engineering and technology.

“Given the fierce competition for graduate roles around the world, students should be seriously considering how their university can prepare them adequately for full-time employment, by connecting them with global employers and ensuring they develop the necessary skills and knowledge,” said QS.

In the QS Graduate Employability Rankings, Nigerian universities were not seen in the top 500; University of Cape Town (91); in the 181-190 ranking is the University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg; the American University in Cairo, Cairo (191-200); Stellenbosch University, South Africa (251-300); the University of Nairobi, Kenya (251-300); University of Pretoria (251-300); and Ain Shams University Cairo, Egypt (301-500).

In the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2021, which includes more than 1,500 universities across 93 countries and regions, Nigerian universities were far off from the rising horizon. The rankings table is based on 13 carefully calibrated performance indicators that measure an institution’s performance across four areas: teaching, research, knowledge transfer, and international outlook.

This year’s ranking analysed more than 80 million citations across over 13 million research publications and included survey responses from 22,000 scholars globally. This year’s league table provides great insight into the shifting balance of power in global higher education, with the University of Oxford topping the rankings for the fifth consecutive year. At the same time, mainland China’s Tsinghua University becomes the first Asian university to break into the top 20.

The U.S. claims a record eight places in the top 10, after the University of California, Berkeley climbed six places to seventh, but U.S. universities outside the top 200 show signs of decline.

Meanwhile, there are 141 first-time entrants in the rankings this year, topped by France’s recently merged Paris-Saclay University (joint 178th). India has the highest number of new entries (14) and, as a result, boasts a record number of ranked institutions (63). For Nigeria, the story is summed up thus: University of Ibadan (401–500); Lagos State University (501–600); University of Lagos (601–800); Covenant University (801–1000); University of Nigeria Nsukka (1001+); and Obafemi Awolowo University (1001+).

The Times Higher Education (THE) ranking was based on research commissioned by HR Consultancy Emerging and drawn from 2,500 recruitment managers from large international companies – and showed that U.S. institutions continue to have a strong grip among global employers, taking 37 places in the 150-strong ranking.

Over two years ago, the Federal Government signified interest to tackle the problems bedeviling the nation’s university system. The idea to rejig the curriculum was also mooted by the NUC when it said it would develop a curriculum of programmes for the proposed West African Institute of Migration Studies to be established in Toga, Kebbi State. 

The NUC Secretary, Prof. Abubakar Rasheed, expressed the desire to begin a comprehensive review of all academic programmes offered in Nigerian universities, to remove courses that are not necessary for the developmental needs of the country. 

Rasheed assured that the commission would never be a stumbling block to any university that wants to develop.

“All universities have something in common,  so don’t shy away. We aim to be flexible about it by allowing universities to think innovatively in the process. We will not be hostile in any way.  We will welcome a situation where each of the universities can come up with courses, which will challenge the system. Universities will be allowed to submit these ideas through proposals to NUC, which we will all scrutinise and institutionalise if need be,” the NUC scribe stated.

According to experts in the sector, the decadence in university education is attributable to years of poor funding, incessant strikes by university teachers, poor admission standards, corruption, and fraud. 

They however commended the top four institutions for a good showing, canvassed improved funding of sub-sector, and tasked other universities to gear up for global challenges.

What we are doing differently, by top varsities
Acting Vice-Chancellor, Lagos State University (LASU), Prof Damola Oke said LASU has improved in research, International linkages, infrastructure, and increased visibility on the net.

“If you rate us along with those that can be considered seniors, and we are in this position, one is bound to be very happy. So, it is a very good thing for us that we are in the second position and this is as a result of hard work and more hard work.

“Our aspiration is to go to number one in Nigeria but that will involve support from Lagos State Government. We have been getting the necessary support from the state government and when the support is there and you have a workforce that is well motivated, you are bound to have good productivity, which is what we are seeing today,” Prof Oke said.

“I want to put on record the efforts of our immediate past vice-chancellor, Prof Olanrewaju Fagbohun, we have been able to maintain this for two consecutive years, which means we have to remain there and work harder to remain there. Don’t forget we have other institutions eyeing us, they want to also get to that position we are in presently, what this means is more work for us and more requests to the state government.”

Oke said the aim of the institution is to be number one in Nigeria and among the first 100 in the world, stressing that LASU is ready for the challenge.

He added: “Those institutions that are up there have a lot of support from their alumni, you need funds to be able to run with people who are up there, but within the limit of what we have, we will definitely move higher.”

The Vice Chancellor, University of Lagos (UNILAG), Prof Oluwatoyin Ogundipe said the institution started placing significant premium on global rankings amongst world universities around 2017 and it has been no going back since then.

Ogundipe said UNILAG has met the threshold in some ranking metrics to qualify as a participant in the World University Rankings of various global bodies. “Some of those metrics include number of publications in peer reviewed journals, to number of academic staff; citations of publications; number of doctoral students; and research income among others.”

According to the VC, UNILAG has progressively improved in the Times Higher Education World University Ranking over the years. For instance, in 2019 (1001+), 2020 (801 – 1000), 2021 (601 – 800).

Ogundipe said: “University of Lagos Webometrics and Ranking committee harnesses data and utilises analytics to recommend strategies, which management may use to guide policy decisions. Specifically, seeking creative ways to unleash the collective resolve of staff as brand ambassadors for a stimulating academic environment that delivers academic and research excellence for global impact.

“We have made significant efforts to improve the ambiance of our academic environment, specifically on feedback to our students, not excluding our alumni.

Members of academic staff have signed up to the university institutional repository, which allows them to undertake self-archival of their published intellectual content. Our communications unit has taken advantage of the improvement on the university’s ICT facilities to improve our online presence via dissemination of academic and research news.

“We have engaged with higher education organisations and other institutions to benchmark our performance so as to improve on some of our strategies; reworked our approach to internationalisation, which has increased our influx of foreign staff and students, while also expanding our research collaborators with a positive outcome on successful grantsmanship,” the vice-chancellor noted.

Ogundipe added that the institution has utilised the key pillars of ranking bodies through a convergence approach to delineate the complementary roles of different units and departments on campus, thus creating synergy in the quality of deliverables, which ultimately has assisted to drive up UNILAG’s global rankings.


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