An Overview of University Education and Administration in Nigeria. A GUEST LECTURE BY NIMI D. BRIGGS, Emeritus Professor, University of Port Harcourt AT A 3-DAY RETREAT ORGANIZED FOR MEMBERS OF THE GOVERNING COUNCIL OF THE RIVERS STATE UNIVERSITY OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY, PORT HARCOURT on WEDNESDAY 23rd JANUARY, 2013
As I understand it, this retreat with its theme, University Administration: The Role of the Governing Council is designed to bring about a sharing of experience between the newly appointed members of Council of the Rivers State University of Science and Technology (RSUST) and some other invited persons. Accordingly, this overview article, will give a broad account of the university, its organs, and how the institution functions, with particular reference to Nigeria.
A brief description of the concept of university including its core remit will be given followed by a broad account of the evolution of universities. The administrative formation through which the university carries out its function of promoting scholarship, research and innovation will be described. Then, a concise account of the major challenges facing universities in Nigeria will be given followed by a few statements, by way of an introduction, on RSUST – the focus of attention at this retreat. Some closing remarks will, thereafter, conclude this short presentation. The purpose of the presentation is to acquaint members of the Governing Council of the fundamental administrative structure of a university, how it functions and the difficulty it faces in the Nigerian environment. That way, it is expected that members of Council will be enabled to situate their role in the overall operations of the university.
THE CONCEPT OF UNIVERSITY
The notion of teaching and learning at the higher education level commenced on the basis of tutelage and apprenticeship, well before the 11th century. Renowned scholars, not institutions, at different locations attracted students who negotiated with and studied directly under them, commonly in the disciplines of Medicine, Law and Divinity – the original professions. With time, these teaching and learning centres became more formalized in a manner in which the scholars were aggregated into centres which then, as corporate bodies, took over the responsibly for imparting knowledge.
The name university by which such centres gradually became known, probably originated about the middle of the eleventh century, from the Latin word, universitas, which at the time, was not used only for institutions of higher learning. Over the centuries, however, the name evolved into that of its present usage – an institution incorporating the scholars, the teachers, the generality of subjects taught and the physical location of the organisation1. Thus justifying my description of the university at the 24th Convocation Lecture of this institution, as “a community of teachers and scholars who commit themselves to the dissemination of knowledge through teaching and its acquisition through learning, research and scientific enquiry”2.
The honest and relentless pursuit of truth for a better understanding of the world is the supreme remit of all universities. They achieve this by engaging in scholarly activities that expand the frontiers of knowledge and lead to innovations, inventions and discoveries. Furthermore, they inclusively educate and transmit knowledge to deserving students and scholars and participate in those activities in the local and international arena that enhance the common good and well-being of all mankind. Not surprising therefore, universities, now about 25,000 globally3, play increasingly important roles in modern society and they are now seen as crucial national assets in addressing many policy priorities,4,5.
UNIVERSITIES IN NIGERIA
Nigeria’s premier university, the University of Ibadan was established in January 1948 following the Elliot Commission Report6, as a College of the University of London. It became independent of London University in 1962 and thereby converted to a full-fledged University of Ibadan.
However, in anticipation of the needs, especially for manpower development for the soon-would-be independent nation of Nigeria, government set up an 8-man Commission on Higher Education chaired by Eric Ashby, in 1959, “to conduct an investigation into Nigeria’s needs in the field of post-School Certificate and Higher Education over the next twenty years”. In a comprehensive report, which was submitted in 1960, the Commission noted the need to expand university places and recommended the establishment of a University in Lagos, then capital of Nigeria, and one each in the three regions as they then were, incorporating the then existing Nigerian Colleges of Arts, Science and Technology7.
Partly in response to these recommendations, four universities were established between 1960 and 1962, namely : University of Nigeria, Nsukka; University of Ife, Ile Ife; Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria and the University of Lagos, Lagos. Of these, only that in Lagos was established by the federal government, the others came into being on Acts of Parliament that were enacted by their respective regional governments, even though the universities were all eventually handed over to the federal government.
Currently, the number of universities in Nigeria has risen to 120, with the three newest ones that were established in January 2013 by the federal government in Gashua, in Yobe State, Birini kebi in Kebbi State and Gusau in Zamfara State. Of these, 39 are owned by the federal government, 36 by State governments and 45 by private individuals and organisations. These universities make up the Nigerian University System (NUS) and their activities are coordinated by the National Universities Commission (NUC) in consonance with some aspects of the recommendation of the Ashby’s Commission for the establishment of such a body7.
ADMINISTRATIVE FORMATION AND MODE OF OPERATION
The administrative formation and mode of operation of universities in Nigeria differ and depend to some extent on their stated institutional objectives, the orientation of their proprietor(s), and the university’s area of specialization, if any, These structural and operational details are usually clearly stated in a document which is enacted into the Enabling Law or Decree of the particular university by the federal government in the case of federal and privately- owned universities and state governments for universities owned by them. The Enabling Law or Decree defines the governance structure and clearly spells out the responsibilities and limitations to the powers and authority of each of the organs and officers of the university.
Despite the differences that may exist, there are many common areas in the way universities in Nigeria administer and run their affairs. The tradition is essentially British and is a throwback to the University of Ibadan, with its origin from the University of London and which, by virtue of its foremost position in the NUS, has produced a large pool of university administrators in Nigeria of a particular mold. This similarity exits whether the universities are organised in the Collegiate, School or Faculty Systems.
Many universities in Nigeria, function through the following officers and bodies.
- Governing Council
- Vice-Chancellor and other principal officers
- Congregation and Convocation
This list is not exhaustive but a description of the functions of those mentioned, coupled with the other issues that will be ventilated later should give members of Council the feel of how a university operates.
The Visitor to the univesity is usually the head of the organisation that owns the institution- Mr. President in the case of federal universities and the Governors, for state- owned universities. The Visitor is not usually involved in the management process of the institution but he is expected to order a periodic review of the operations of the institution – a process known as Visitation, to assess the state of health of the university.
The Chancellor is the titular or ceremonial head of the university. He awards the degrees of the institution at Convocation ceremonies when he is present. Revered traditional rulers and accomplished senior citizens are the ones that often get appointed as Chancellors of universities.
The Pro-chancellor is the chairman of the Governing Council as well as some Committees of Council such as Finance and General Purposes Committee and Tenders Board and in these capacities, he is more directly involved with the operations of the institution than either the Visitor or Chancellor. The Pro-chancellor and the Council that he leads play a critical role in the affairs of a university.
In addition to the Chairman, the composition of Council consists of those appointed by the proprietor(s) usually from outside the institution representing public interest, ex- officio members and those elected from the university representing Senate and Congregation.. The Council is charged with the “general control and superintendence of the policy, finance and property of the university, including its public relations”8. Nothing further need be said on the role of this all-important body in the affairs of the university and which is also the kernel of this retreat, as this will be adequately handled by the next speaker.
Vice-Chancellor and other Principal Officers
The Vice-Chancellor is the head of the university and is responsible for its day-to-day management. He and other very highly placed officers of the institution, such as the Deputy Vice-Chancellor(s), Registrar, Bursar and University Librarian, who man various sections of the institution, and all of whom report to the Vice-Chancellor, are often referred to as Principal Officers, as they constitute the immediate support of the Vice-Chancellor in the running of the affairs of the university.
While the Deputy Vice-Chancellor(s) works directly with the Vice-Chancellor, the Registrar as the chief administrative officer, is in charge of the Registry, where university records, Seal and Articles of Authority as well as other documents pertaining to the governance, administration and management of the institution are kept and administered. The Registrar also serves as the Secretary to Council, Senate and Congregation In the same vein, the Bursar, as the chief finance officer, is in charge of the Treasury of the university and manages the finances of the institution, while the University Librarian is in charge of the Library, where the volumes of books owned by the university are kept and managed. Some universities also classify the Director of Works and the Director of Health Services, as Principal officers.
Until recently, the Vice-Chancellor was appointed by the Visitor on the recommendation of Council for federal universities while the other Principal Officers are appointed by Council on the recommendation of Senate and other bodies with the authority to do so.
The Senate of a university serves as the supreme body on academic matters. It is charged with the responsibility of initiating and supervising courses of studies and organising as well as controlling teaching, the admission and discipline of students and the promotion of research9 The Vice-Chancellor is the chairman of Senate with the professors, and heads of various academic units making up its membership in many universities. The Vice-Chancellor is also the chairman of several committees of Council and Senate, like the Appointments and Promotions Committees. It is by the Authority of Senate that the Chancellor, or, in his absence, the Vice-Chancellor, awards the degrees of the university to deserving students at convocations as such degrees are only awarded after formal approval by Senate..
Convocation and Congregation
The Convocation is the assemblage of the staff and students of the university constituted usually for the purposes of the award of degrees and diplomas as approved by Senate while the Congregation is the body of graduate staff of the university who meet to express opinion on various issues in the institution. The Vice-Chancellor presides over Congregation and also Convocation, in the absence of the Chancellor.
These are academic units which all report to Senate and have different levels of responsibilities. The teaching, learning and research activities of a university are carried out through them. Related Schools and Faculties make up a College while related Departments make up a Faculty. A College is headed by a Provost, a School or Faculty by a Dean and a Department by a Head. The Departments are the smallest academic units where teaching, learning and research work are carried out usually on the bases of single subject areas in which degrees are awarded, as part of the overall portfolio of a Faculty, School or College of a university.
Most universities operate the “Committee System” in the decision making process in which issues are freely debated at scheduled meetings and democratically decided upon. In some cases, such decisions may need ratification by higher bodies, like Senate on academic matters and Council in others, before implementation.
Commenting on the University College, Ibadan, which was already in existence at the time the Commission was carrying out its assignment, the Ashby Commission noted the contribution of the university and applauded its quality of programmes as “without reproach”10. Indeed, that much could also have been said of the early universities in the country – those that were established in the 1960s. They had the requisite physical infrastructure for the proper running of a university. The utilities, especially those of portable water supply and electricity, functioned. Student intake was controlled and they were quartered in hospitable environments. The Senate of the universities assured quality of educational instruction and students’ work was properly supervised by staff resulting in the production of graduates who were highly regarded and well sought after, within and outside Nigeria as they possessed the necessary knowledge and skills expected of them.
However, in the past two or three decades, there has been an outcry that the general standard of work in many universities in Nigeria has declined. Infrastructure, especially those for teaching and learning has become poorer. Large number of students are admitted, outside due process and beyond what the institutions can reasonably cater for, based on their facilities and academic staff strength and that additionally, most graduates no longer possess the requisite knowledge and skills to back their degrees. Several publications, including one in the Punch Newspaper of 18th. January, 2013, allege that there are graduates of Nigerian Universities who wish to serve in the National Youth Service Corps who are unable to read and write!!
If indeed this chorus of disapproval is true, the reasons are to be found in the tremendous challenges which some of the universities have faced over the years. I will quickly elaborate on a few of them.
Inadequate Institutional Care
Inadequate planning for infrastructure, academic programmes and funding sources constitute aspects of the inadequate care that some universities suffer in Nigeria, even when they have ostensibly met the NUC’s requirement for opening a university. Pre-existing schools and other institutions which were not built for such a purpose are swiftly converted to allow for the commencement of a university, with emphasis on early admission of students.
Once students are admitted, enrolments are expanded but with little or no commensurate increase in academic staff, research funding and other infrastructure as it should be, in line with global trends11.
The issue with regard to funding of the universities is complex. Not only is the funding of the initial capital outlay heavy, the continuing physical development and recurrent expenditure are also profound. It is no wonder therefore that funding issues have been at the heart of most of the strike actions by the unions, especially those by ASUU.
Outside direct funding by the proprietors, the sources from which a university obtains its revenue are intricate and depend, to some extent on whether the institutional policy approves students’ tuition fees or not . Where this is not allowed and the university is unable to source sufficient funds, the institution is denied a vital element it requires to carry out its dedicated functions, including the hiring of .good staff. The neglect suffered by the university under such circumstances is immense and includes the dilapidation of infrastructure, collapse of utilities, run down students’ hostels, classrooms that are devoid of chairs, laboratories with no chemicals, and many more. It is probably for this reason that the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Senator Ayim Pius Ayim, described funding as a “facilitator for the resolution of the challenges in the education sector” while delivering the Convocation Lecture at. the Joint 28th, 29th, 30th and 31st Convocation Ceremony of the Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto, on Friday 30th November 2012.
Corrupt Practices and Poor Management
Corrupt practices in universities include examination malpractices, plagiarism and award of grades for various forms of gratifications. Cheating at examinations often commences even before the would-be-students get into the universities at their GCE O level and JAMB examinations, where prerequisite entry qualifications are meant to be obtained. No wonder some of those who gain admission to university with high GCE and JAMB scores are not necessarily good students. It was this finding that brought about the need for the establishment of University Matriculation Examination (UME) for university entrants – an action that was strongly opposed by some stakeholders in the sector.
In the universities, some students, sometimes in collaboration with others, devise all manner of ingenious ways to cheat and obtain unearned grades. They bribe willing lecturers with money or sex, have prior knowledge of examination questions, copy at examinations and get others to sit for examinations on their behalf. As for plagiarism – the stealing of intellectual material- academic staff not uncommonly engage in this unconscionable act in
their quest to meet set standards for promotion.
Several factors contribute to poor management of academic institutions. They include outright inefficiency or dishonesty by those in charge of the affairs of the university, especially, Council members and principal officers. While with Council members this is usually manifest in irregularities in the award of contracts, principal officers are inefficient or dishonest in a plethora of ways especially through the admission of students and misapplication of university funds. From time to time, such malfeasances get unearthed through Visitation Panel Reports as was the case recently with the University of Abuja, where the Visitation Panel strongly castigated the Council and all principal officers of the institution and recommended their immediate replacement…
Destructive Trade Unionism
Trade unionism in Nigerian universities, notably those by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) and the Non Academic Staff Union (NASU) have proved to be major challenges facing the smooth administration of these institutions. There is also the Students Union whose activities bear remarkably on the running of Nigerian universities.
Of course the point must be made, that trade unions are important as they serve as effective liaisons between management and the groups they represent. They ensure that managers do not wield undue authoritarian influences on their employees and that the welfare of workers is appropriately protected9.
With this background, it must be accepted that the contribution of some of the Unions to the NUS has been profound. For instance, it was ASUU that in 1993, came up with the idea of the establishment of an Education Tax Fund (Now Tertiary Education Trust Fund TETFund) into which monies accruing from an obligatory 2% Education Tax on the assessable profit of all registered companies in Nigeria, can be paid. The proposal was made on the strong aurgment that these companies are the consumers of the products of the universities and so should be made to have a stake in the funding of the institutions. Monies from this fund, have been of tremendous value to the NUS.
However, the point must also be made, that the frequent use of disruptive strike actions as a means of protest or conflict resolution in federal and state-government universities, which has become the stock-in-trade of the unions, has done untold harm to the NUS. Offices, libraries, classrooms, laboratories, conference centres and other physical structures of universities have remained closed for long periods thereby paralysing all academic activities in the institutions..It does not matter if the issues in dispute are within the purview of the federal or state government as the unions always manage to paralyse the entire system nationwide due to the central command structure that they operate
The result of this has been frequent disruptions leading to poor quality of academic work and irregular and uncertain university calendars. Thus, a four year programme might take even a bright student six years to complete. This is in sharp contrast with my experience as a medical student at the University of Lagos in the 1960s where I graduated, after a five year course of study, exactly on the date that was indicated in the University Calendar that was handed over to me five years previously.
Culture of Violence
The decay in the Nigerian polity2 which has been evident for decades now has made some communities in the country seem like theatres of war. The universities, sadly, have not been spared.
The main agent here is a strange, devilish, satanic and totally repugnant phenomenon known as Cultism, where groups of students, sometimes with some staff, form sects that are dedicated to actions well beyond accepted norms even for universities, which by their very nature, offer a voice and do not sniffle dissent.
The medium of their act is terror, violence, intimidation and outright killing of “marked” persons and of the many varieties that have held the university system hostage, the Virkings, Black Axe and Buccaneers are the most vicious. They maim and kill with incredible ferocity, those who attempt to deflect from their ranks or give out classified information about the “family” or “frat”. Students are terrorised with dangerous weapons in classrooms – guns, knives, explosives; girls are raped and property stolen. Even the females are not shielded from this malady – “Daughters of Jezebel” and the “Black Brassieres” are equally vicious..Many believe that the gruesome broad day burning to death of four students of the University of Port Harcourt late last year in the neighbouring village of Aluu, that stunned a global community which saw it all on television, was a cult -related activity which went badly wrong.
On the whole, secret cult activities and the culture of violence which they institute, have done incalculable harm to Nigerian Universities. From the mayhem, death and destruction they cause to the fear, apprehension and state of insecurity they impose on campuses, the phenomenon has wrecked the lives of many students and forced families to seek more conducive environment for the education of their children outside the country.
The challenges that have been described and much more are some of the reasons for which stringent criticisms and disdain have been poured on some Nigerian universities in the past two or three decades.. To many, they have become the face of the NUS and, at least in part, had led to the brain and man-power drain in which some highly trained staff had left the system and sought careers in institutions and industries outside the country where things are better organised. In the same vein, they are partly responsible for the massive increase in the number of Nigerian students who seek admissions into universities outside the country, especially our neighbouring countries, where they pay much higher fees as “foreign students”. Only recently, in September last year, the Chairman, Committee of Pro-Chancellors of Nigerian Universities, Dr Wale Babalakin disclosed that no fewer than 75,000 Nigerian students were studying in three Ghanaian universities in which they incurred a total of N160billion expenditure annually. Many of the alumni produced under these circumstances are poorly motivated and in some instances, shun all forms of interactions with their alma mater.
However, even with all these “scourges” as I described them in a previous paper12, no one needs to throw up his hand in utter despair and give up on the NUS. The universities are redeemable as the issues highlighted can be corrected. For one thing, many private universities are coming on board following the approval that was given through Decree 9 of 1999 for their establishment. Many of them charge proper fees to maintain qualitative education and taboo disruptive unionism. New federal and state universities are being established to enhance access and so reduce the pressure on the existing ones. A relentless war is being waged on cultism and examination malpractice. Better funding options are being examined and much effort put into the improvement of university governance by the NUC.
But the point must be made and strongly too, that tackling these challenges, for individual universities is to a large extent, the responsibility of the Council and principal officers. Council must show the resolve, ability, commitment and sagacity to stand up to these issues and so bring some succor, through its own university, to the NUS.
Since this retreat is all about RSUST, a few words on the university by way of an introduction will be appropriate even in this overview article.
The enabling law of RSUST was assented to on the 6th day of August, 198013. The institution was established as “a unique and uncommon university that should be structurally and philosophically oriented to solving, (among others), the practical, and in particular, the peculiar and difficult problems of the Rivers State”14.
Furthermore, with “commitment and mission” the university was to “unleash the creative and innovative capabilities of our people for the solution of our problems and enhance the quality of life”. At the 24th. Convocation Lecture of the university2, this mandate and the extent of its fulfillment by the university was x-rayed. It was felt that few universities there were whose birth circumstances were healthier than those of RSUST and that although things went well at the beginning, they faltered at some point. Funding dipped, abandoned projects littered the campus, the university lost accreditation of most of its academic programmes, cult activities and protests by staff unions escalated and the fortunes of the institution plummeted. However, the point was also made that things appear to be looking up now, even though strong challenges still exist. All programmes in the university have gained accreditation, a number of physical structures have been completed, cult activities have ebbed, funding has improved to some extent and a new site for the institution, with modern amenities, is under construction. Between 2005 and 2010, the institution produced 18, 155 First Degree and 2789 Higher Degree holders.
STAFF CATEGORIES IN RSUST
SOURCE: OFFICE OF THE VICE-CHANCELLOR
The Table above gives some information on staff and student disposition of the university as at July 2011. The university was the first state-government owned university to be established following the return of the right to do so to the Concurrent List by the 1979 constitution of Nigeria.
Despite their huge capital outlay and recurrent expenses, universities everywhere are established, among others, because of their immense potentials to contribute to the improvement of the quality of life of the people through higher education which they foster. They serve as sources of new knowledge and innovative thinking; providers of skilled personnel with credible credentials; attractors of international talent and business investment; agents of social justice and mobility; contributors to social and cultural vitality; and determinants of health and well-being5. However, many believe that on balance, universities in Nigeria, including RSUST, have not fulfilled these roles satisfactorily on account of serious challenges of inadequate institutional care, scarcity of teaching and learning infrastructure, and a fossilised culture of violence, among many others.
This retreat would have fulfilled its mandate if members of the Governing Council of RSUST, at whose behest we are all gathered here, can rise from it with a clear understanding of their role and what is before them, and also with a firm resolve to cause the university to overcome its challenges and to be counted among the best higher educational institutions in Africa.
1.Ladipo, Mojisola, The Registry as the lifeline of the University: Past, Present and Future. Lecture Delivered at the Registry Day, University of Port Harcourt. Friday November 9, 2012.
2. Briggs, Nimi D. Fulfilling the Mandate. Rivers State University of Science and Technology. 24th Convocation lecture. May 3, 2012
3. International Handbook of Universities. International Association of Universities. Nineteenth Edition.
4 Boulton G, What are universities for, (www.newstateman.com; www. universityworldnews.com)
5.Bamiro, OA. The Nigerian University System and the Challenge of Relevance. Convocation Lecture. University of Lagos, Akoka, Lagos. January 12, 2012.
6. Elliot Commission Report on Facilities of Higher Education in British West Africa. 1945.
7 Eric Ashby Report 1960.
8.The University of Port Harcourt Decree. Decree 84, 1979.
9. Briggs Nimi D. Turning The Tide. Spectrum Books Publishers 2006
10. Njoku, Placid C, The Changing Roles of the National Universities Commission. A paper presented at the 4th National Training Programme for Senior University Managers. 10th December, 2002.
11.Banji oyelaran-oyeyinka www.cvcnigeria.org/pub/GlobalTrends.doc
12. Briggs, Nimi D.Scourges in our Universities. What role for Alumni Associations? Lecture delivered at the 3rd Annual public Lecture of the Ahmadu Bello University Alumni Association.November 2001
13 Okilo, Melford, An Address by His Excellency The Governor of Rivers State Chief Melford Okilo on the occasion of the Formal Opening of the Rivers State University of Science and Technology, 31st October, 1980
14.Rivers State University of Science and Technology. Calendar 1996-2002.