Federal University Lokoja
2nd Convocation Lecture.
Resources And The Prospects of Development in Nigerian Universities
Nimi Briggs. OON, MD, FAS.
Pro-chancellor and chairman of the council.
Thursday 2nd November 2017 email: email@example.com
Doctrine of necessity is a term that made a strong showing in the Nigerian media in the early months of 2010. That was the time the country was grappling with a startling event that had no antecedent but had potentially dire consequences and for which the nation’s constitution did not appear to have made satisfactory provisions. After some protracted public debate, the country’s senate invoked the tenets of the doctrine of extra-legal actions1 and took decisions which were in the interest of the common good but appeared unconventional and even seemed unconstitutional. It is in a similar vein that I see the circumstances that have resulted in I, the incumbent pro-chancellor and chairman of council of the Federal University Lokoja (FUL), having to deliver the institution’s 2nd convocation lecture, at very short notice. I thank the university for its manifest confidence in me and as I do so, I wish to observe that the uniqueness of the circumstances places me in a special class to which, I dare say, many of my colleagues would wish to belong.
Universities, everywhere, especially public universities are established with great expectations. They are to educate, train, motivate and cultivate men and women to enable them acquire knowledge, skills and creativity for personal as well as national development. It is also expected of them to generate, propagate and exploit such knowledge that would lead to inventions and discoveries as well as enhancement of the quality of life. Furthermore, they are to engage their communities positively and serve as the conscience of society. Thus, universities are complex organisations with equally intricate mandates through which they can profoundly influence the course of humanity and it is the extent to which a university is able to meet these societal expectations that is described as development in this presentation. Accordingly, because universities possess such immense potentials for influencing human and national development, rich and powerful nations of the world regard their universities as strategic national assets on which they rely, to a considerable extent for vital contributions to policy formulation and execution in the areas of food security, national defense, health and many others, including international diplomacy. It is also for the same reason of their innate power, that even the smallest, poorest and weakest countries aspire to establish universities.
To carry out such complex functions and abide by the far-reaching commitments that are demanded of them, universities require huge tangible resources, principally in the areas of human, infrastructural and financial, to enable them meet general expectations. Humans run the scholarly activities of universities, including their learning, teaching and research functions. It is also through them that universities interact with their numerous audiences. Thus, humans, as a community of teachers and scholars, constitute the most valuable resource of universities. The infrastructure required to provide the learning environment in universities are many. They consist of campus arrangements, lecture halls, seminar rooms, auditoria, offices, living accommodation, medical centres, laboratories, hospitals and many more including the utilities of energy and water supply needed to run these physical structures. As for finance, its importance is underscored by the fact that it is the medium through which the day-to-day running of the activities of the universities as well as their long-term needs are met: payment of staff salaries and emoluments, erection of needed infrastructure, purchase of consumables, short and long-term investments and much more.
Of these three major resources that universities need to fulfill their mission – human, infrastructure and finance – today’s lecture will examine the issue of finance which comes into universities through two major sources: as grants and subventions from their respective proprietors (governments/private individuals and organisations) and as funds generated by the universities themselves. Of these two, I will concentrate on the funds universities are able to generate as in a way, they are indicative of public acceptance of the institutions and to some extent, a demonstration of how well universities are interacting with their audiences.
Why Should Universities Generate Revenue?
To defray deficits.
In most universities, whether privately or publicly owned, subventions from proprietors are hardly enough to cover the expenses incurred by the institutions in running their affairs. In Nigeria, prior to 2005, public-owned universities indicated their financial requirements to their proprietors through need-based budgeting. However, this system was replaced with the envelope system in which a fixed sum, usually less than the required funding, is made available to the institutions monthly to run their affairs. As expenditure is usually more than the income, especially where the envelop system is used, a deficit develops which has to be defrayed.
Table 1 shows the Income and Expenditure of five federal government- owned universities in Nigeria between 2009 and 2013. As can be seen, inflow of funds from government to each of the universities differed remarkably and most of this (about 90%) was spent in the payment of staff salaries and emoluments leaving very little for other activities of the institution. This inadequate funding resulted in shortfalls in four of the five institutions. It is such shortfalls that generated revenue, when available, can be used to partly defray.
To secure their future
Whether we regard the University of Karaouine, also known as Al Quaraouyine University which was established in Fes, Morocco in 859 or the University of Bologna established in Italy in 1088 as the oldest existing and continually operating university in the world, the fact remains that universities are established in perpetuity. Such longevity places things in perspective for universities in Nigeria the first set of which were established between the late 1940s and early 1960s (University College Ibadan, 1948; University of Nigeria, Nsukka, 1960; University of Lagos, 1962). As for FUL which was established in 2011, the realities are even more stark.
From its inception therefore, every university must take steps to secure its future as this would enable it to plan a coordinated growth and development of its various components. Furthermore, such security shields a university, to some extent from the vagaries of political uncertainties or the vicissitudes in the fortune of its proprietor. Thus, universities invest in long-term ventures that have multiplier effects and would bring in steady revenue which could be used at the time or invested. They also carry out Advancement activities that enable them evolve endowment funds. Trading in stocks and shares, real estates, land speculations and endowments are some of the investments universities make to ensure their future. The endowment funds of many leading universities in America are in billions of dollars, while Nigerian universities record poor endowment funds. The University of Lagos currently has an endowment fund of N2.28billion2 while at FUL it is N5.1Million Naira, with another N67.7 Million naira as outstanding pledges that have not been redeemed despite the stringent efforts that the university had made for their collection3
To have financial autonomy
Universities cherish their traditions of regulating their own activities in all that they do, including what they teach and what they research on. Universities insist on this because of their belief that it is in such an unfettered atmosphere where dissent and disputation are not stifled for any reasons, that they can truly pursue the universal truth in their quest to know what was, what is and would be. Not surprisingly, this concept of autonomy brings universities into some friction with their proprietors who would like to dictate the tone as the payers of the pipers. Universities with sufficient financial resources that have less recourse to their proprietors are therefore able to exercise greater autonomy in the running of their affairs. For instance, they may not necessarily run unified salary scales and can unilaterally fix the stipends of staff, especially those of renowned academics.
In Nigeria, the federal government has granted substantial autonomy to its universities by allowing governing councils considerable powers to run the affairs of the institutions including the appointment of vice-chancellors and other principal officers. However, since public universities rely to a considerable extent on the subventions they receive from their proprietors, they are unable to exercise the full breath of autonomy that they would like to. Generating their own revenue is one way they could reduce interference by their proprietors.
To carry out their complex activities
Reference was made earlier to the complex nature of university missions and activities, including the impact expected of them on their communities. From education to health, from the environment to security, from water supply to electricity, communities expect to benefit from their proximity to university campuses. This is in addition to the complexities of running a campus for staff and students.
Universities realize that not only is it part of their briefs but that it is also, ultimately in their own interest to cultivate and live in harmony with communities in which they are located. However, no proprietor would provide funds for universities to carry out such important activities. Universities must do so from their own resources.
How Do Universities Generate Revenue?
Research is an important distinguishing factor of a university. Other than providing a basis for academic progression, research also serves as a vital revenue generating source for the institution as its outputs can give rise to patents, innovations and inventions from which royalties can be earned by the university. Furthermore, research grants from external and internal sources, governments, industries not only provide funds for university activities but also enable institutions to acquire vital equipment which become university property at the end of the research for which they were purchased. It is noteworthy that research related activities provided about 40% of the total expenditure of the University of Oxford in 2015/2016.4 and that the ten universities in Nigeria that won the $70,000,000.00 World Bank grant under the African Centres of Excellence project for 2015 are developing their institutions as well as carrying out the research. Finally, the point must be made that research related income benefits both the institution and the researcher. The Nobel Prize is an outstanding example.
Students pay fees in the form of tuition and service charges and such fees constitute an important source of finances for universities – over 20% in some instances.4 This is more so for world class universities – those in the first 100 of global university rankings – that are able to attract many foreign students for undergraduate and post graduate programmes whom they charge substantial discriminatory tuition fees, where such fees are not covered by scholarships that the students may have won. In Nigeria, through a federal government policy, tuition fees are not charged for undergraduate programmes in federal government-owned universities. Students only pay for service charges – bed spaces, health care, laboratories, projects, field visits, academic gowns and special costumes, registration and documentations. And even at that, the fees accruable to a university depend substantially on its age and its total number of enrolled students. For instance, the University of Lagos, established in 1962 has total students’ enrollment for 2016/2017 session as 58,214 comprising 30,375 full time undergraduates 14,739 part-time undergraduates; 10,700 postgraduates and 2,400 sub degree students.2 While FUL which was established in 2011 only has 2,823 – all full-time undergraduates.3 Thus, fees obtainable from students’ charges by the two federal government-owned universities would be remarkably different.
Universities mount several educational programmes – sandwich courses, seminars, lectures, specified short courses, professional exhibitions and others – for the benefit of diverse groups of persons who are not formally registered as staff or full time students of the institutions but are desirous of acquiring first and higher degrees, specialised technical skills or improved knowledge in response to the demands of higher responsibilities. The Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) and sandwich teachers’ bachelor’s programmes are the most popular in Nigerian universities. In addition to propagating knowledge, disseminating information and teaching skills, these activities also serve as a means of generating much needed revenue. Some of the older universities that are in big cities like Lagos and Port Harcourt have taken good advantage of such demands and established well-organised programmes that have grown in popularly with corresponding accrual of revenue.
The complexities of universities and the retinue of men and women they deal with – students, their parents and guardians, staff, corporate bodies, media, government and policy makers, industry gurus, patients, alumni, the community and many more make the reach of a university a very wide one indeed. In university advancement, the relationship that the universities have with these persons or groups is cultivated, grown and exploited for the purposes of the institutions. The cultivation is properly structured and done in such a manner that it is symbiotic. On the one hand, universities, as important components of society work to improve the welfare of society through learning, teaching and innovation while on the other, society itself, in return, supports universities in varied ways to satisfactorily carry out their multiple functions. This mutually beneficial relationship aims to establish, enhance and foster understanding and support among universities key constituents.
Many universities, especially those in Europe and north America use the platform of Advancement not just to enhance revenue to the institution but also to improve the total asset base of the organisation through campaigns, inclusion in Wills and Last Testaments, endowments and other instruments of transfer. The national culture of philanthropy that is prevalent in Europe and America, especially giving to educational institutions, contributes to the success of university advancement in no small measure in those countries.
In Nigeria, university advancement is still in its infancy – partly due to its late onset occasioned by late appreciation of its potentials and partly due to the weak culture of philanthropy in the country. But it is growing with properly structured advancement offices staffed by professional personnel being established in many universities as part of the offices of vice-chancellors or as separate departments or units within the university’s management complex.
Many would contend that universities are not set up to engage in commercial activities and that doing so constitutes a dangerous distraction from their key mission. However, far from this extreme view, some universities the world over, those in Nigeria inclusive, engage in some commercial activities without significant disruption of their main activities. In fact, some of these activities can be seen as natural extensions of their core mandates like the sale of agricultural products from huge university farms at competitive prices to the public. Furthermore, commerce as part of the learning process is being encouraged through the conscious effort of introducing entrepreneurship as part of various university curricula. In the same vein, researchers are not infrequently, requested to indicate the commercial value of their work and students are encouraged to establish startup firms within (and not outside) the university from the outcome of their work, even at the undergraduate level.
Thus, many universities in Nigeria now produce their own table water which they commercialise. Some also sell food items and have bakeries. Others speculate in property. The University of Maiduguri is the proprietor of Kanem Suites – a very successful and properly functional hotel in the commercial area of Jabi which is rated 26 out of 351 specialty lodgings in Abuja. So is the University of Ibadan, the owner of UI Ventures with a premium accommodation that is heavily patronised in the city of Ibadan. The world-class virology laboratory at the Redeemer’s University, Ede is open to the public and it is where the authenticity of the monkey pox virus that is currently making the rounds in Nigeria is being investigated. Similarly, the Sports Institute of the University of Port Harcourt is establishing a laboratory at its high performance centre where body fluids from athletes could be tested for the presence of banned performance enhancing substances.
What Factors Enhance Revenue Generation in Universities?
The point was made earlier that humans constitute the most valuable resource of universities as they drive the teaching and learning process – the most fundamental reason for which universities are established. The situation is the same with respect to revenue generation as it is human activities that also result in external inflow of funds to institutions. Students get admitted into universities where they pay fees because there are staff to teach and nurture them. Humans conduct research which lead to innovation and discovery on which universities earn research-related incomes. Successful commercial activities in universities are conducted by university staff. Indeed, even in these days of automation, it is difficult to identify revenue generating activities in universities that are devoid of human involvement.
Alumni play a key role in the fortunes of their universities and it is for this reason that many universities go to great length to court their alumni by keeping regularly in touch with them and conveying information on the progress being made in the universities. Alumni love such recognition and contact and reciprocate by getting involved in various activities that promote the university: endowment, construction of physical structures, funding of specified programmes, awards of scholarships and others. Little wonder, some argue, that a university is as strong as its alumni. However, it is the alumni who feel proud of their institutions and are of the view that they benefited from attending those institutions that connect in such positive ways. Those who feel otherwise, do not.
Universities must therefore ensure that students have a worthwhile experience while in training which can bring back happy and nostalgic memories when they leave and on which they can fall back. Universities must treat students with respect and provide them with good learning environment. Their teachers must take their responsibilities seriously and not subject students to improper actions like sexual or financial gratifications, intimidation and abuse.
Whereas alumni associations are very strong and virile in most universities in Europe and America, they are, sadly, weak in many universities in Nigeria. Some alumni of universities in Nigeria do not wish to be reminded of their alma mater in any way because of alleged terrible experiences in their living and learning environment and maltreatment from staff and fellow students. However, some of the older universities in the country appear to be enjoying robust and strongly supportive alumni associations. The faculty of medicine of the University of Ibadan receives very strong support from its alumni in Nigeria and the diaspora. On the 13th of October 2017, at a reception it held in Lagos for vice president Professor Yemi Osinbajo, the University of Lagos Alumni Association launched a 2 billion naira appeal fund for the erection of an alumni hostel for students on the campus. Over 1 billion naira was given by a group of persons at the event, there and then with a promise to do more.
Every university needs some infrastructure to function optimally: offices, living accommodation, laboratories, energy and water supply. Some of this infrastructure are not only required for the university to be able to do its work, but are also important avenues for revenue generation. Such structures include hospitals, agricultural farms, mechanical workshops, language laboratories, theatres, halls for various functions and many others.
Maturity and Reputation
Like all human endeavours universities mature with age and as they do, they improve on their efficiency and perfect those elements and structures through which they generate funds from external sources – conduct of research, execution of commissioned projects, admission of students across the globe, entrepreneurship, strong and well-established alumni associations. It is not surprising therefore that the oldest universities are also some of the world’s wealthiest institutions of higher learning: Bologna 1088, Oxford 1096, Paris 1257 and Harvard 1636. The corollary is also true in Nigeria as the first generation universities: Ibadan 1948, University of Nigeria 1960, Lagos 1962, are some of the richest Nigerian universities although some of the second generation universities, especially the University of Ilorin are also doing well.
Without prejudice to the age and physical infrastructure in a university, its ability to generate external funds is predicated largely on its reputation and public perception – attributes that evolve slowly on an enduring record of diligence, transparency, trustworthiness, dependability and industry. Universities that manifest these laudable attributes in all aspects of their operations – admission process and student mentorship, staff recruitment and promotion, financial transactions, environmental management, research and others are perceived to be worthy to be associated with through the various interactions that bring revenue to the university. While those that are unable to meet these public expectations, are shunned and sidelined as much as possible.
FUL and Revenue Generation
Those who know FUL will opine that the odds are heavily stacked against the institution on the issue of revenue generation. Established just in 2011, the institution is one of the newest of the 40 federal government-owned universities. With only two faculties – Arts and Science and a total student population of under 3000, the accruable fees for service charges will be small. Having graduated only one set of students last year since its inception into an austere labour market, its alumni base is weak. The staff strength is also low; the total is 900 of which only 187 are teaching staff and of these, only 16 are full professors. This dearth of academic staff has deleterious effect on the ability of the university to attract research grants from within and outside the country. Furthermore, six years after its establishment, the university is still operating from its take-off site with a vast permanent site that is hardly developed.
No one needs take fright about these daunting statistics as it were. They are challenges which are not insurmountable judging from the areas of strength of the institution and the opportunities that present themselves. The youthfulness of the institution offers a chance to learn from and avoid the pitfalls that befell older universities. In expanding its academic base, the university should establish new programmes that are directed at meeting current national demands. The nearly fallow permanent site with its expansive land gives an opportunity to plan a modern university that could be the envy of many. The senior academic staff though few, are men and women of character and probity. The summary manner the senate of the university dealt with the recent case of examination malpractice that was brought to its attention attests to this and is one for which senate deserves to be commended.
Going further, the university is in the Confluence City of Lokoja where the two major waterways in Nigeria – the rivers Benue and Niger, as they do in none other, meet; a city that was once the headquarters of the northern protectorate; the birthplace of the concept of the Nigeria project and home to the famous mount patti where Lord Frederick John Dealtry Lugard lived with Flora Shaw. A city that is the cradle of formal education in Northern Nigeria where the first primary school which was built in the then Northern Nigeria in 1865 is still standing with the same roofing sheets and walls of that time and still being used by primary school pupils. Indeed, a city that is an embodiment of the history of Nigeria. And that is not all. Lokoja and its environs are blessed with rich mineral deposits of iron ore, coal, limestone, calcite and gypsum among others and its rivers Benue and Niger are rich in marine life. There are well-irrigated and expansive flat lands which abort into the two huge waterways. This in ring fenced as it were by mountains of which the great mount patti is part, the whole arrangement evoking an exquisite scenic beauty. Above all, the people are warm, friendly, hardworking and welcoming. Lokoja, steep in history as none other, is therefore, an ideal location for a forward- looking university.
To my mind therefore, the future of this university is bright despite its current difficulties. Given the right direction, FUL can convert Lokoja and its environs into a haven of paradise for Nigeria and generate enough revenue to look after itself completely through agriculture, mining engineering and the hospitality industry. What needs to be done is careful planning and diligence as well as transparency in what students and staff are currently able to do. This will form the basis of the foundation of the respect and favourable public perception that a new university like FUL requires to attract the much-needed friends and support.
Adequate financial resources are important for universities to develop properly and so, be in a position to satisfactorily fulfill their mission and vision. For several reasons, such financial resources should come from multiple sources and not from their respective proprietors alone. One important source is the revenue generated by the universities themselves from various activities with their audiences. The library of 400 books and one half of his estate – £780.00, which John Harvard bequeathed to the institution in the early 1600s that was eventually named after him – Harvard University, enabled that institution to develop to become one of the most prestigious higher educational institutions in the world with great distinction and incomparable accomplishment. However, it is universities that build reputation for scholarship, integrity, respectability and accountability that are more readily able to attract or generate funds externally as such institutions tend to habour faculties of great standing and are usually in high demand by students globally. Not only do such universities rake in huge benefits in cash and kind from philanthropists, alumni, corporate organisations and other well-wishers, they also earn the admiration, respect and goodwill from these persons and organisations for the progression of the vision and mission of the respective universities.
Universities in Nigeria could be regarded as being young when judged against the background of the millennia for which some of their counterparts in Europe and America have survived. But even at that, they must take steps to develop revenue generation strategies by doing those things internally that would enhance their efficiency and respectability and evolving structured approach to the issue of external revenue generation.
At the national level, Nigeria should institutionalize purposeful governance so that there will be less disaffection, less theft of public funds and greater investment in social infrastructure, especially education. The aim should be to reduce pervading poverty and create wealth through knowledge exploitation. This, among others, will produce more philanthropists who can give to education. The recent rapid proliferation of universities especially in the private sector is good but seeing what it takes to survive in a harsh economic climate such as we currently have in the country, it is doubtful if many of them will go past the euphoria of berthing and be able to make the perpetuity expected of universities.
As for FUL, this lecture should serve as a wake-up call for it to take adequate steps to ensure its future. While there is a consensus on the benefits of moving to the permanent site now, ensuring its future will also be predicated on how well its staff and students do the things that they are currently able to do. How do staff and students apply themselves; how do they teach and learn; how sincere are they in the conduct of research? What level of seriousness do they apply to issues such as punctuality, honesty, transparency sexual harassment and examination malpractices. As unconnected as they may seem, it is such intangible elements that give a university its form and character which determine the respect, love and admiration of the community which in turn governs society’s willingness to support the university.
My prayer for FUL is that it would rapidly overcome its current challenges and grow to become one of the leading higher educational institutions in Nigeria.
I thank you all for your attention.
- Bello, RA. Vice-chancellor, University of Lagos. Personal Communication. Oct. 2017.
- Miri, AF. Vice-Chancellor, Federal University Lokoja. Personal Communication. Oct.2017
- Oxford University 2015/2016 Income and Expenditure. Adapted from www.ox.ac.uk/about/organisation/finance-and-funding?wssl=1