UNIVERSITY GOVERNANCE, A Paper Presented by Nimi Briggs, Emeritus Professor, University of Port Harcourt at A 2 – DAY RETREAT FOR NEWLY INAUGURATED GOVERNING COUNCILS OF FEDERAL UNIVERSITIES IN NIGERIA organised by the National Universities Commission on 9 July, 2013

Opening Remarks.

Let me welcome and congratulate all members of the Governing Councils of Federal Universities on your appointment to this position of trust. I wish you all successful tenure. Let me also welcome Vice-Chancellors of some other universities that are present at this retreat. It is my hope that our interaction at this forum will prove useful as you tackle the onerous responsibility of looking after the affairs of your various institutions.

Despite their huge capital outlay, 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 as well as providers of skilled personnel with credible credentials and are also agents of social justice and mobility.

In the case of Nigeria, despite the diverse orientations and ownership of the 128 universities that are currently established in the country, by the federal and state governments, as well as faith-based and private organisations, their governance systems, by and large, share something in common. This is so because they are unique and corporate institutions that are endowed with capacity through legislation to manage their own affairs.

The commonly practised system of governance of universities in the country, is essentially British, and can be traced back to the University of Ibadan, with its origin as a College of the University of London. By virtue of its foremost position in the Nigerian Universities System(NUS), products of that university and their protégées have successfully influenced governance orientation in successive universities in the country. The similarity in the pattern of governance that this historical antecedent has brought about, exists whether the universities are organised in the Collegiate, School or Faculty Systems.

There is usually an enabling instrument, known as the law or decree as the case may be, for each university. That instrument defines the governance structure and spells out the responsibilities and limitations of the powers and authority of each of the organs and officers of the institution. A glimpse at the law of any of the universities in the country, would indicate that the institution has invested almost all the powers pertaining to its function in the Governing Council and Senate of the particular university. This fact immediately situates the role of Councils in proper perspective as being critical to the development of individual universities and indeed, that of the university system in the country. Accordingly, I will at the short time at my disposal, use the Governing Council and Senate, as well as some of their officers and committees, as a fulcrum, to make some comment on effective governance in the NUS.

Governing Council

In the NUS, the composition of Governing Councils is made up of those appointed by the proprietor(s) and those representing various sections of the university. In the case of federal universities, the former consists of a Chairman who is also the Pro-chancellor, a representative of the Federal Ministry of Education, and persons representing various public interests. The ex-officio members are the Vice-Chancellor and his deputy(ies). While representatives of Senate, Congregation and the Alumni are also members of Council. The Registrar is the Secretary to Council and Congregation.

The law of the university, typically invests Council with wide powers, including the general control and superintendence of the policy, finance and property of the institution, as well as its public relations. The law also appropriates to Council, the powers to invest, acquire and dispose of the university’s property. In effect, this translates into Council helping the university to grow and to meet its many challenges.

In order to exercise these wide powers, Council has a number of standing committees, through which it carries out oversight functions, outside its plenary sessions. Of these, probably the most important, are the Finance and General Purposes Committee and the Tenders Board which are chaired by the Chairman of Council. The Appointments and Promotion Committees for teaching and non-teaching staff are also very important but they are chaired by the Vice-Chancellor. Senate is mandatorily required to have representation on some of these committees, such committees being known as Joint Committees of Council and Senate.

In their set up, universities are meant to be highly democratic institutions and the committee system, which serves as the basis of decision making, exists from the level of Council, down to the level of the departments in the faculties. The system allows issues to be freely debated and democratically decided upon at scheduled meetings even if such decisions are subject to ratification by higher authorities like Senate on academic matters, and Council in some other respects.


Whereas the Council is charged with responsibility for the general control and superintendence of the affairs of the university, the Senate, on the other hand, serves as the supreme body on academic matters. It has the duty of initiating and supervising courses of studies and organising, as well as controlling teaching. The admission and discipline of students and the promotion of research, are also within its purview. The Vice-Chancellor is the chairman of Senate and he or she, along with the professors in the university, and heads of the institution’s academic units, make up the membership of Senate in many universities. The Vice-Chancellor is also the chairman of several Joint Committees of Council and Senate. 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. Like Council, Senate also runs the committee system, some of which may be ad-hoc, to enable it deal with some specific issues.

Having spoken about the Council and Senate, a brief mention should also be made of some of the other important officers and organs of the university as matters relating to them will be before you at various meetings. The officers include the Visitor, Chancellor and Vice-Chancellor. The Visitor is the representative of the head of the organization that owns the university and in the case of federal universities, the head is Mr. President. The Chancellor is the titular or ceremonial head of the institution while the Vice-Chancellor is the institution’s Chief Executive. Other than the Council and Senate, the other important organs of the University are the Congregation, Convocation and the academic units – the Colleges, Faculties and Departments. Whereas the Congregation is the body of graduate staff of the university who meet to express opinion on various issues in the institution, 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, The Colleges, Faculties and Departments constitute the academic units of the institution where teaching and research, the core activities of the university are carried out.

With this brief background, I will now go on to comment on some issues which are pertinent to effective university governance which constitute your main assignment as members of Council. A number of the issues on which I would make comment, will crop up as you superintend over the affairs of your respective universities. Ventilating them therefore, should serve as an essential part of the discussion at this retreat.

Effective University Governance

  • Have knowledge of the operations of the university.

Universities are complex organisations but the way to govern them is clearly stated in their respective enabling laws. So, this would need to be studied and understood especially by members of Council – the apex authority of the institution, whose decisions are binding on all sections of the university. The functions, powers and limitations of the various officials of the university like the Visitor, the Chancellor, the Pro-chancellor, Vice-Chancellor and other principal officers, as well as organs of the institution like Council, Senate, Congregation and Convocation would all need to be clearly comprehended. Furthermore, Minutes of meetings – those of Council and its committees, should be read to enable one contribute meaningfully to deliberations at such meetings. To attend meetings without availing one’s self of appropriate information, and just hoping to say yes or no, in tandem with the majority, is a great disservice to the university and the body that elected or appointed one to Council. An appetite to read and understand issues about the university must be cultivated by all Council members as this would enable them to define their own positions on issues and so, play positive roles in the proper management of the affairs of the university.

  • Promote the policy of the proprietor

Every proprietor of a university has an objective in setting up the institution. In the case of the current 40 federal universities, which are all owned by the Federal Government of Nigeria, the objective includes that of making quality tertiary education available to large number of qualified students in universities of international standard, where tuition is offered free. The ultimate purpose is the production of a critical mass of well-informed and educated men and women, who would contribute positively to national development. The emphasis is on the quality of the universities, provision of access to qualified candidates and free tuition.

Council members should have this objective always before them and should factor it in, in all that they do. Accordingly, they should seek the growth of the university and take measures to improve the quality of its academic work through the Senate. In the same vein, Council should seek to enhance the infrastructure of the institution so as to enable it take in more qualified students, who should not be made to pay tuition fees, although other municipal charges could be paid for.

In the past, Council members have felt the need to improve standards and infrastructure, so as to increase access to more of those with relevant qualifications, but some have blamed the non-payment of tuition fees by students, as stipulated by government, as being responsible for the parlous financial situation in which a number of federal universities find themselves. The argument has been that Government alone cannot fund university education satisfactorily and that the same Nigerian students pay very high tuition fees in privately- owned universities and in universities outside Nigeria. Such students, they believe would be will willing to pay tuition fees in order to have better facilities. On the other hand, it is generally known that students in federal universities are very averse to any increase in any form of fees. The recent event at the University of Uyo, where, it is alleged that a small hike in fees collected for a bus ride from one campus of the institution to the other, caused huge demonstrations and destruction of university property, is a case in point. Students generally believe that the Federal Government has enough resources to make their universities to be those of world standards but that government has always lacked the political will to do so.

To circumvent this and to improve the revenue base of their universities, some Councils had in the past, approved some fee paying programmes like part time degree and diploma programmes within and outside the university campus, and the payment of fees on some services that are offered by their universities. Some had also instituted Capital Campaigns to raise funds for their institutions. It is possible that the current Governing Councils will also do something similar. However whatever it is you wish to do as a Council, please ensure it does not contravene laid down rules by the Federal Government acting thorough the National Universities Commission.

  • Monitor the finances of the university.

One important factor that contributes to the proper running of universities, is a tight budgetary control in such a way that expectations, realities, incomes and expenditures are in consonance. This is one of the most important functions of Council – streamlining the finances of the institution; and it does this, usually through its Finance and General Purposes Committee (F&GPC) which is chaired by the Chairman of Council. Council examines financial accounts of the university that are audited quarterly by internal auditors and annually by external auditors. It keeps track of the institution’s income and expenditure and advises the administration early to make appropriate adjustments. It allocates university funds in an efficient and prudent manner, mindful at all times of staff salaries and emoluments as well as the advancement of the university, to cover personnel cost, overhead cost, research and development, library development and others. Using its good office to attract finances into the university is another arm of this function of Council but I see the topic would be handled later by a very competent colleague.

  • Use Due Process for Contract Awards

The emphasis here is not on the rudiments of the government approved procedure for Public Procurement of Goods and Services in its Ministries, Departments and Agencies, including the universities. As again, this would be handled by another competent gentleman who has been at it for a long time. Rather, the point being made here is to request Council members to allow the process to operate as planned and not to meddle with it by doing all manner of things to get contracts awarded to themselves or their proxies. This is one issue that causes tremendous problems in Councils. It breeds distrust, places undue pressure on the university management and could be the source of scandals that could badly tarnish the image of not just members of Council, but also of the university. Furthermore, contracts obtained in this manner by Council members or their proxies, are often abandoned before completion, thereby putting Chief Executives in great peril.

  • Appoint the Right Staff to Positions.

Since all employees of the university are employees of Council, it is the Council that has the power to hire and fire. Council should ensure that it uses this power to appoint competent and qualified persons into various positions. Whereas this is important in all the appointments that Council would have to make, it is more so in the case of the Principal Officers of the university: the Vice-Chancellor and Deputy Vice-Chancellor(s), the Registrar, Bursar and University Librarian as these are the ones that would be responsible for the day-to-day management of the affairs of the institution, under the leadership of the Vice-Chancellor. Their performance would therefore, also rub off, one way or the other, on the performance of Council.

The statutory requirements for the appointment should be properly followed. The advertisement should be made, conditions clearly stated and time for response met. Short listing and interviews should all be done with honesty and transparency. This way, the Council would prove itself to be above board and would be able to stand the criticisms that not uncommonly follow such high profile appointments.

At this point, a little more needs to be said about the appointment of a Vice-Chancellor as it is possible that some Councils here will have the opportunity to carry out this delicate and momentous assignment before the expiration of their tenure.

Being the Chief Executive and Chief Administrative Officer of the University, to the exclusion of all others, the Vice-Chancellor’s position is highly sought after in all Nigerian universities. The number of aspirants is usually large and the competition, very keen. Before 1993, the appointment was made for a period of four years in the first instance and another three years, thereafter, on satisfactory performance. However, on account of the acrimony associated with Vice-Chancellors’ bids for second term appointments, government in its wisdom, limited the tenure to a single one of five years. Also, prior to the Autonomy Act of 2003, which became effective in 2007, the appointments were made by the Visitor on the recommendation of Council. The current situation is that Governing Council makes the appointment from a list of three candidates recommended to it by the Selection Panel, and only informs the Visitor. Council should therefore, of necessity, ensure that the right candidate, with sterling leadership qualities is appointed to this very important position. Some universities that have done otherwise in the past, have occasionally run into tremendous difficulties.

  • Be firm on Issues of Discipline.

Cases of gross misconduct and serious infringement of university rules and regulations are usually reported to Council by the Vice-Chancellor. Where Council is able to uphold the allegation after appropriate investigation and fair hearing by its Disciplinary Committee, Council should not hesitate to apply the necessary sanctions against such offenders. Such cases usually involve plagiarism, sexual harassment, violence, cult activities and examination malpractices. Other than the criminal nature of some of them, these events give negative publicity to the university and some disrupt peaceful coexistence in the campus.

Issues that affect the recognised unions in the university should be handled carefully. Council should honour agreements reached with the unions but should also take steps to stem their propensity for embarking on strike actions frequently even on issues that could be easily resolved through dialogue.

  • Promote a Positive Image of the University.

As is provided for in the Statutes of many federal universities, it is the responsibility of the Governing Council to ensure that the University maintains a positive public image. In this regard, it is my view that the way and manner in which individual members of Council as well as the Principal Officers of the University comport themselves, and relate to one another, goes a long way in creating a positive image for the institution. Council also promotes a positive image for the university by running the affairs of the institution through laid down rules and regulations. This ensures that no scandals arise from irregular actions and decisions that may have been taken by Council. Reference has been made to the care and diligence required of Council on the issue of contract awards and the appointment of Principal Officers of the university, especially the Vice-Chancellor. Furthermore, Council members should not patronize the electronic and print media as avenues to express disapproval of decisions taken by their universities. On the other hand, positive happenings in the university like ground breaking research findings, internal and external recognitions, proficiency in sporting competitions, among others, should be given wide dissemination.

Making the impact of the university felt in the community in which it is located is another way of improving the image of the institution. Councils do this in a number of ways including preferential employment of the sons and daughters as well as offering scholarships to students from the community. Universities also engage in some activities that benefit the community like the sinking of boreholes to provide potable water. Furthermore, leaders of the community are invited to participate in ceremonial activities of the universities, during which they receive due recognition.

  • Support the Administration.

Council is expected to lend support to the Administration in the running of the day-to-day activities of the affairs of the university especially in times of crises. Such crises are not uncommon in the NUS especially with respect to failure of utilities – electricity and water supply and when serious breaches of security occur on campus. Student protests also erupt from time to time. The support that is being suggested is without prejudice to the fact that the Vice-Chancellor is the Chief Executive of the institution and the one saddled with the responsibility of taking care of such problems. Giving advice through telephone calls and occasional visits are steps that are cherished by most Chief Executives.

As for the Vice-Chancellor, he or she should develop an amiable disposition and take his or her responsibility seriously. He or she should be seen to be totally consumed with a passion for the improvement of the fortunes of the university with the mien of a serious-minded person who naturally attracts respect. He or she should not encourage a division of the institution along the lines of those who support and those who do not support his or her administration. Such qualities make it easier for people to approach the Vice-Chancellor and to offer helpful recommendations, especially in times of problems.

Closing Remarks

Governing Councils play an important role in the running of the affairs of universities which are now seen as crucial national assets in addressing many policy priorities. Among others, Councils are expected to introduce innovative strategies into university governance for the furtherance of its mission and vision and also to ensure the maintenance of good working relationships among all sections of the institution. Furthermore, it is Council’s responsibility to build an image of the institution as a corporate organization that is well regarded by the general public, through the various decisions it takes and actions it executes. This is why all of you must regard your appointment as a wonderful privilege to serve the nation and for this, once again, I congratulate you. Finally, I thank the National Universities Commission for inviting me to participate in this retreat.

Nimi Briggs

University of Port Harcourt.

June, 2013

UNIVERSITY GOVERNANCE, A Paper Presented by Nimi Briggs, Emeritus Professor, University of Port Harcourt at A 2 – DAY RETREAT FOR NEWLY INAUGURATED GOVERNING COUNCILS OF FEDERAL UNIVERSITIES IN NIGERIA organised by the National Universities Commission on 9 July, 2013