Nigeria and The World University Rankings

by Uche Nworah

Dr Victor Ariole’s essay (Ranking Nigerian Universities) which appeared in the opinion page of the Champion newspaper of Monday, June 4th 2007 faulted the criteria used in the 2007 World University rankings, in which no Nigerian university featured in the top 500.   

The crux of Dr. Ariole’s argument is that Nigerian, and indeed African universities which operate under different circumstances from other universities in the world, should not have been placed in the same category as the Harvards, Yales, MITs and Oxfords in the global rankings. He cited the familiar reasons of poor funding and lack of recognition of graduates of Nigerian universities by the government and local employers of labour.

Dr. Ariole’s teaching job at the University of Lagos makes him an insider, and also places him in a much better position to assess problems within the university system in Nigeria, many of which concerned stakeholders have long acknowledged. In his Guardian newspaper column of Sunday October 9th 2005, titled, The Revolt of the Universities, Reuben Abati, Chairman of the editorial board of the Guardian newspaper said that, “for years, corporate Nigeria has complained bitterly about the intrusion into the labour market of a generation of Nigerian university graduates who have nothing in their brains, but are very adept if they are female, in the arts of seduction and nudity, and if they are male, they tend to see the work-place as a cult where merit can be compromised. It is however a pity that there is a disconnect in the school-to-work transition in Nigeria, but this can be corrected and one way of doing it is to make sure that the products of our university system are good enough.” Mr. Abati is hereby pointing accusatory fingers at university teachers.

Although one appreciates Dr. Ariole’s argument over the ‘lumping together’ of world universities in the rankings, one is at the same time concerned over Dr. Ariole’s suggestion that a different set of criteria be used in assessing Nigerian and African universities. This is because such an approach may not fit into the market model of education which he partially referred to in his essay. Asking for some kind of differential treatment in the ratings for Nigerian and African universities portends even greater danger for the educational system as that may not allow for any kind of benchmarking, which ordinarily would have inspired quality improvement in the non-performing universities. This is also not what the peer review mechanism is all about.

A university remains a university no matter where it is located, even if it is in Enugwu-Ukwu or Ijebu Ode; its output should be evaluated against the outputs of other universities anywhere in the world. It is like paying for a Mercedes Benz automobile in Nigeria and expect that the standard of performance it would give you should be less than what the same model will give to a purchaser in Europe or in America. A rating system, the type of which is being advocated by Dr. Ariole could amount to service providers (universities) short-changing those that are paying for the services (the students).

Perhaps Dr. Ariole would agree that globalisation; a by-product of the market model which has seen the increasing convergence of global markets, economies and values has led to the commoditisation of education. Therefore asking that Nigerian and African universities, despite the peculiar challenges they face, be judged and assessed differently from other world universities may further lead to the worsening of conditions, and depreciation in value and image of the quality of education provided by Nigerian and African universities, in the eyes of the international community.

Things are already bad enough as they are, especially with the third world/first world classifications. Nigerian and African universities will not be doing themselves any favours if they further allow themselves to be pushed to a corner, and tagged with the ‘third world education providers’ label as Dr. Ariole is suggesting.

Nigerians may not like what they see at the moment, but it may be a blessing in disguise if the poor showing of Nigerian universities in the World University rankings will eventually lead to improvement in standards. Nigerian Academics, government officials and other concerned stakeholders should see the non-inclusion of Nigerian universities in the global rankings as a challenge. It is only through a resolve to change for good that Nigerian universities may eventually emerge from the doldrums where they currently find themselves.

Students who are the major stakeholders and ultimate beneficiaries of educational services provided by Nigerian universities may not be helped in the long term by Dr. Ariole’s suggestions. This is because if Nigerian universities which awarded their degree certificates are ranked differently from other universities, it may lead to such students being ridiculed by their peers at international forums. The students may also be disadvantaged in their quest for graduate admission places in top global universities because such a system which Dr. Ariole advocates would already have created a ‘third rate’ impression in the minds of international university admission officers, likewise multinational corporations’ recruiters.

Perhaps what may be required at this point is some kind of soul searching by all concerned stakeholders on the way forward; it appears the buck has been passed around for so long. A situation where no Nigerian University was listed among the top 500 universities in the world in the 2007 THES – QS World University Rankings with the University of Cape Town, South-Africa as the only African university in the top 500 can not be acceptable and speaks volumes of the extent of decay in the system. Only four Nigerian Universities made the list, as against the five that made the list 2006. The four universities are Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife (44th), the University of Ibadan (65th), the University of Benin (79th) and the University of Lagos (90th). The place of Nigerian universities in the African rankings is more pathetic because they trail behind some universities from Kenya, South Africa, and Ghana, countries endowed with fewer natural resources.

It may appear that Professor Peter Okebukola’s (former Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission – NUC) dreams that Nigerian universities should “be at the heart of efforts at realising the presidential vision that by the year 2020, Nigeria should be one of the world’s top 20 economies” will remain just that, dreams.

It is about time that the university system, particularly the lecturers look inwards to find a way out of the crises that has crippled the system. Constant strikes by the lecturers under their umbrella union (ASUU) may not be helping matters. In a Keynote address delivered at the First Bank Annual Undergraduate Essay and Secondary School Quiz Competitions Award ceremony in Lagos in 2006, Professor Peter Okebukola said that “Between 1993 and 2003, the (university) system witnessed 36 months of total closure. Add this to over-enrolment and establishment of satellite campuses, as a means of generating more funds to meet shortfalls in proprietor provision.” Okebukola also submitted that “overcrowding of our universities with mediocre students accounts, in large part, for many of the social vices on our campuses such as examination malpractice, cultism and ‘sorting’, one of the major causes of poor quality graduates.”

While the lecturers allege lack of funding as the main factor affecting standards, the government allege otherwise. At a meeting with the members of the Committee of Vice Chancellors (CVC) of Nigerian universities in 2005, former Minister of Education (Chinwe Nora Obaji) blamed the problems on “managerial inadequacies and indiscipline”. Mrs. Obaji said that these have now caused other problems including “over population caused by over- enrolment, poor maintenance culture, poor sanitary situations, low quality teaching, examination malpractices, late admissions, ‘sorting’ (students bribing lecturers to pass the course), cultism and other social vices, views shared by Professor Peter Okebukola.

In a Keynote address at the First Bank Annual Undergraduate Essay and Secondary School Quiz Competitions Award ceremony in Lagos in 2006, Professor Okebukola remarked that there has been a phenomenal increase in university funding. “Last year (2005), they (universities) got N54 billion and N76 billion this year (2006). But we are not there yet. So, the universities continue to play Oliver Twist.” Continuing, he said that former president Olusegun Obasanjo, “made N21 billion available for the completion of abandoned academic buildings, introduced a special grant for the purchase of consumables for practical work and beginning last year (2006), approved the release of special grant of N3 billion for the purchase of new equipment for laboratories and workshops.” Okebukola predicted that this will continue for the next five years. What remains to be seen is if the facilities and structures on ground in the universities reflect such budgetary increases.

The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) however disagrees. Addressing a press conference in Kaduna in June 2007 over the current ASUU strike, Chairman, Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) branch of ASUU, Muazu Maiwada, expressed regrets that government of former President Olusegun Obasanjo was insensitive to the dwindling fortunes of the nation’s education sector. According to Maiwada, “efforts to resolve the current impasse had failed to yield fruits, because government’s negotiation team and ASUU leadership could not reach consensus.”

“ASUU is not on strike because of consolidated salary as former President Olusegun Obasanjo mischievously misinformed Nigerians. ASUU is on strike, because of the general funding of university education, university autonomy and freedom of speech, as well as academic staff salary and wages. “There is no adequate academic staff in Nigerian universities. There are only 16,000 academic staff on the ground instead of at least 46,000 required. The problem has to do with the Nigerian ruling class who do not believe that education can propel any modern state. Nigerians should hold the various governments responsible for refusing to pay the necessary attention to education.” Maiwada said.

While the blame game continues, it is not surprising that Nigerian students have now turned to the United Kingdom, America and other western countries, including neighbouring Ghana to satisfy their educational yearnings. Richard Gozney, the High Commissioner of Britain to Nigeria had said at the British Education Fair held in lagos in 2005, that it is “the near comatose educational system at home and its perennial unpredictability that are some of the factors responsible for the increasing exodus of Nigerians who long to acquire education abroad”. On lessons which Nigerian universities could learn from British universities, Mr. Gozney said; “When you go into a British University for a first degree, you know that you will get that degree after three years. There won’t be any period of delays, of strike by teachers, or universities closing down or anything like that. British universities are among themselves, very competitive…which keeps them sharp, keeps them on their toes” 

One still gets the impression that the NUC and university lecturers in Nigeria are still working at cross purposes, hence the conflicting views from both sides leading to their pursuing different agenda. NUC though seems to have woken up to some of its regulatory responsibilities. To control the indiscriminate introduction of courses by Nigerian universities, the NUC began a national accreditation process covering both undergraduate and post-graduate degree programmes to ensure that the universities comply with NUC’s benchmark academic minimum standards (BMAS).

During the exercise carried out in 2006, a total of 1,343 undergraduate degree programmes were evaluated in 48 universities comprising 25 Federal, 20 state and three private universities. Also, 5 Colleges of Education affiliated with government approved universities participated in the exercise. The academic programmes were evaluated and scored on the following criteria: staffing, 32; academic content, 23; physical facilities, 25; library, 12; funding, 5; employers’ rating, 3. Subsequently, 571 courses, about 42.5 per cent of the total figure, were awarded full accreditation status; 670 courses, about 49.9 per cent earned interim accreditation; while 102, about 7.6 per cent failed to meet the prescribed minimum academic standard and hence, were denied accreditation. Of the 48 universities, 26 had their courses disaccredited, and the hardest hit are University of Uyo (UNIUYO) which lost 23 courses, Enugu State University of Technology (ESUT), Enugu, 17 courses; Ebonyi State University (EBSU), Abakaliki and Kogi State University, Anyigba, Kogi State, 12 courses each.

NUC claimed that the schools lacked the requisite number of competent staff and facilities to provide quality education to students. Consequently, the schools were banned from admitting fresh students into the affected programmes until further notice.

NUC also reviewed the post-graduate qualifications offered by Nigerian universities. The results from the first round of the 2006 accreditation of Master of Business Administration (MBA) courses offered by Nigerian universities showed that 9 universities in Nigeria are ineligible to offer the course, the reason being that their programmes failed the National Universities Commission (NUC) criteria used in assessing the programmes. The NUC listed the criteria as academic contents staffing, course delivery and employers/alumni rating of the courses, and quality of university management and administration, the latter was included on the advice of Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili (the former Minister of Education). The affected institutions are the Lagos State University, (LASU) Ojo, Ebonyi State University, Abakiliki; University of Agriculture, Makurdi; University of Abuja; Ambrose Ali University, Ekpoma, Edo State; Delta State University, Abraka; Abia State University, Uturu and Rivers State University of Science and Technology, (RSUT), Port Harcourt. 35 universities were covered by the accreditation exercise, of the number, 26 universities, representing 74.3 per cent, were granted the accredited status, while nine universities, representing 22 per cent, earned not accredited status. 

Another area that should be of concern to Dr. Ariole and his colleagues is the indictment from the NUC concerning the quality of research publications in the universities. In 2005, the National Universities Commission (NUC) carried out a comprehensive assessment of locally published journals, which serve as publication outlets for Nigerian academics and found that 97.2 percent did not measure up to international standard. The result of the assessment which used international set of journal evaluation criteria shows that of the 138 locally published journals assessed by the cut off date of April 11 2005, only 4 or 2.8 per cent qualified for inclusion in group ‘A’ (international standard). 10 journals, representing 7.2 per cent, made it to group ‘B’ (prospective international standard); 112 (representing 18.2 per cent) belonged to group ‘C’ (local standard) and 11 (representing 8.0 per cent) belonged to group ‘D’ (super – local standard). The exercise further showed that only “Medicine” and “Health Sciences” produced Group ‘A’ journals. Most of the “Super-Local” journals are published by university departments within which the editorial team resides, and the articles of which are up to 95 per cent by members of the publishing university and, oftentimes, departments.

In the light of the above, it would be understandable if concerned stakeholders express shock that despite the money the NUC claimed the Nigerian government has sunk into the education system, not a lot seems to be coming out, which would manifest by way of improvement in quality and standards. If that was the case, perhaps Nigerian universities would have fared better in the global university rankings.

While there is still much to be done by the government, perhaps the time has come for Nigerian university lecturers to swallow the bitter pill, and accept some of the blame for what has gone wrong in our universities. Only then could all concerned stakeholders begin to see a positive movement in the desired direction for change in the university system in Nigeria.


  1. Abati, Reuben. The Revolt of the Universities
    Accessed Sunday, October 9th 2005.
  2. Ariole, V.C. Ranking Nigerian Universities. Accessed Monday, June 4th 2007.

3. Buhari, Reuben. ASUU Gives Condition to End Strike

Accessed Tuesday, June 5th 2007

  1. Chiahemen, Tom. 97% of local academic journals below standard’.. Accessed Tuesday, 14th June 2005
  2. Nworah, Uche. A Preliminary Investigation of Educational Change Management in Nigeria. Nigeria Economic Summit Group (NESG) Economic Indicators July – September 2006 Volume 12 No 3. P 16 – 24
  3. Nworah, Uche. Managing Social Change in Nigeria. Accessed Monday, 4th June 2007.
  4. Olatunji, Bukola. NUC Axe Dangles on Sub-standard MBAs. Accessed Tuesday, July 25th 2006.
  5. Obayuwana, Oghogho. Why Nigerians Rush To School Abroad.
  6. Taiwo, Juliana. Nigeria Ready for League of 20 Top Global Economies by 2020 – NUC

.Accessed Tuesday 18th April 2006.


You may also like


David July 6, 2015 - 1:59 am

A very brilliant write-up. Mr. Uche is such an articulate and professional writer.

Julius June 8, 2007 - 4:01 pm

I have been an avid visitor of this site for a very long time, but this to me is the best write up so far. Thank you very much for bringing to light the situation of a colleges, hopefully the govt and lecturers will be wise enough to stop the dangerous downward drift of our universities. It's so sad that after toiling and sweating to get a degree you discover to your amazement that outside the shores of Nigeria no one reckons with what you have. This needs to be addressed. Meanwhile, Mr Nworah, question for you, what is the impact of the new generation of private universities popping up in all corners, do they have better standards compare to the public colleges or what? Thanks


Leave a Comment