Investigation of public universities uncovers problems

For the first time in decades, Nigeria’s National Universities Commission set up a committee to visit all federal and state universities and undertake a forensic audit. It found widespread problems including poor staffing, underfunding and weak infrastructure.

On the basis of the committee’s assessment, which was completed late last year, stakeholders are putting pressure on the government to wake up to its responsibilities and transform public universities into 21st century centres of learning anchored in the knowledge economy.

The Committee on Needs Assessment of Public Universities in Nigeria comprised Professor Mahmood Yakubu and senior colleagues drawn from various universities. They were mandated to take a critical look at universities.

Their most important achievement was the publication of the latest statistics and a description of the university landscape that touched on every aspect of higher education.

The panel shone an investigative spotlight on 27 federal and 34 state universities. It did not visit 10 recently created federal and three new state universities. The Nigerian public now knows that there are 74 public universities: 37 of them federal and 37 state institutions.

Of these, 53 institutions – 26 federal and 27 state – are conventional universities. The rest are specialised and include 13 universities of science and technology (five federal and eight state), two universities for the armed forces and police, and one federal petroleum university.

The panel found that there were some 1.2 million students in all public universities: 85% of them undergraduates, 5% sub-degree, 3% doing postgraduate diplomas, 5% masters and 2% PhDs. Around 57% of students were male and 43% female.

Poor infrastructure

The committee found that many lecturers, including professors, shared offices that were dilapidated and poorly furnished. Lecture theatres were overcrowded and classrooms, laboratories and workshops were shared by many programmes across different faculties.

The panel singled out the deplorable state of most classrooms – the fundamental teaching infrastructure of any learning institution.

“Classes are held in improvised open-air sports pavilions, and old cafeterias and even uncompleted buildings are used for lectures. In some cases, workshops are conducted under corrugated sheds or trees,” said the committee in its assessment.

The heavy pressure on facilities was “mainly due to unplanned expansion of programmes”.

The panel discovered that fewer than one in 10 universities had video-conferencing facilities, less than 20% made use of interactive boards, “and even the ones that are deployed are found in less than 10% of lecture rooms and theatres”. Fewer than half of universities used public address systems in lecture halls.

“Internet is non-existent, epileptic or slow,” the committee report said. Furthermore, “library resources are outdated and manual. No university is fully automated. Less than 35% are partially automated.”

Shortages of academics

The perennial problem of having enough academics to teach an ever-growing student population was closely examined. This was expected, because almost all members of the panel are experienced academics who have endured lecturer shortages.

There are currently 37,504 academic staff in Nigerian public universities, 83% of them men. Of this number, 23,030 (61%) are employed in federal universities while 14,474 (39%) teach in state-owned universities.

The number and distribution of teaching staff across the country, by qualification and rank, indicated that Nigeria’s university system was experiencing a staffing crisis. This had led to a situation where some universities relied heavily on part-time and under-qualified academics.

The report also indicated a growing disparity in the ratio between teaching staff and students. For example, at the National Open University the academic-to-student ratio was 1:363, at Lagos State University it was 1:144 and at the University of Abuja it was 1:122.

There were insufficient numbers of professors holding PhDs, and a number of universities had become increasingly dependent on visiting lecturers and ‘inbred’ academics, which the panel said was counter-productive.

It found that only around 43% of academics had a PhD and only seven universities had up to 60% of lecturers with a doctorate. While 75% of academics were expected to be in the ranks of senior lecturers and professors, only about 44% were.

The committee singled out three universities for special mention in terms of very poor academic staffing. “Kano State University, which is 11 years old, has only one professor, and 25 lecturers with PhDs. Kebbi State University has two professors and five lecturers with PhDs. And 74% of lecturers in Plateau State University are visiting lecturers.”


The National Universities Commission and the Committee of Vice-chancellors have yet to respond to the committee’s findings.

However one vice-chancellor, who did not want to be named, congratulated the panel on its thorough job. “The crisis facing our university system can be solved if, among other things, the federal and state governments increase considerably the funding of public universities.

“This is a knowledge-driven century. Nigerian universities can help drive the Nigerian economy by creating qualified manpower only if they are adequately funded,” he said.