Experts polarised over increase in ranked universities

Nigeria has doubled the number of its ranked universities – from six to 12 – in the recently released Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings 2023, but experts differ on whether the achievement is an accurate reflection of the higher education system – in particular against the backdrop of labour instability.

The rankings for Nigeria show that the University of Ibadan and the University of Lagos, both in the southwest region of the country, are tied for first spot, both scaling into the top 500 as they were placed in the 401-500 band.

Covenant University, a private Christian university in Ota, Ogun State, in southwest Nigeria, which is 20 years old, occupies the third spot and is placed in the group band of 601-800.

Two federal universities, Bayero University Kano and the Federal University of Technology Akure, were placed in the group band of 1001-1200.

Ranked among the group band of 1201-1500 are four universities, namely the universities of Benin, Ilorin, Nigeria Nsukka and Obafemi Awolowo University.

The remaining three universities ranked in the last category of 1501+. They are the Federal University of Agriculture Abeokuta, Ladoke Akintola University of Technology and Nnamdi Azikiwe University.

Like their counterparts across the world, the universities were ranked based on various indicators that included teaching, research, citations, industry income and international outlook.

Did anything improve in higher education?

Experts have polarised views on how Nigeria was able to double its number of ranked universities.

While some experts have said they could not pinpoint the factor(s) responsible for the feat, others believe there is nothing surprising about the achievement.

In the first category is Professor Moses Inyang-Abia, an expert in curriculum technologies and environmental education at the faculty of education, University of Calabar, in Cross River State.

Inyang-Abia told University World News that the only probable reason Nigerian universities doubled their number of institutions in the rankings is due to the fact that many of them are now getting more visible on the internet.

The expert highlighted the fact that university lecturers just ended an eight-month strike on 14 October. He wondered what could have led to the number of universities doubling in this particular ranking.

“I don't think Nigerian universities did anything special other than the fact that they are now improving their visibility on the internet,” he said. “The universities are becoming more digitally inclined because, as for improvements in the structures and other aspects of learning, things are really going down.”

One other factor, Inyang-Abia added, could be that more universities are publishing their research on the internet.

“[W]e are just coming out of an eight-month strike. Maybe the rankings doubled based on research published by the universities, because when you look at ranking indicators like teaching, what teaching has been going on?” he asked.

University lecturers ended their strike on 14 October, after the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) finally reached an agreement with the federal government. Lecturers have agitated for increased funding for the revitalisation of public universities, university autonomy and improvement of lecturers’ welfare.

A different view

Despite the strike and other challenges bedevilling Nigerian universities, Olufemi Victor Adeoluwa, a professor of educational technology at Ekiti State University, in Ado-Ekiti, told University World News that the doubling of the number of Nigerian universities in the latest THE rankings meant that something right was being done by the institutions.

"No doubt, Nigerian universities have their challenges, but this is not to say that the quality of education they provide is not good.

“Yes, the infrastructure may appear to be decaying and the quality of staffing may be going down, but the situation is not that bad. As a matter of fact, these challenges are why ASUU is asking the government to revitalise the system and make it what it is supposed to be,” he said.

Citing the United Kingdom and the United States as examples, Adeoluwa said that all over the world Nigerian university graduates thrive in their postgraduate studies alongside their counterparts from across the globe.

“This gives an impression that the education these graduates had back home was not poor in any way,” he said “Most times when you see lecturers’ unions fighting the government, it is because we are looking at where we are and how to improve on it. We fight the government to provide the necessary funds to do this.

“But even as things are, Nigerian universities are not mediocre. There is a bright future for us, especially when we do these three things: first, the federal government must revitalise the system; secondly, philanthropists must pump in investments in research; and thirdly, the government must commoditise research by scholars. When these are done, Nigerian universities would be better.”

Adeoluwa advises Nigerian universities to improve on factors such as knowledge transfer, digital traffic, international student enrolment, international staff recruitment, and research to improve their positions in the rankings.

Building capacity

After THE published the rankings on 12 October, Professor Emeritus Peter Okebukola, who is a member of THE’s international advisory board, expressed excitement that Nigeria was singled out at the public announcement in New York as having made one of the most significant improvements in the ranking within a year.

Okebukola chairs the Nigerian Universities Ranking Advisory Committee (NURAC), a body organised by the National Universities Commission (NUC) to mobilise Nigerian universities and catalyse their participation in global ranking schemes.

“Over the last 12 months, NURAC had been working with all universities and building capacities to ensure the actualisation of this mandate,” Okebukola said in a statement, according to a report by The Punch.