Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa
Conseil pour le développement de la recherche en sciences sociales en Afrique
Conselho para o Desenvolvimento da Pesquisa em Ciências Sociais em África
مجلس تنمية البحوث الإجتماعية في أفريقيا

Reforming the Nigerian Higher Education System

21-22 March, 2005, Abuja, Nigeria

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The Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA) is pleased to announce the programme which it is hosting in Nigeria on 21 and 22 March, 2005 in collaboration with the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) on the theme of Reforming the Nigerian Higher Education System. Structured as an advanced research and policy dialogue on the crises of the Nigerian higher education system and the challenges of reform with which it has to grapple in order to renew itself, the accent of the discussions which will take place at the conference will be placed on the university. The conference will draw participation from across Nigeria and the multiplicity of interests that make up the Nigerian higher education community in general and the university in particular. It will also feature the presentation of comparative insights and experiences from other parts of the world. It is anticipated that out of the diagnosis and prescriptions that will be tabled at the conference will emerge a concrete programme of follow-up research and possible policy reforms that will contribute to the renewal and revival of the Nigerian university as an embodiment of the creative genius of humankind, a genius that is both relevant to the aspirations of the Nigerian people and which is able to serve as a catalyst for the progressive transformation of society.

Nigeria has one of the oldest, biggest and most comprehensive higher education systems in Africa. It is a system which has undergone a considerable amount of growth and diversification over the years since the first post-secondary “modern” centers of learning were established in the country early in the 20th century. At the heart of the system are the universities which represent the highest institutions of learning and research in the country. The modern university began in Nigeria during the late colonial era as a public sector project; the concept was carried over into the post-colonial period during which it was expanded and multiplied, especially in the 1970s on the back of the revenue boom enjoyed by the state as a result of the OPEC price revolution of that decade. The huge investments made in the establishment of new universities and in the expansion of existing ones occurred within the overall context of a major extension and diversification of the entire higher education system itself. The investments which were made were overwhelmingly accounted for by the state, a fact which makes it correct to characterise the Nigerian higher education system in the period to the end of the 1980s as a public one that was almost exclusively driven by the revenues accruing to the state.

Although the onset of the Nigerian economic crisis of the 1980s slowed down the rate of establishment of (publicly-funded) institutions of higher education, by the second half of the 1990s, the process gathered steam again, only this time it was propelled by various non-state interests – religious, secular, commercial etc - licensed by the state to provide private higher education. Today, the rate of establishment of private universities is so frantic that it will be right to characterise the period from the 1990s onwards as the era of private higher education in Nigeria, occurring at a time when the public higher education system continues to reel from the impact of the country’s prolonged economic crisis, the socio-political fallout of that crisis and the significant expansion in student numbers that was sanctioned in spite of the decay of existing infrastructure and the paucity of new capital investments. The private universities are also being developed in the context of a much-contested attempt by the state - and the World Bank - to reform the public higher education system through a variety of proposals designed among other things, to introduce an element of cost recovery/cost-sharing and adjust curriculum to serve the perceived needs of a changed labour market and structure of incentives.

The prolonged crisis of decline which has afflicted the Nigerian university sector has certainly taken a huge toll which has been well-tracked and documented; it has also produced a number of “syndromes” in the university community which are as unsettling as they in need of urgent remedy. They constitute a part of the new complex of realities to which the higher education community is called upon to respond in a manner which is at once creative and liberating. At one level, it is clear that the current public higher education system is no longer sustainable in the way in which it is structured to function. A concentrated reflection is required on the contours of reform that could be undertaken in order to revitalize the system without sacrificing the bigger public purpose or primary institutional mission. At another level, the emergence of private institutions is gradually but significantly altering the terrain of higher education in Nigeria in a manner which calls for serious thinking on new, effective ways of securing equitable access to advanced knowledge.

Furthermore, both for public as for private universities and other higher institutions, a case exists for a bold re-thinking of mission and role, as well as a conscious (re-)definition of target constituencies to be served within a framework informed by a commitment to overall service to the community. Also, issues of the content of curriculum, the internal governance structures and procedures of the university, the autonomy of the university system, the academic freedom of scholars, etc. are questions which merit close attention in the quest for reform. Finally, the overall structure of governance of the higher education system in general and the university sector in particular needs to be re-thought in the light of the changes that are occurring both within and outside Nigeria. Connected to this is the management of quality and standards which are critical to the ambition of restoring the Nigerian university to its rightful place in the frontline of the best institutions of advanced learning and research in the world.

The conference will attract the participation of academics from across Nigeria, researchers from outside Nigeria with insights on comparative higher education reform, representatives of the non-academic staff of universities and polytechnics, representatives of Nigerian students, managers of the Nigerian higher education system drawn from the universities themselves, representatives of international ministries of education at the state and federal levels, representatives of parents, representatives of international foundations active in the Nigerian higher education sector, and the Nigerian Universities Commission.

January 4 2010