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UI@70: The Beginning, Fall and Resurgence of The Inherited Culture

“The attributes of World-class Universities comprise complementary sets of factors a play among most top Universities, namely; a high concentration of talent (Faculty and students), abundant resources to offer a rich learning environment and to conduct advanced research, and favourable governance features that encourage strategic vision, innovation, and flexibility and that enable institutions to make decisions and to manage resources without being encumbered by bureaucracy” – Janil Salmi (2009).

As the Premier University celebrates ‘seven decades of academic excellence’, it is of importance to go into history and discuss; “how political systems in Nigeria have decided the fate of the University and necessary intrusions to invigorate the world-class picture of the University.” Traditionally, the emergence of the University of Ibadan can be explained distinguishably thus.

In the year 1943, the British Colonial government set up two commissions (the Asquith and Elliot commissions) to provide a guide for higher education and upgrading of existing post-secondary institutions in the British Empire. The commissions’ reports led to the upgrading of existing postsecondary institutions in different parts of the British Empire. Yaba Higher College (a 1934 institution) for training workforce was upgraded and relocated to Ibadan city which became ‘Nigeria’s first University College’. At the establishment, the University of Ibadan was affiliated with the University of London and was, for all intents and purposes, an external campus and a facsimile of the latter. This period provided the University College, Ibadan, with a managerial and curricular alliance in concinnity with academic tradition, quality and character comparable with what obtained in Britain. Staff (academic, technical, and administrative) recruitment and advancement were in congruency with the British standards. Student admission was stiffly competitive. Courses were limited Arts, Sciences, Medicine (only preclinical courses in the early years) and Agriculture (which was introduced 1949).

Many other factors which are worth mentioning enhanced the prestige of the university all over the then-British commonwealth. First, recruitment of high calibre academic, technical, administrative staff and admission of students. Second, staff composition was truly international, contributing to the high academic standard and social culture of the university. Third, physical and pedagogical facilities were of high standards. Fourth, student numbers were relatively small, thus, effective teaching was fully exerted.

A number of Ibadan-London graduates effectuated the development of the nation and the University’s recognition both national and international. To mention a few, were Late Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka (1986 Nobel laureate for literature), John Pepper Clark, Chukwuemeka Ike, (all these were the literary pioneers in the country). Other ‘Ibadan-trained’ Nigerian world-acclaimed academics in various disciplines were J. F. Ade Ajayi and Kenneth Dike, ( the first Nigerian to head the University), ( both were from History), Akin Mabogunje (Geography), Ayo Bamgbose (linguistics), and C. Agodi Onwumechili (Physics), and so on. Under the leadership of Kenneth, the institution pioneered the research of Africans’ history. The ‘Ibadan History Series’ influenced the teaching of African History in secondary schools as against the curricula which focused on British History. Ibadan graduates with contributions from other sources also influenced African Literature in English through creative writings. Undoubtedly, these were pukka achievements and a Golden era for the University.

Ibadan Varsity was not without its critics during these early years. Nigerians saw links to European standards as being detrimental to the specific workforce needs for Nigeria’s nation-building, (Nigerianization). Many young Nigerians could not be admitted because of the fewer courses offered and the highly competitive admissions requirements and began to migrate to neighbouring countries’ institutions. This began its fallout, thus, the emergence of new federal universities.

Nigeria’s Political and Socio-Economic Influence

Fight for the political independence of Nigeria influenced its lowering standards in many ways. In the year 1959, the struggle for political power at the federal level brought about tribalism into the national address and led to hostility among the three regions (East, West and North). Political and socio-economic instability in Nigeria “left boils on the pretty face” of the University. It was deeply affected by the violent socio-political changes developing in the country, which began with disputes over ‘elections and a national census’ and led to two successive military coups, (occurred in January 1966 and the second one just six months later), finally, a civil war.

The civil war years, (1967-1970), were a period of deep-seated political upheavals in Nigeria. The University of Ibadan underwent an exodus of academic activities, the majority of trained Igbo scholars and staff relocated to their homelands in the east. It was further worsened by the departure of a large number of non-Nigerian staff members because of the security threat. Importation of books and equipment was almost impossible, while government funding dwindled because of the pursuit of war efforts.

The ‘reconciliation and reconstruction years’ in Nigeria, (1970 to mid-1975) under the regime of General Yakubu Gowon marked the first period of direct confrontation between universities and the military authorities. And it marked the beginning of UI’s decline in quality and prestige. The University came under a Military dictatorship and eroded its autonomy and academic freedom. With Decree No. 23 of 1975, when the federal government took over the regional universities, the power to appoint and remove vice-chancellors was vested in the head of state or the federal military government. The choice was not based on academic stature and managerial competence. Under the jurisdiction of the Military, many staff were sacked, including the Marxist-oriented lecturers from Nigerian higher institutions (1972- 1973) and 1978.

The short-lived civilian government (1979-1983), adjusted the 1977 National Policy on Education, this, encouraged the private sector to participate in education without any strict regulations. It also pursued a policy of “fair geographical spread of universities”, which led to the creation of federal universities of technology in Akure, Minna, Owerri, and Yola—a continuation of unplanned expansion after schools like, O.A.U, Nsukka and Zaria were created between 1960 and 1962.

Although from the government’s viewpoint, it was important to have a fair geographical distribution of universities, the approach lacked a sustainable strategy to allocate resources to run and manage these institutions.

Establishment of the “new Universities” was in several ways, a threat to the “mother institution”, the University of Ibadan. First, there was the migration of Staff (experienced academics and administrators) to the new universities. Secondly, it entailed greater competition and thus the need for the University of Ibadan to expand into new programs, which its resources could not hold, thus, overstretching facilities. The third threat was the unfavourable political and socio-economic climate characterised by gross “underfunding”. Ibadan only received little subvention(which could barely take care of its staff) from the Government.

“The second era of military regime ( 1983-1999) ended with Ibadan being drained of its senior academics, its facilities depleted, its flawed policies still yielding large student numbers and an increase in administrative structure, its subvention from government barely covering only staff salaries, its external links severed, and its research output in deep decline”.

“Despite the aggressive competition from the nascent varsities, UI remains the first and the best in the country and a global brand providing soothing spring for all those thirsty for quality education and raising true minds for a noble cause”.

The Way Forward

In this article, I would like to remind us all that, technological innovations and the development of entrepreneurial capacity are pre-requisite to the success of modern economies. Universities have a central role to play in this regard. Universities must be “engines of growth, centres of innovation and excellence, and agents of development and wealth creation”. These virtues must be developed for the betterment of both the Varsity communities and the immediate environment.

UI aims to “build World-class Faculties for world-class students with the objective of attaining and sustaining world-class performance”. How can it achieve such lofty goals? To improve its relevance in teaching, research and community service, “special funding” is to be allocated to the University. Through this, infrastructure expansion and quality staff recruitment and training can be actualised. Full autonomy should be granted_ freedom to plan teaching and research programs that are peculiar to the areas of strength. Ibadan Varsity is Nigerians “Mother Institution”. Every citizen, one way or the other has linkage to the school.

However, the drive for excellence must be led by the University of Ibadan itself. Global recognition is measured by an institution’s shared purpose, consistent strategy, and long-term outlook. Fundamentally, a strong leadership can make the institution an attractive centre for research and teaching. Achieving excellence in the three components mentioned earlier at the introduction takes no much time again, the process has already begun. It is moving into new ways of generating revenues, strengthening links to the private sector. The university is also developing mechanisms for financial management and accountability, which will raise efficiency and transparency.

In addition, the resurgence of inherited culture, prestige, can as well be achieved through endowments, Alumni involvement, contracts, involvement in goal-oriented researches, encouraging students to be creative and innovative and participants in local and international development, and investments.

On the last note, from the introduction, “… favourable governance features that encourage strategic vision…”, the government is implored to play a cogent role here. Nigeria’s educational system is ill. Frequent industrial strikes is a big slap on the face of the higher education system in Nigeria. This brings loss of our dear ‘Nigeria-University’ prestige. If these tiring and ceaseless industrial strikes are avoided, Nigerian institutions will not lose their students to the neighbourhood countries. The government should reduce dependence on foreigners.


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