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World Ranking: Same Old Story For Nigerian Universities
The webometric ranking of world universities often paints a gloomy picture of university education in Africa and Nigeria in particular. LAWRENCE AMAKU and KUNLE AWOSIYAN, in this report, take a close look at the ranking, where no Nigerian university was listed in the top 2,500, and the ensuing contentious issues.
The world university ranking since its inception has always generated controversies whenever it is released. For some years, top flight universities such as Harvard University, University of Oxford UK, University of Cambridge and the University of Toronto have been at the top of the ranking. However, this year’s ranking published in January shows the table taking a different complexion with some universities making their way up.
The chart shows that the United States’ universities continue to dominate the top positions, occupying the first 11 positions in this year’s assessment published in the Ranking Web of World Universities in an initiative of Cybermetric Lab, a research group that belongs to Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas (CSIC) that prides itself as the largest public research body in Spain. At the apex of the biannual ranking is Massachussets Institute of Technology, Massachussets pipping Harvard University, its perennial rival to the second position. Other table toppers are Stanford University, University of California, Cornell University, University of Wisconsin Madison, University of Michigan, University of Minnesota, University of Washington, University of Pennsylvania and Pennsylvania State University, in respective order.
Conversely, African universities continue to have their poor runs in the ranking, making unimpressive showing in the standing. The United States dominance of the world ranking is replicated by South Africa for the African chart. Topping the table in the top 100 universities in Africa is the University of Cape Town, South Africa (occupying a distant 317th position in the world ranking) which led a pack of nine other South African countries with the University of Makerere, Uganda and Cairo University coming 10th and 11th respectively. Some of the South African universities listed among the nine in the top 1,000 in the world, are University of Pretoria, Stellenbosch University, University of the Witwatersrand, and Rhodes University, respectively.
While some African universities have made steady progress up the ladder, in recent years, which saw two South African universities — University of Cape Town and University of Pretoria — listed among the top 500 universities (when compared to the 2009 statistics), the African table paints a very gloomy and pathetic picture of Nigerian universities that had only eight entries in the top 100. Among the Nigerian universities in the list and world rank are, in hierarchical order, University of Ilorin, Kwara State (2,668), University of Jos, Plateau State (4,087), University of Nigeria, Nsukka (5,176), University of Lagos (5,253), Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife (5883), Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria (6,270), National Open University of Nigeria (7,246) and University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, Ogun State (7,617). It is evident from the list that most of the first generation universities in the country made the top 100 list in Africa with the Premier University, University of Ibadan, conspicuously missing in the list. A surprise entry in the top 100 list for Africa is the National Open University.
This year’s ranking, like the others in the recent past, has already started generating reactions and criticisms from people. But one critical question that observers are wont to ask whenever this ranking is released is, what are the criteria used in ranking these universities infrastructure, academic environment, conditions of learning, regularity of academic sessions?
It is recalled that similar ranking in the past has been criticised and the criteria used often faulted by some university authorities. The universities that are usually drawn into such debate are first generation universities, who think they merit a reputable place in the ranking.
The institute however stated that the aim of the webometric ranking, which was done under the following categories— size, visibility, rich files and number of scholars assessed in each of these universities, is to promote web publication as its ranking is purely based on web publications made by the universities assessed.
“The original aim of the ranking was to promote web publication. Supporting Open Access initiatives, electronic access to scientific publications and to other academic material are our primary targets,” the site’s home page states.
It also gave the criteria used in doing the ranking as purely web-based.
“if the web performance of an institution is below the expected position according to their academic excellence, university authorities should reconsider their web policy, promoting substantial increases of the volume and quality of their electronic publications,” it stated.
Commenting on its scope, it stated further that “the Webometrics ranking has a larger coverage than other similar rankings. The ranking is not only focused on research results but also in other indicators which may reflect better, the global quality of the scholar and research institutions worldwide.”
When put into perspective, observers are quick to point out that the criteria used by the institute may not favour several universities in Nigeria and Africa at large where the quality of key infrastructure such as electricity and the Internet that can facilitate the visibility of research works and scholars is very poor.
Saturday Tribune sought the view of a don in the Department of Politics, University of Ibadan (UI), Dr Osisioma Nwolise, on the matter. In his reaction, he blamed the shortcoming on the failure of lecturers in Nigerian higher institutions, particularly UI, to make their publications available on the web.
“It depends on the criteria used in doing the ranking. If the curriculum vitae of your staff are not there, their areas of specialisation, their publications, cannot be known. So, what UI has been doing is telling the staff to submit their CVs and their publications so that they can be put on the Internet. It is not just about the number of students or the number of staff and facilities that you have. Universities are for teaching, research and publication, and then contribution to community service and facilities are part of it. For a researcher searching for materials on the net, if you want to link up with someone doing research and want to link up with the person with his phone number, e-mail address or any other means of contact. If your publications are not available for the world to see, they cannot know what you are doing in UI, for example. The most important thing to do is to ensure that staff curriculum vitae and publications go up there. They are also looking at how many academic works of staff are sighted by the international world. So it is in the criteria used that one can find reason for the ranking,” he said.
Dr Nwolise also identified other problems such as poor Internet speed and incessant power outage as being responsible for the inability of lecturers and researchers to post their works on the web.
Another problem which Dr Nwolise pointed out is the absence or paucity of research grants and endowment from companies corporate bodies, and non-governmental organisations which he observed has seen many higher institutions depending heavily on government.
“They are comparing us with overseas universities, what amount of grant do we get here. NGOs give grants of millions of dollars to overseas universities for years. But how much does the government give for research grant?” he said.
On what could be done to salvage the reputation of Nigerian universities, Dr Nwolise suggested that the universities should have a record of their publications.
For the way forward he suggested that the University should review what they have and make sure that the criteria of the webometric ranking give recognition to it.
Speaking further he called for increased funding by government,
“The only way that Nigerian universities can improve its ranking is through adequate funding by government. It is now they know what ASUU has been saying that the university system is dead. And then, when ASUU goes on strike they will start calling us names,” he lamented.
Commenting in a similar vein, the president, Academic Staff Union of Universities, Professor Ukachukwu Awuzie, said that Nigerian universities were not well-rated because they lacked the necessary facilities to compete in the academic circle.
According to him, most of the country’s universities are like glorified secondary schools when compared to other higher institutions in developed countries. He explained that such factors as the teaching and learning environment are considered when rating any university, adding that the country’s higher institutions do not have good environment to be considered a citadel of learning.
Awuzie, who was visibly angry, noted that the quality of research, the staff and students were major factors that would be considered while rating any university, saying that no university in the country had come up with quality research for a long time.
The ASUU boss regretted that no foreign scholars and lecturers had enrolled or worked in any of Nigerian public universities for long, adding, “This is a critical area we need to consider. In South Africa, Ghana and some other African universities, Nigerian academics dominate them. Our children are everywhere, including Harvard University, teaching.”
He posited that those universities who had continually emerged as the best or one of the best had regularly produced Nobel Laureates, while Nigerian academics are yet to have a breakthrough in any field of research.Share