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Nigerian varsities’ need for internationalisation of staff, student structure

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NUC Executive Secretary, Prof. Abubakar Adamu Rasheed

In the past, the nation’s educational institutions had a staff mix of international scholars teaching in both secondary and tertiary schools. Then, learning standard and outcomes were said to be high, hence institutions attracted foreign students across the globe. UJUNWA ATUEYI writes that the situation is no longer the same as experts deplore the faculty base of the nation’s ivory towers.

Although there are many indicators that place universities on the global league table, but the few that stand out are academic peer review, faculty-to-student ratio, proportion of faculty that are international, global research reputation and proportion of students that are international, among others.

A quick analysis of the country’s tertiary institutions based on these indicators shows that the nation’s ivory tower is not fairing so well in those areas.

Our institutions of higher learning still struggle to gain equitable recognition in global university ranking; a trend many stakeholders argued could be changed through deliberate effort.

So far, the 70-year-old University of Ibadan (UI) is the only Nigerian university in the world 1000 ranked varsities. According to reports, UI is 11th in Africa and 801 in the world.

The almost non-appearance of Nigerian varsities in global ranking, experts argued call for worry. There is need for the faculty-base of the country’s institutions of higher learning to be internationalised.

They stressed that academic staff members of universities to a large extent form its intellectual resource pool and constitute the key factor to the institution’s success, thus the need for an international staff mix.

They noted that there are huge marks for being more international, in terms of academic staff and students, as such institutions are considered as strong brands.

Late last year, the vice chancellor, Kano State University of Science and Technology (KUST) Wudil, Prof Shehu Alhaji-Musa, announced that the institution recruited 15 professors from Pakistan and Egypt who were expected to join the university this month.

This pronouncement, which many stakeholders lauded, reawakened the call for internationalisation of Nigerian universities’ faculties.

Vice chancellor, Osun State University, Prof. Labode Popoola, was one of those who commended the institution. He said the step is capable of improving the status of Nigerian universities on the global scale.

Regretting that the staff mix of Nigerian higher institutions are too localised, he said, “In those days in the University of Ibadan, there were lecturers from all over the world, even in our secondary schools we have Indians and Pakistanis teaching in our schools. I attended Government College, Ibadan and my Chemistry teacher was a Pakistani. So, honestly it is a credit for our schools to have foreign members of teaching staff and don’t also forget that we have Nigerians all over the world working in different places.

“There is hardly any university in the world where you do not have Nigerians, but that is not the case with our own institutions today. Our universities are not very well rated because our staff mix is too localised. That it is not the global standard, having intercontinental staff mix improves rating of universities, among other vast benefits.”

Echoing Popoola’s view, a distinguished Professor at University of Lagos (UNILAG), Prof. Ayodeji Olukoju, said the faculty-base of Nigeria’s institutions of higher learning is thirsty for transnational staff mix. He said in global ranking, the more international staff you have, the higher your ranking, thus it is a good factor to be considered.

He said though Nigeria is bursting at the seams with a lot of expertise, but as a former vice chancellor, he can attest to the fact that the country does not have enough people with PhDs to teach all courses.

“There is need for our faculties to have universal flavour. It works both ways, we have what we call brain drain in Nigeria, in other words many of our experts are abroad, but then at the same time, we need to have be brain drain from the other countries that could enrich us here locally.

“In my days at University of Nigeria, for example, a white American taught me general studies and social sciences. The one that handled English was a native of English. The woman that taught me French was a native born French woman. One German, one Briton, taught us religion, so we need to internationalise our faculties. However, as we internationalise, we also have to be careful to ensure we get the best.

On how to achieve that, Olukoju said, “It is a policy. Once we have a policy in place, a policy that states we need to internationalise our faculty, that is the first step. For public universities, it has to be championed by council, senate or management. If it becomes a policy, it is the vice chancellors that have to drive that, we call it head hunting. They have to headhunt by using their networks.

“That is why if you want to make somebody a vice chancellor, it has to be somebody who has connections, not only locally but also internationally. Someone that has attended conferences and has published in many places abroad, this gives them great platforms to advertise. When I was at Caleb University, we partnered with Carnegie Foundation and we got somebody, a Nigerian in America to stay with us for a semester, that is how to internationalise. Robust collaboration is imperative in achieving this.

Speaking on the benefits, he expressed, “The benefits are numerable; there was one African-American who came to teach in our department at UNILAG in the 90s, he actually helped some of our boys to go to America to study. So it is a two-way process, it is a win-win situation, it will internationalise our products and us. It is very good, it will cost money no doubt, but it will add value.

Apart from the values attached to hiring of foreign university teachers, Olukoju asserts that the country does not have enough qualified lecturers to handle all the contemporary courses.

He said, “Nigerian varsities does not have enough faculty members to handle all the courses. I remember as a vice chancellor, we had problem getting people in some areas like computer science, it was difficult getting professors, PhD holders in those areas, so this is a problem.”

Also, Group Executive Director, Dangote Group, Mansur Ahmed, argued that all universities across the globe need cross-fertilization of ideas, as that is the essence of a university.

“I think all universities, not just Nigerian universities need cross-fertilization, Nigerian universities need to open up to bring more foreign faculty, it does not have to be foreign in the sense that they have to be white people, they don’t really have to be Europeans or Americans, we have a large number of Nigerian professors all over the world, they could be Nigerians that have been in the university system abroad and that were up to date in terms of education delivery, technology and pedagogy.

“And until we have that, really we cannot compete, university education is about competition. Our students must be able to compete with their peers anywhere. So unless we have the right kind of engagement with knowledge providers across the globe, you may not be as competent as you think. There are huge benefits not only to the university, but to the students themselves,” he said.

Now that KUST has taken a lead by recording this interesting milestone, will other higher institutions borrow a leaf?


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