Nigeria: First-Class Degrees From Third-Class Universities!

Nigeria: First-Class Degrees From Third-Class Universities! By Eugene Enahoro

Nowadays Nigerian Universities are renowned for their outdated syllabus, inadequate funding, epileptic power supply, poorly motivated staff and substandard facilities. This is reflected in the 2017 Times Higher Education World Ranking of University facilities, in which no Nigerian University is ranked in the top 500, and only one in the top 1,000! The best Nigerian University was ranked just 601st. This is 200 places lower than Makerere University Uganda, and 401 places lower than the University of Cape Town South Africa.

This piece was written by Eugene Enahoro. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of

The best private university in Nigeria ranked a lowly 1,110th. Even in the African continent the best Nigerian University ranked only 44th. The most reliable and respected independent global ranking for purely academic activities in universities is Webometrics. They recently released their 2017 ranking of academic standards where they placed the best Nigerian university 1,433rd and the top private university in Nigeria 2,114th! In their 2017 ranking of Nigerian Universities the National Universities Commission (NUC) placed just one private university in the top ten, and only three in the top thirty.

This poor international and local rating of Nigerian private universities is particularly worrisome in light of the NUC’s recent announcement that they are processing applications for 200 new ones! From just two in 1999 the nation now has over 70, none of which has attained any noteworthy ranking. Rather than considering this to be a wakeup call, those in charge seemingly prefer quantity over quality. The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) prescribed that 26% of a nation’s budget should be invested in education. No Nigerian government has ever met this standard.

As a result, totally predictable population increases have caused the number of qualified school leavers to far exceed the available university places. The rationale behind the rapid expansion of private universities is the need to overcome problems of access to university education caused by government’s failure to plan for, and invest in, increased capacity. The irony is that in spite of all the ills associated with federal government universities, private universities have not managed to outstrip them in anything other than fees charged! Nigerian private universities suffer from low enrolment, staffing difficulties, precarious finances, and governance issues with interfering proprietors. The majority of them are owned by political and religious leaders whose predilection for dictatorial tendencies and prospering at the expense of the underprivileged is legendary. Instead of ensuring that they can meet the prerequisite benchmark minimum academic standards (BMAS) before approval, the NUC’s misguided policy is to facilitate establishment of substandard private universities and then work to develop BMAS afterwards.

The end result is a situation in which the mere construction of buildings qualifies for a private university. It comes as no surprise that academic standards in some of them are being called into question. Recently a private university awarded over 100 first-class degrees at a blow! In days gone by, the few universities which existed in Nigeria were acclaimed worldwide for both their facilities and the quality of their graduates. Back then first-class degrees were a rarity. Nowadays perhaps as a reflection of fallen standards first-class degrees are becoming commonplace. There is little doubt that securing a first-class degree from a private university is far easier than from a government one.

This has led to allegations that they are being sold. Cynics claim that the first-class fees charged in our private universities warrant the first-class degrees awarded! The real question is whether or not these first-class degrees are better than second-class degrees from world-ranked universities? The answer is an unequivocal no! This is why our political leaders and all those who can afford it (even university lecturers!) send their children to university overseas where they will most likely graduate with a second-class degree.

In Nigeria, an estimated 1.5 million qualified applicants apply annually for university admission into the approximately 400,000 available places in government universities. Despite this capacity shortfall, enrolment in private universities is less than 30,000. This is a direct result of their exorbitant fees. The existing under-enrolled private universities traditionally receive less than 3% of total applications which is well below their NUC approved carrying capacity. This gap between student enrolment and carrying capacity in private universities can only be expected to grow if more of them are licensed.

Although the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) isn’t supposed to be their recruiting agency, private universities desperate for students are unprofessionally and maybe even criminally conniving with them. Thousands of school-leavers who didn’t apply to any private university received unsolicited admission letters when without authorization their JAMB information was given out. In 2015 there were riots when JAMB unilaterally assigned applicants to private universities which they hadn’t applied to, and whose fees they couldn’t afford. In the current mess, it’s evident that what is required is not more sub-standard private universities, but rather an increase in government investment in tertiary education.

The way forward is to increase in the carrying capacity of existing universities, and redesign and upgrade technical and vocational colleges. If the standard of university education in Nigeria is to regain worldwide recognition, then the NUC must call a halt to the proliferation of third-class ranked institutions competing to award first-class degrees.


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