By Martins Oloja
Let’s for a moment leave the meretricious story of a nation celebrating release of kidnapped school children every week while other nations are celebrating enterprise, entrepreneurship and scientific discoveries. Let’s discuss a testimony of a university that has risen from obscurity to significance within the context of federalism, an idea whose time has come for the people but which our leaders would not like anyone to talk about. I would like to draw attention to lessons we can learn from a recent consistency, efficiency and organisational excellence from the Lagos State University, which was clearly underrated a few years ago. Today, in terms of global rating, the State University is sandwiched between two indisputable federal giants, the Universities of Ibadan and Lagos. This is not a construct we should just ignore because Lagos and Abuja curiously hate each other for political reasons. This is a story that defines development. This is a contextual reporting of federalism, a concept most hypocrites and power elite would not like the media to mention. Let’s celebrate the powers that have rebuilt the Lagos State University (LASU) from grass to grace.
Here is the latest news item: The University of Ibadan, Lagos State University, University of Lagos, and Covenant University have ranked among the top 1,000 universities in the world. This was contained in the 2021 Times Higher Education World University Ranking released last Wednesday. THE ranked UI, LASU, UNILAG as first, second, and third respectively in Nigeria. In the same vein, privately-owned Covenant University (CU), Ota, Ogun State, was ranked fourth; ahead of Federal Government-owned University of Nigeria, Nsukka, which came fifth and Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) sixth in Nigeria. The University of Oxford tops the rankings for the fifth consecutive year, while mainland China’s Tsinghua University becomes the first Asian university to break into the top 20 under the current methodology (launched in 2011).
As usual, the United States claims a record eight places in the top 10, after the University of California, Berkeley, climbed six places to seventh, but US universities outside the top 200 show signs of decline, according to THE, which enjoys global recognition too. There were 141 first-time entrants in the rankings this year, topped by France’s recently merged Paris-Saclay University (joint 178th).
India has the highest number of new entries (14) and as a result, boasts a record number of ranked institutions (63). A breakdown of the ranking further shows that University of Ibadan rose to the 401- 500 bracket to overtake Covenant University, which witnessed a drop from 2018’s 636 position to remain at the top 1,000. Covenant University was ranked as Nigeria’s best university in THE’s 2020 report after usurping UI since 2018.
Lagos State University (LASU) placed between 501 and 600 bands, while UNILAG ranked 601–800. UNN and OAU are placed on figures exceeding 1,000. The same Lagos State University had, in 2020, been celebrated as the Second Best University in Nigeria as ranked by the same Times Higher Education (THE) World University ranking.
In its reaction, LASU in a press statement said, “The latest ranking follows a consistent and meteoric rise in the local and international stock of the University in the last five years of the Prof. Olanrewaju Fagbohun-led administration, thanks to the entrenchment of academic excellence, a culture of cutting edge research and enhanced community service.”
The University of Lagos too has something good to celebrate: “This year, UNILAG took a leap from the range in which it was ranked last year, 801–1,000, to a better range of 601–800. With continued dedication and hard work, the University aims to gradually advance to being ranked among the top 10 best universities across the globe. “Congratulations to members of the University community for the great achievement. All are encouraged to continue contributing their quota to make the University of Lagos great,” UNILAG added on its website last week. The rankings show that over 1,500 universities across 93 countries and regions across the world featured in 2021 THE World University Rankings.
The rankings are based on 13 carefully calibrated performance indicators that measure an institution’s performance across four areas: teaching, research, knowledge transfer, and international outlook.
According to a fact file on the rankings, this year’s rankings analyse more than 80 million citations across over 13 million research publications and included survey responses from 22,000 scholars globally. “Trusted worldwide by students, teachers, governments and industry experts, this year’s league table provides great insight into the shifting balance of power in global higher education,” THE said on its website.
I had on two different occasions drawn the attention of two former governors of Lagos to the expediency of robust investment in the Lagos State University.
First was Babatunde Fashola shortly before leaving office in 2015. On that occasion in Ikoyi where he briefed media executives, BRF, had just approved increase in fees at LASU and there were other concomitant issues, which had then challenged the university’s management. I recall that the LASU image then was so bad that I had to challenge the governor to explain to his guests why he couldn’t equip LASU to a global standard before increasing fees that even parents and other stakeholders could not resist. As a follow up to the governor’s response at a juncture, I had to ask Governor Fashola, a graduate of UNIBEN if he would be comfortable enrolling for a post-graduate degree in LASU after leaving office. He artfully answered the question even as he noted the seriousness of the crisis at LASU then. Again, at the first briefing of Governor Akinwumi Ambode in GRA, Ikeja, I had followed up passionately on the LASU question, which had earlier resulted in a crisis that made the Vice Chancellor and the Registrar then to flee the campus.
The Governor was so touched by the details of my analysis of the debacle that he had asked on the spot if I would like to serve on the Governing Council of the university. I had thanked him and pleaded with him to address the point at issue. He promised to deal with the lingering crisis of the university Governor Lateef Kayode Jakande set up in 1983 before the ‘soldiers of fortune’ struck down democracy. He did to a large extent and that led to the appointment of the immediate past Vice Chancellor, Prof. Olanrewaju Fagbohun who consolidated on the gains of Vice Chancellor in the eye of the storm then, Professor John Obafunwa. The purposeful rebuilding of the University under Governor Ambode then resulted in a peaceful convocation in May 2018 at which the Governor as a Visitor to LASU adopted the best over-all graduate Ogunsanya Fuhad Adetoro. I had then on this page in an article on June 3, 2018 https://guardian.ng/opinion/ambode-lasu-and-adopted-best-graduate/ noted that we should thank God the then Governor of Lagos State was not one of the wonder governors in Western Nigeria “who keep establishing more universities without consideration for quality and history of the region”. I had then added that:
‘Instead of announcing a brand new university the other day (as some of his colleagues would have done) at the convocation of the Lagos State University, the Governor instantly granted scholarship and N5million cash reward to the 2017/2018 overall best graduate of Lagos State University (LASU), Ogunsanya Fuhad Adetoro.
I am persuaded that the Governor should be encouraged to invest robustly in the 35 years old university (LASU) instead of personal scholarships to gifted graduates who are being encouraged to study abroad…’
Barely four years ago, I wrote in this column an article titled, “Why we need better universities, not more”. (https://guardian.ng/opinion/why-we-need-better-universities-not-more/June 4, 2016) I had then claimed, among others in the article, a part of the series that gave me the ‘2017 Dame Award on Informed Commentary’:
“…This is not a seminal paper on the role of the university in a developing country. Nor is it a research topic on the role of public intellectuals in development. Rather, it is a thought-provoking discussion point on why all our representatives in government should halt the “hollow rituals” called licensing of new private universities and the federal government’s own obsession with political project called federal universities in all the states of the federation…’
So, this is an article to deconstruct LASU as an institution when re-engineering and leadership come into focus. The current rating of the university is a pointer to the lessons we have been struggling to sell to our people on the original purpose of organic federalism. And here is the thing, any state government can develop any of their institutions to compete with or even do better than the federal ones. LASU has thus provided a rare opportunity to study another truth that can set us free from the stranglehold of the unitary system of government. What the LASU success story has also taught the government and people of Lagos State is that they should continue with their robust investment in the university. They should not be tempted to set up another one. I insist that we need better and not more universities!
As I once noted to former Governor Ambode, this again is an opportunity to encourage Governor Babajide Sanwoolu to earmark resources for robust investment in Lagos State University and its Teaching Hospital. There should be incredible investments in academic resources to make the two institutions world-class centres of academic and medical excellence. Lagos State is a pace-setter state. It is not enough to aspire to be third largest economy in Africa. It should be noted too that at the core of why South Africa’s economy and democracy are the strongest in Africa is the presence of more than ten world-class universities in the country. As I have often noted, for decades, the University of Cape Town, South Africa has been Africa’s best University. Besides, there is some consistency in almost all global ratings for universities that of the ten best universities in Africa, eight are always from South Africa while the remaining two are located in Egypt. The best 10 in Nigeria are always around 15-20 in Africa. This is part of Nigeria’s chronic challenges that our leaders hardly pay attention to. The federal government has never fulfilled and may never fulfill any promises concerning substantial investment in education quality. They promised to declare an emergency on education – to address funding and reform before the end of April 2018. There has been no word. But no one is surprised.
In the same vein, Lagos cannot become a sustainable smart city unless there are concomitant good, local universities and research institutes that can provide resources to sustain its growth and development.
Time to invest robustly in LASU and LASUTH is now. Reason: quality in education is the only known weapon of country and global competitiveness. You need that to be competitive in Africa. Study this too: In 1963, the then U.S President, John F. Kennedy told a student body: “…No country can possibly move ahead, no free society can possibly be sustained unless it has an educated citizenry whose qualities of mind and heart permit it to take part in the complicated and increasingly sophisticated decisions that pour upon all the citizens who exercise the ultimate power….”
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