OP-ED Opinions 

Lessons From 2020 Times Higher Education Rankings By Olabisi Deji-Folutile

What could be considered as a form of cheering report came the way of Nigeria last week as The Times Higher Education released its latest World Universities Rankings for 2020. Four Nigerian universities made the list of top 1,000 institutions in the world with two of them placed within the bracket of 400-600. This is Nigeria’s best outing in the globally recognised education rankings that started in 2004.

Covenant University leads the universities in Nigeria, occupying a space among the top 400 universities in the world. The University of Ibadan, Nigeria’s premier university, follows, being among the top 501-600 universities globally. Both the University of Lagos and the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, made the list of top 1,000 universities in the world. Not only that, Covenant University was ranked fifth among the top 15 universities in Africa while the University of Ibadan occupied the eighth position in Africa.  

The Vice Chancellor of UI, Prof Idowu Olayinka, was so excited about this development that almost immediately the World University Rankings 2020 was released at Zurich, Switzerland, last week Wednesday, he  personally signed a statement thanking its proprietor, the Federal Government, governing council, senate, the university’s alumni, students and lecturers for the impressive outing. The VC noted that it was the university’s best ranking since the Times world universities rankings started in 2004. 

Looking at how countries all over the world are strengthening their positions in the world university ranking, there is no doubt thatNigeria’s overall performance in this global exercise is abysmally poor. A mere four universities making a global list in a country where there are 170 universities is really nothing to write home about. Some countries have as many as 100 universities on the ranking table. For example, 60 of the top 200 universities in the world come from the United States, 10 of them coming from the state of California alone. The United Kingdom has 28 institutions in the top 200 and 100 in total throughout the ranking. Notably, China and Asian countries are also becoming increasingly powerful among the top notch universities in the world.

China and Asia in general are competing with Europe and the United States in terms of representation in the top league table. According to Ellie Bothwell, Times Higher Education  rankings editor, “Asia now has twice as many ranked universities as North America and is less than 100 institutions behind Europe – although Europe has far more representatives in the top 200”. 

Eighty-one institutions, for instance, were ranked in mainland China, placing it in the fourth position on the table after the US, Japan (110) and the UK (100). China had nine more universities in this year’s figure than last year’s outing. In all, mainland China is the joint sixth most represented country in the top 200 – tied with Canada and Switzerland – and the fourth most represented countries in the entire list.   

Moreover, China’s top two institutions – Tsinghua University and Peking University – occupy the 23rd and 24th positions on the global ranking table respectively. Surprisingly too, Iran has overtaken Australia, France, Russia and Taiwan with 40 universities ranked and is now among the top 10 most represented countries. Brazil also has 46 institutions on the table overtaking   Italy and Spain.

All of this indicates that Nigeria still has a long way to go for it to be truly of relevance in global education rankings. However, considering that both Covenant University and UI rose from their 2019 positions of between 600 and 800 respectively to within 400 and 600 this year shows that Nigeria is making progress, howbeit slow. That notwithstanding, it is a marked improvement that should not be ignored, judging from where Nigeria is coming from. Some 15 years back, none of the universities in the country was listed among the top 1,000 in the world.  

Also, we should not lose sight of the fact that Covenant University, according to the current Times ranking, is in the same league as the University of Alabama, US; Bournemouth University, UK; University of Cyprus; City University of London, UK; and the University of Houston, US, to mention just a few. Covenant is also above Aston University, UK; Carleton University, Canada; China Medical University, Taiwan; Lincoln University, New Zealand; Louisiana State University; Northern Arizona University, US; Cairo University, Egypt; University of Brighton, UK; Coventry University, UK; and De Montfort University, UK, among others. It is pertinent to note that these are some of the universities highly patronised by Nigerians. 

The University of Ibadan is likewise in the same league with the University of Bradford in the United Kingdom;  Coventry University, UK; University of Brighton, UK;  University of Dayton, US;University of Delhi, India; De Montfort University UK; Eastern Mediterranean University, Northern Cyprus;  and Chang  Gung University in Taiwan among many others. 

The Times Higher EducationWorld University Rankings is believed to be trusted worldwide by lecturers, students, governments and industry experts. It judges universities across all their core missions: teaching, research, knowledge transfer and international outlook using 13 performance indicators to arrive at its conclusions. The performance indicators are grouped into five areas namely teaching(the learning environment); research(volume, income and reputation); citations(research influence); internationaloutlook(staff, students and research); andindustry income (knowledge transfer). Calculations of the Times Higher Education World University Rankings are usually independently audited by professional services firm in order to subject them to full and independent scrutiny. Over 1,400 universities across 92 countries were sampled for this year’s rankings.  

The single fact that two Nigerian universities are among the first 600 in the world is proof of the possibilities that abound in the nation’s higher education sector. If government and other stakeholders concerned with the job of running higher institutions in this country can live up to expectation and show more commitment to providing world standard education, much more could be achieved. The few universities rated in Nigeria could have probably done better than they did if they had better international outlook. 

International outlook is a reflection of the number of international staff and students and research with global outlook from any university ranked. But, how many people would want their children to come and study in a country where what you hear on constant basis are reports of insecurity, kidnapping, cattle all over classrooms and other negative vibes?  

Whereas Covenant University is rated as the best in Nigeria, its rating on international outlook on the ranking table is zero for the reason that there are no international students. The University of Ibadan had a one per cent score. Meanwhile, universities abroad that are lower in ranking to both Covenant and UI have better international outlook. For example, both UI and Covenant were ranked above the University of Johannesburg in South Africa but the university has nine per cent international students,University of Bradford, UK, has 28 per cent; University of Brighton, UK, 22 per cent; Coventry University, 45 per cent; University of Dayton, US, 13 per cent; De Montfort University, UK, 25 per cent; Eastern Mediterranean University, Northern Cyprus, 84 per cent; Kingston University, UK, 36 per cent; University of Pretoria in South Africa, eight  per cent; and  University of Indonesia, eight  per cent. 

It won’t come as a surprise if Nigerians constitute the bulk of the international students being paraded by these institutions. After all, there are reports in public domain suggesting that Nigerians spend N1trn yearly on university education abroad. Certainly, no one can blame anybody for choosing to give their children quality education in any part of the world. Besides, it is the responsibility of those managing Nigerian educational systems to make our institutions competitive and attractive to people in every part of the world. Nigerians go to study abroad because these institutions are well marketed and they meet the aspirations of the prospective students. Nigeria should equally sell its institutions to the world. Imagine the transformation that would have been in our educational institutions if the bulk of the N1trn spent annually on university education abroad is invested in Nigeria.  

Obviously, China didn’t just arrive at where it is today by mere wishful thinking. China spent nearly 4.3trn Yuan ($675.3bn) on education alone in 2017. That is almost Nigeria’s entire budget. Its investment in compulsory education in the same year was 1.94trn Yuan. Chinese children receive nine years of real compulsory education, not the kind that Nigeria claims to provide where over 10million children are officially out of school. Serious-minded countries don’t pay lip service to matters as important as education. 

Our universities should be driven by vision. What goals is the Federal Government setting for its universities to which they can commit resources for actualisation? What about our state governments towards their own universities? Let us remember that many state-owned universities made it into the current global-ranking table. 

Nigerian universities would be living under an illusion if they think that they can continue to operate the way they are and get the desired recognition in world rankings. It is for this reason that they should devise means of marketing themselves to the world. They need to create a world class learning environment if they ever want to be taken seriously in the comity of well-rated universities in the world. They definitely need a global outlook.  

By the way, Covenant University is just 17 years old and it is leading in Nigeria. What is it doing differently? The old universities should get off their high horse and learn from CU. As far back as 2014, the Living Faith Church, according to Bishop David Oyedepo, budgeted billions of naira towards the development of Covenant University. The vision of the university is to be one of the top 10 universities in the world by 2020. We might think this is an unrealistic aspiration but going by its current outing, it may just be on its way.  

Olabisi Deji-Folutile is a member of the Nigerian Guild of Editors. Email [email protected]

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