The State of Academic Research In Nigeria’s Public Universities, By Mohammed Dahiru Aminu
…to make our universities great again, we must start by asking ourselves if we truly have universities, and we must be able to provide a sincere answer to the question. Universities are so named for a reason, and universities in Nigeria must project a universality of knowledge that concerns all human beings…
On March 25, 2017, I embarked on a journey of discovery to ascertain the research harvest for all first-generation universities in Nigeria. These are University of Ibadan (UI); Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU); University of Lagos (Unilag); University of Nigeria (UNN); and Ahmadu Bello University (ABU). To achieve my aim, I used Scopus—the world’s largest abstract and citation database for peer-reviewed literature, where I sourced documents affiliated to all universities since inception.
A total of 18408,8640,6527,7907, and 6484 peer-reviewed documents were affiliated to UI, OAU, Unilag, UNN, and ABU respectively. These documents cut across all disciplines, such as medicine; agricultural and biological sciences; biochemistry, genetics and molecular biology; engineering; pharmacology, toxicology and pharmaceutics; earth and planetary sciences; veterinary sciences; social sciences; physics and astronomy; chemistry; mathematics; computer science; arts and humanities; business management and accounting; economics, econometrics and finance; dentistry; psychology, etc. The documents surveyed comprised original research articles, review papers, conference papers, book chapters, letters, articles-in-press, notes, editorials, short surveys and erratum.
Upon the acquisition of all documents from the universities under study, I formulated a methodical means to establish how much weight is exerted on the body of knowledge by research from Nigeria. Thus, I narrowed my search to look out for papers in journals with very high impact factors. I chose the two most renowned journals of the world: New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) and Nature. A journal’s impact factor refers to the number of times an average article in a journal has been cited in a year, divided by the total number of articles published in the previous two years. Therefore, a journal’s impact factor of six means, on average, articles published in the last two years have been cited six times. The higher the impact factor of a journal, the more influential the becomes. In 2013, NEJM’s impact factor was 54.42, while Nature had 42.351 in 2014. NEJM is the most cited amongst general medical journals, while Nature is the most cited journal in the world.
NEJM receives over 5000 article submissions in a year and it adopts a rigorous peer review process with extensive revisions by at least five experts in the discipline. Research published in NEJM covers all specialties in medicine and is accessed by about 177 countries worldwide. Nature, on the other hand, publishes new findings, news and trends in science. It receives about 10,000 article submissions in a year and is peer reviewed by scientific experts, covering a wide range of subjects from chemistry to evolution.
It may still be safe, however, to say that the largely illiterate society we live in, despite soaring university enrolment and graduation figures, is an indication of the inferiority of scholarship.
Results from my search show that two documents published in NEJM had affiliations to UI — with the first published in 1984 and the other in 2014. There were also 90 documents published in Nature between 1959 and 2008 which were affiliated to UI. These figures were the most impressive from all the universities under study. OAU had no document affiliated to it in NEJM, but had 10 documents published in Nature in a period of a decade: 1963 to 1973. Unilag had no document affiliated to it in NEJM, but had four documents published in Nature between 1964 and 2005. UNN had no document affiliated to it in NEJM, but had 14 documents published in Nature between 1959 to 1986. ABU had two documents affiliated to it in NEJM both published in 2011, and 10 more documents published in Nature between 1963 to 1986. To put it to summary, in terms of total number of peer-reviewed documents produced by first generation universities in Nigeria, UI produced the most documents while ABU produced the least. In terms of total number of documents published in NEJM, both UI and ABU had equal documents, with each university having two publications to its names, while other universities had none. In terms of the total number of documents published in Nature, UI had the most documents with 90 papers to its name, while Unilag had the least with four documents.
While these figures could reveal universities in Nigeria were better off in the past in terms of high-impact peer-reviewed research, it could as well mean that such universities are equally dismal in the performance of the other vital reasons for which universities exist: teaching and community service. Perhaps the function of universities in terms of teaching and community service in Nigeria couldn’t be easily ascertained, as doing so could be far more complex than a simple judgement allows. It may still be safe, however, to say that the largely illiterate society we live in, despite soaring university enrolment and graduation figures, is an indication of the inferiority of scholarship.
There are many reasons for the liquidation of scholarship in Nigeria, and reclaiming the lost magnificence of universities is achievable through an array of solutions. But first, to make our universities great again, we must start by asking ourselves if we truly have universities, and we must be able to provide a sincere answer to the question. Universities are so named for a reason, and universities in Nigeria must project a universality of knowledge that concerns all human beings in all manifestational indices, from the mental and biological, to the emotional, subjective and objective, unto the cultural, social and economic interactions and organisations with each other.
…universities in Nigeria would remain what it is if we continue to employ academics based on their states of origin, as doing so is to balk at any opportunity to seek the brightest minds from anywhere in the world to join the faculties.
As modern society evolves, universities are expected to play an increasingly important role in society to enhance economic prosperity such that novel ideas from universities can help in innovations and economic benefits for society. To show the link between universities as introducers of new ideas that progresses the society through a knowledge-based economy, an oft-cited example is the Silicon Valley and Stanford University in the United States. Every day, ideas from Stanford University have been used as a direct potential for modern technology and tech policy in Silicon Valley, and hence, the larger society.
Take for instance, universities in Nigeria would remain what it is if we continue to employ academics based on their states of origin, as doing so is to balk at any opportunity to seek the brightest minds from anywhere in the world to join the faculties. Rent seeking, patronage systems, nepotism and unhealthy politics have also contributed to the rot in the university system in Nigeria. It is not impossible to have greater than 90 percent of academic staff in a given department originate from the state where the university is located. How is this practice compatible with any aspiration to greatness?
Mohammed Dahiru Aminu (firstname.lastname@example.org) writes from Cranfield, England.