It is increasingly becoming glaring that knowledge is fast replacing other resources as the main driver of economic growth. With this development,
It is increasingly becoming glaring that knowledge is fast replacing other resources as the main driver of economic growth. With this development, education has become the foundation for national and individual prosperity as well and social mobility. “Skilled human resources and knowledge resources,” write notable Harvard Business School author and scholar on strategy Michael Porter, “are two of the most important factors for upgrading national competitive advantage.”
This is the singular reason higher education worldwide has moved from the periphery to the center of governmental agendas. Universities are now seen as crucial national assets in addressing policy priorities, and as sources of new knowledge and innovative thinking. They are also seen as providers of skilled personnel and credible credentials; contributors to innovation; attractors of international talent and business investment; agents of social justice and mobility; contributors to social and cultural vitality; and determinants of health and well-being.
However, it appears Nigerian varsities are far from realizing or fitting into some, or most of these because of the perennial crises that has, and is still rocking the education sector in the country. However, in the throes of discouraging news from our education sectors there is at least reason to cheer a bit today. Three Nigerian universities have been ranked among the top 1,000 in the world. University of Ibadan, Ibadan (UI), University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), and Covenant University, Ota, (CU), made the 2019 Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings list.
Prior to the 2019 rankings released last week, only UI made the top 1,000 list last year. Nigeria has only UI in Africa’s top 10 lists while South Africa has 6. The list, which was launched at Times Higher Education’s World Academic Summit at the National University of Singapore, featured 86 countries, up from 81 the previous edition.
Covenant University – the only private university – is ranked 601- 800, out of more than 1,250 higher education institutions on the list, same with the University of Ibadan. University of Nigeria, Nsukka, is ranked 1001+. This is a slight improvement for Nigeria, compared to last year’s ranking where only the University of Ibadan made the list and was ranked 801–1000. Covenant University and University of Ibadan occupy fifth and sixth position respectively on the table of all the 28 African ranked institutions for the 2019 ranking. University of Nigeria, Nsukka, is 23 on the African table.
South African institutions – University of Cape Town, ranked 156; University of the Witwatersrand, ranked 201–250; Stellenbosch University, ranked 301–350; and University of KwaZulu-Natal, ranked 401–500 – occupy first, second, third, and fourth position on the African table.
Another three South African universities – University of Johannesburg, ranked 601–800; University of Pretoria, ranked 601–800; and University of the Western Cape, 601–800 – sit below Nigeria on the African table, occupying seventh, eighth, and ninth positions respectively. Only one university in Ghana – University of Ghana – is included in the 2019 ranking. It is ranked 801–1000 and occupies the 12th position on the African table.
Globally, Oxford University, United Kingdom, for the third consecutive year, is at the number one position. Another university in the UK, Cambridge, retains the second position, while Stanford in the U.S. holds steady in third.
Among the top 10, are Massachusetts Institute of Technology, U.S., fourth; California Institute of Technology, U.S., fifth; Harvard University, U.S., sixth; Princeton University, U.S., seventh; Yale University, U.S., eighth; Imperial College London, UK, ninth; and University of Chicago, U.S., 10th.
What the latest ranking has shown is that if the government and relevant stakeholders put in more efforts Nigerian varsities can rise up and be counted among the best in Africa and indeed the world. “Times Higher Education’s World University Rankings, said Phil Baty, editorial director of global rankings, “is the most rigorous there is, and this is our most globally competitive listing to date.” I agree with his assertion.
Now in its 15th year, THE grade varsities in core areas like teaching, research, knowledge transfer, and international outlook For now, THE Rankings are the only global performance tables that judge research-intensive universities across all their core missions: teaching, research, knowledge transfer and international outlook. THE uses 13 carefully calibrated performance indicators to provide the most comprehensive and balanced comparisons, trusted by students, academics, university leaders, industry and governments.
To further give credence to the rankings, the performance indicators are grouped into five areas: teaching (the learning environment); research (volume, income and reputation); citations (research influence); international outlook (staff, students and research); and industry income (knowledge transfer). However, varsities can be excluded from the rankings if they do not teach undergraduates, or if their research output amounted to fewer than 1,000 relevant publications between 2013 and 2017 (with a minimum of 150 a year). Varsities can also be excluded if 80 per cent or more of their research output is exclusively in one of the 11 subject areas.
In the area of data collection, institutions provide and sign off their institutional data for use in the rankings. On the rare occasions when a particular data point is not provided, THE enters a conservative estimate for the affected metric. By doing this, it avoid penalising an institution too harshly with a “zero” value for data that it overlooks or does not provide, but they do not reward it for withholding them.
Moving from a series of specific data points to indicators, and finally to a total score for an institution, requires matching values that represent fundamentally different data. To do this, THE uses a standardisation approach for each indicator, and then combine the indicators in the proportions indicated.
The standardisation approach used is based on the distribution of data within a particular indicator, where a cumulative probability function is calculated and evaluated: a particular institution’s indicator sits within that function. A cumulative probability score of X in essence tells us that a university with random values for that indicator would fall below that score X per cent of the time.
For all indicators except for the Academic Reputation Survey (ARS), THE calculates the cumulative probability function using a version of Z-scoring. The distribution of the data in the ARS requires it to add an exponential component.
The metrics used are: Teaching (the learning environment) – 30%, Reputation survey: 15%, Staff-to-student ratio: 4.5%, Doctorate-to-bachelor’s ration: 2.25%, Doctorates-awarded-to-academic-staff ratio: 6% and Institutional income: 2.25%. The most recent ARS (run annually) that underpins this category – according to the THE – was carried out between January and March 2018. It examined the perceived prestige of institutions in teaching. The responses were statistically representative of the global academy’s geographical and subject mix. The 2018 data are combined with the results of the 2017 survey, giving more than 20,000 responses.
Furthermore, they are also concerned about how committed an institution is to nurturing the next generation of academics, postgraduate research students and the provision of teaching at the highest level that is attractive to graduates and effective at developing them. This indicator is normalised to take account of a university’s unique subject mix, reflecting the volume of doctoral awards by discipline.
That three Nigerian varsities passed through this thorough and transparent criterion is worth celebrating even though it might just be what I term a drop in the ocean. However, this should further spur other varsities to “put their houses in order” and learn from these three by strategically thinking out solutions on how to move forward despite dwindling government funding, especially for public varsities. Thought it is still a long way home but a bold step has been taken. But the challenge will remain maintaining or improving on the rankings next year.