Version classiqueVersion mobile

The Dilemma of Post-Colonial Universities

Yann Lebeau
Mobolaji Ogunsanya

III. Facing a New Institutional and Economic Environment: Strategies for coping among university students and staff

Aspects off the Instrumentalization of the University in Nigeria: Students' experience and the current significance of the certificate

Yann Lebeau

Texte intégral


1In the period between the two world wars, the acquisition of academic qualifications quickly became institutionalized within the Nigerian society as a favoured means of climbing the social ladder. An "inflation of graduates" was already being talked about at a time when most students were yet to complete their studies outside the country. From independence in 1960, up until the beginning of the eighties, the university system experienced an extraordinary expansion. It was responsible for the training of the elite at the managerial level and for the renewal of the executive arm of the public service. Within this context, the universities were privileged instruments for economic development as well as for accessing the nation's resources. They were therefore accorded special treatment, but at the same time, they were progressively brought under the control of the federal government.

2On the other hand, the 1980s and 1990s (structural adjustment years), were marked by recruitment cut-backs within the civil service, aborted transitions to civil rule, and the exacerbation of state authoritarianism. These in turn have led to a recombining of the Nigerian higher education field. The term ‘recombining’ here refers to the reclassification process affecting the university as an institution within a formerly captive but now competitive national higher education market, and it also evokes a redistribution of the social positions within the university system. This concept allows the structural variations in the higher education field to be correctly grasped without isolating it from the society within which it is evolving, while at the same time envisaging, in a dynamic manner, the ability of actors in the system to operate within what we understand to be both an institution and a space of social positions.

  • 1 J. Copans, Home, sweet home, ou l’identité faussement paradoxale des étudiants. Preface to Y. Lebea (...)

3This approach presents the particular interest, within the Nigerian context, of going beyond the ‘conservative’ analysis of the future of tertiary education often proposed by the actors themselves, who are engaged in the ongoing process of reclassification. From the political discourse of national and international decision-makers, to the testimonies of administrators or members of the academic union, the picture painted of the state of higher education in Nigeria is two-sided: that of a glorious past, and of a crisis-ridden present. Researchers themselves, be they national or international, have tended to adopt this mystification of the past, portraying the actors in the system as ‘classical figures of the African martyrdom’,1 but now have to deal with the problematics of the crisis which has lead to a methodological and theoretical dead-end.

  • 2 P.J.M. Tedga,L’enseignement supérieur en Afrique noire francophone: La catastrophe? (Paris: L'Harma (...)
  • 3 CM. Toulabor, Masques errants.Politique africaine 51; 3-6.
  • 4 J.F.Ade Ajayi, Nigerian national system of education: The challenges for today.Nigeria and Educatio (...)
  • 5 Akin T. Aina,Quality and Relevance: African universities in the 21stCentury. Occasional paper, Asso (...)

4The continental features of this 'crisis' in the higher education system are already well-known. Whether qualified as a ‘catastrophe’2, ‘bankruptcy’3, or ‘collapse’4, the reality being alluded to, in rather distant historical and social contexts, brings to mind the following facts: the colonial history of the birth of universities, the developmental ideology that led to their multiplication in the 1970s, the control of the economies of the African continent via structural adjustment programmes, and even the current institutional fragility or instability of these countries5.

5Crisis problematics have gradually outlined the contours of the implacable trap within which the principal 'agents' of the system operate. There is no doubt that these approaches helped, at the beginning of the eighties, to identify the breaking away of African educational systems from their colonial heritage, but what followed? For instance, the unabated thirst for higher education today deserves careful consideration, so that the various problems weighing down upon university systems in Africa may be clearly identified.

6From the chaotic reality painted by these problematics, emerges a restructuring of the higher education field, which is, in many respects, similar to that of other societies which have recently undergone political upheaval. This could be analysed from a number of different angles: needs of the job market, political discourse on education, recruitment of the new managerial elite, evolution of the social profile of student populations, or new social reasoning influencing the choice of course of study and institution. This study will focus on the last point placing emphasis on the role of the principal actors (i.e., the students), by situating them within a constantly changing context of competitiveness, which the world of higher education in Nigeria represents.

7Interviews held with 50 students from six Nigerian universities will serve as the source of data for this study, which was carried out between 1995 and 1997 with the support of IFRA-Ibadan. The sample size is not intended to be arithmetically representative, though an effort was made to ensure that the study met the requirements for a comparative analysis: equal representation of boys and girls, of first and final year degree students, of disciplines in the sciences and the humanities, and of students in federal and state institutions. The two formats used for the interviews were based on whether the student was in the first or final year, which we postulated as being the main factor in determining the ideas which the students have about their studies, their future professional position and the means of attaining such positions.

Theme variations on the realms of possibility

A perpetually changing market

  • 6 University of Ibadan, Ibadan; University of Ife, Ile-Ife; University of Nigeria, Nsukka; and Ahmadu (...)

8The categories of behaviour and of students' notions must be understood within the context of a competitive higher education market. This is not a novelty, for there was competition, as far back as the sixties, among the few existing universities6 which were all polyvalent at the time. The taking over of these institutions and of others established in their wake, from 1975 onwards, by the federal government: the introduction of the quota system of admission aimed at correcting the regional imbalances regarding access to higher education; and the standardization of admission criteria as from 1977; have hardly upset these dynamics, and the oldest universities have continued, to this day, to enjoy a prestige which is carefully nurtured from within. The introduction, at the beginning of the eighties, of federal universities of technology; polytechnics (for the training of higher-cadre technicians); more colleges of education (to train teachers); and comprehensive, state-owned universities has led to the enlargement of the market, and at the same time has reinforced the symbolic domination by the institutions that were built upon the colonial model.

9The demand for higher education has continued to increase, and the establishment of more institutions has not been able to meet this demand. The phenomenon of de-schooling at the primary and secondary levels, observed in certain parts of the country in the eighties, has had no effect on higher education, which continues to be in great demand and under tremendous pressure, although these vary from one region to another. This same period, marked by drastic reductions in the budgets of institutions, abandonment of the policy of scholarships, pauperization of the salaried middle classes and the drying up of civil service jobs, also marked, undeniably, the beginning of differentiation in the nature of the demand for higher education.

A socially differentiated demand

10Since the students come from secondary schools that are themselves heterogeneous with respect to the courses offered as well as to their social status, the significance attached to their admission into the university varies. For some, it represents the logical step towards a professional status which will be influenced by other factors, while for others it signifies the realization of a personal or family dream. Whatever the case, university education is no longer the outcome of a chance meeting with the missionary school; rather, it represents the end point of specific investment strategies usually taken at the family level. They vary, depending on the resources available to the family, the child's sex, the educational background of the parents themselves and of the older children in the family and, finally, on the offers available on the local market. For students who come from families that are aware of differences between institutions and courses of study, career goals are not always directly reflected in the choice of course. This choice is usually more realistically made, often portrayed as personal, but with advice from the family playing a determining role:

It was entirely my choice. What I really wanted to do was international relations and Lagos (UNILAG) was the only university where the course was offered. I have an uncle in the same field. He knew that I didn't want to go to Lagos, so he said it would be better if I studied another language first and then do a Masters afterwards in international relations... (female first year student in the Department of European Languages, University of Ibadan).

11These students, in general, do not lay too much emphasis on the choice of institution, except in instances where they view it as a matter of course - the choice is usually a federal university, and it represents a fulfilment of their wish and that of their family.

12For some others, the question of 'wishes' plays a more central role: the student who comes from a social group which is far removed from the education system is more likely to justifya posteriori his admission, even if it was obtained after having been turned down by two other institutions and even though he may not be in the department of his choice:

Originally, I wanted to study medicine, but I realised that I was weak in math but very good in oral debates, right from the primary school. Then I thought I would like to study mass communication, but then you can't always have what you want in life. I finally opted for the Department of Performing Arts, where I discovered that I was quite gifted in music, (first year student, Department of Performing Arts, University of Ilorin).

13This category of students, whose older siblings rarely have university education, tend to surround the university to which they are finally admitted with some kind of halo, usually borrowed from brochures given to newcomers or from ideas that are perpetrated either by the media or by the universities themselves. Ibadan (U.I.) enjoys the myth of undisputed excellence due to its origin:

I don't know much about the others, but I prefer U.I. because it's a federal university and it is the first in the country. If you go abroad, U.I. is better known than a state university for instance, and even better than the University of Port Harcourt, because it was started by the whites and the people there just had to be the best (female first year sociology student, Ibadan).

14In Nsukka (UNN), the myth is one of an environment conducive to hard work:

I chose UNN because it was closer, and also cheaper than the state universities . … but mostly because the standard of teaching there is very high. You only pass if you're very intelligent and if you work really hard (female final year student in the Faculty of Education).
Well, this is the best university in Nigeria; here, you have to work very hard. For instance, only five students had first class. In other universities you have tens of the…. I've always been told that UNN is the best university in the country and that I should go there if I wanted to have a good degree (final year geology student).

15The university's reputation, often presented as an argument for the choice of a federal university by students from a modest background is, interestingly, never cited by their counterparts in the state universities. Students at the Abia State University (ABSU) in the eastern part of Nigeria, when asked the criteria influencing their choice, in instances when they had a choice, clearly linked it to their financial situation and their state of origin. Since many of them come from the state in which the university is situated, it seemed to have been a 'natural' choice for them, given its proximity, or due to the fact that they have a relation resident in the nearby town of Okigwe. The expectations they have of the institution are equally realistic: the university 'should assist in securing a job', in a world where 'one can no longer do without a certificate.' The same arguments are presented by the students of Ago-lwoye (Ogun State University) where, except for the medical students, the idea of the choice of institution is overtaken by local and material considerations, regardless of the tuition fee, which is among the highest in the country:

OSU is a state university, and I come from this state. So, I really didn't have a choice. My father asked me if I wanted to go to the university, and he told me that it would be OSU (female political science student).
I tried Ilorin unsuccessfully, so I told myself that since I was from Ogun State, if I went to my home university they should be able to admit me with my level (female political science student).

16These socially-determined choices of institution reflect a paradox concerning the structuring of the university system within the context of Nigerian federalism. The universities that are controlled directly at the federal level have upheld, up till now, the principle of free access, and the non-privatized services rendered have been maintained at a price which today is ridiculous. In opposition to this policy, which is now being questioned by certain administrators and by a sector of the political class, stands a market logic, which has been espoused by state universities. The federal institutions, at least the older ones, have an admission requirement level that is considerably higher than the minimum standard recommended by the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB). Thus, these older institutions still enjoy some prestige in comparison to the others. Given this competitive context, it is evident that the state universities draw their intake mostly from among those who have been turned down by the federal ones, and who are indigenes of the state. Statutory distinctions between these universities do not come into play since, for them, the domain of the possible stops at the borders of the state. On the whole, the least expensive universities in terms of tuition fees, have a student population coming from a more well-to-do background, than those in the more expensive universities which sell their admission at a high price.

17Admission into the universities reflects very faithfully this paradoxical situation, as well as thea posteriori justification discourse referred to above: students from rather modest backgrounds studying in federal universities are the quickest to allude to the criteria of high standards as determining their choice of the institutions. For students who, through their choice of course, are following in the footsteps of older siblings or even their parents, their admission into a state university only highlights their failure academically and represents a social downgrading.

18These same categories will now serve to illustrate our analysis of student behaviour with respect to their studies as observed during the interviews. The students' responses reflect their experiences with respect to access to education. It is clear that it is no longer possible to view the Nigerian student population as constituting a homogeneous group. The idea of a ‘falsely homogeneous’ category defined by a common status (possession of the student identity card) and by a specific idea of space (the campus) and time (the university calendar), however, seems more appropriate, even if these variables themselves appear more theoretical, with certain universities practising a non-residential system (OSU), and with no harmonization of the calendars operated by each one of them.

  • 7 F. Dubet, Dimensions et figures de l'expérience étudiante dans l'université de masse. Revue françai (...)

19Nigerian and French students share, at least, a growing differentiation in terms of their attitudes and behaviour within the university, leading us to borrow Francois Dubet's7 conceptualization of the student's experience along three dimensions: the plan (subjective representation of the usefulness of schooling); the degree of integration into student life; and the vocation. The history of the university in Nigeria (which is not, in the least, ‘mass university’); its socio-cultural environment (literacy among the Nigerian adult population is about 50 %); and the structuring of higher education in which the university occupies a dominant and symbolic position, however, will lead us to deduce from the variables mentioned above, the specific categories of behaviour.

Of what use is a university?

  • 8 UNESCO,Rapport mondial sur l'éducation. (Paris: UNESCO, 1995).
  • 9 J.A. Adeyemo, The demand for higher education and employment opportunities in Nigeria.Elite Formati (...)

20In a country where the number of students per 100,000 inhabitants does not exceed 320, as opposed to 2900 in European countries,8 gaining admission into a university could, in and of itself, be seen as a plan, a kind of passport to material security. Data on unemployment among Nigerian degree holders and the efforts by Nigerian students themselves to ascertain the needs of the job market,9 however, belie this firm bias. The perspectives which the students identify for themselves can be categorized under two principal factors: sex and class of origin.

  • 10 L. Proteau, Itinéraires précaires et expériences singulières: la scolarisation féminine en Côte d'I (...)
  • 11 Y. Lebeau, The daughters of evil: Images de l'étudiante sur les campus nigérians. Politique africai (...)
  • 12 K.L. Braimah, Class, gender and life chances: A Nigerian university case study. Comparative Educati (...)

21Regarding the first variable, it is clear that boys and girls do not associate their admission into the university with similar professional plans. It is useful to recall here, that in Nigeria, as elsewhere in Africa,class of origin still plays a more determining role in the choice of course, and the educational history of girls than of boys and 'given the same social class there are more girls admitted than boys’.101 have had cause to analyse this difference elsewhere,11 particularly within the context of federal universities. Girls, who are in the minority and who, in general, come from higher socio-economic backgrounds,12 have future plans in which a profession plays a less important role, since it is not necessarily their passport to a prosperous future, which in general, is not conceived of outside of marriage. The certificate remains essential nonetheless, having at least the value of a dowry:

I have the intention of travelling; I don't want to finish up here because I don't want to settle in this country and, according to what I have heard, Nigerian degrees aren't really recognised anymore abroad. Also, because the members of my family are leaving and I don't want to remain here alone (. . . ) Since my childhood I've always imagined myself having a fashion magazine, lots of ideas run around in my head. The other day my sister was suggesting that I could be an air hostess and I said why not? But what I really have in mind is the fashion magazine (female first year German language student, U.I.).
I would like to do a Master's, but I don't really know in what field right now. Maybe in Lagos, I could stay with my brother (. . . ) One could do lots of other things apart from teaching (with a degree in linguistics), in the media or even in a bank, but the problem is that there is very little promotion, so it would be better to do the Masters (. . .) I would like to live in Lagos and also, like I said, my brother is a lawyer there. The only snag is that if I have to follow my husband elsewhere, of course I'll go (female final year linguistics UNN).

22No matter their place of origin, the university degree for the female student is usually seen as a stepping stone to a better marriage. University education turns many among them into objects of family negotiation, where the justification for their higher education is found in the value it adds to their worth in the marriage market. The richer the background from which a female student comes, however, the easier it is for her to convince her family of the advantage of pursuing her studies beyond the first degree. For some others, a break in their studies, which is often presented as having been necessitated by material considerations, is often the result of the beginning of marital life:

  • 13 T. Assie Lumumba,Demand, Access and Equity Issues in African Higher Education: Past policies, curre (...)

Many girls who make this choice seem to want to avoid potential conflicts or the difficulty of finding a husband, since it appears that men prefer to be in control of everything relating to the couple's life, and the level of schooling plays an important role in ensuring this authority.13

23The boys interviewed spoke of more definite professional future plans; social distinctions were equally more evident. For students who come from social backgrounds that are far removed from the educational system, the most 'realistic' types of discourse are those in which a balance is sought between their course of study and a certain kind of default vocation ('sociology, because the government will always need to be advised, and because it opens the door to many other things'), a situation where the certificate Will help in surmounting obstacles:

I could tell you so much about all the things I would like to do and others that I don't want to do. I want to have my job and my family ... In fact, I've always had the desire to work with international organizations in the country, or even with multinational companies . . . I think these are the only places where one can earn a decent living. All attempts at setting up my own business would be useless, because nothing moves in this country, and the chances of getting a job in the ministry are quite slim; they can't even pay their workers anymore. And then with the schooling I've had, I don't see myself becoming a teacher; I'm not cut out for that. That's what most graduates now are doing, and I don't think they are enjoying it . . . (final year political science student, Ahmadu Bello University).

24Reference to public service, illustrated by the daily spectacle of the precarious situation of teachers, recurs as a leitmotiv among these students whose educational histories have often been tortuous, and for whom such a destiny must be avoided at all costs. For others, the range of plans appears wider, and the vocation is more often suggested through advice and geared towards the possibility of integration into the job market:

My first choice was UNN, geology ... 7 understood that if I wanted to be successful in Nigeria, geology was the best choice. The country has resources, it's a good discipline. And also I like field work; it's a discipline where one acquires both theoretical and professional training ( . . . ) For my Master's I would like to specialize, possibly abroad... I want to work in petroleum prospecting (final year geology student at UNN, father is a degree holder).

25Finally, in our sample, just as in that on which F. Dubet based his study in France, medical students constitute a separate category, marked by a strong homogeneity in terms of their plans for the future. It is true that in these two university systems which are otherwise very different, medicine enjoys the same prestige. The similarity of discourse in the case we are interested in here can, however, be accentuated by the fact that all the medical students in our sample come from the same university (Ogun State University, Shagamu campus).

26Their choice of the course stems from a long-term strategy and from a definite orientation towards the sciences, right from the secondary school. Ogun State University was not their first choice, even if most of the medical students there are from the southwest. For medical studies, this region is the most competitive, having four faculties within a radius of 100 kilometres around Shagamu, with the University of Ibadan and the University of Lagos leading the group:

My first choice was UNILAG, and OSU the second. I got the minimum required for UNILAG, but with the quota system, since I was not from Lagos State and, moreover, since I didn't know anybody, I had to come to OSU (fifth year student).
I had chosen UNILAG because I had spent practically my entire life in Lagos and it was the only university that I knew very well . . . I passed my JAMB a year before finishing my secondary school but missed being admitted into UNILAG by two points . . . At that time the minimum requirement for OSU was lower, which had a very new faculty of medicine. Since I come from Ogun State, they looked at my papers and gave me a chance, (sixth year student)

27For these students, their future profession is not at all in doubt, and most of them intend to specialize. The decision as to where they intend to practice their profession recalls again the issue of the recognition of their certificates. All of the interviewed students were decidedly determined to get a job or specialization in Lagos or abroad.

For my internship, I would prefer not to stay here after so many years. The university hospital in Ibadan is very well known, but the competition there is stiff and merit is not the first criterion, since they give preference to their own students (...) All the same, I hope that I can still go there (sixth year student).
The general opinion here is that one should get established in Lagos, though most people would prefer to go abroad, for obvious reasons; I too would leave, if I had the opportunity (6th year student).

28What is expressed by most of these students reveals a certain contradiction between the choice of medicine as a profession, on the one hand, because of its humanitarian dimension and, on the other, for material considerations such as the most profitable place to set up a private clinic. Their ideas, thus, oscillate between Lagos and a foreign country on the one hand, which have come to be seen as evidence of a successful career, and the public hospital, which though not really believed in, none is willing to give up.

29On the whole, the interviewees displayed an informed knowledge of the possibilities that were open to them in their various fields as well as of their institution's ranking in the university market. The professional goals which they set for themselves reflect this knowledge, even if the vocation tends, at times, to be a justification of the course of study undertaken. Apart from the medical students, the relationship between the course of study and future plans may appear unclear, but it reflects a determining reality of the job market in Nigeria: the certificate plays an important role, but is not necessarily the main deciding factor. The degree, therefore, seems a necessary hurdle, not without its own value (such as the importance of the choice of institution), after which the real orientation, as required, will come into play.

From the myth of integration to the atomization of experiences

  • 14 Y. Lebeau,Etudiants et campus du Nigeria: recompositions du champ universitaire et sociabilités étu (...)

30The Nigerian university, from its inception up till the eighties, was able to maintain a strong integrative dimension, inspired by the ‘Oxbridge’ model that gave birth to it. This function has been progressively eroded in the course of the last twenty years, in spite of the strong resistance by the lecturers (who have remained in the universities), by the administrators, and even, partly, by the students14. Today, the university is becoming more and more a place open to the socio-economic realities of its surroundings. The idea of the campus itself seems to have been preserved in its original meaning only in rare cases, judging by the number of taxis and traders that are found in this environment today, with boundaries becoming progressively undefined.

31The students pass through these communities, and the memories they retain of them are those in which the social life, the classes and, in a more general manner, the knowledge acquired occupy varying degrees of importance. The aura surrounding the institution attended by their predecessors, however, is almost gone. The distinction between the federal and state universities, still a partial reflection of the opposition between a residential system and a minimal policy of the transfer of knowledge, will serve as an essential variable in our analysis of the students' discourse on their study environment.

The explosion of the student ‘milieu’

32Today students entering the university come from very different secondary school backgrounds. Some have had a long stay in the boarding house, and others have hopscotched from one school to another. Moreover, the organization of a national entrance examination into the university, does not take into consideration the lack of uniformity in the university calendar, which results in some students being forced out of the educational system for a period of up to two years, or even more, if they fail the examination at the first attempt. The university thus brings together in the first year, students of very different ages - some hardly 16 years old and others who have had a more or less extended period during which they have done nothing, or an extended period of active life:

My classmates are usually older than I am ...some are even married. I respect them, but I don't joke with them like I do with my other friends. They are not the kind of people I move with ... Well, agreed, we laugh together and discuss while waiting for the lecturers, but everything ends with classes, no close contact... I mean ... they're not in, like we say. But they're quite nice (female first year Arts student at U.I., 21 years old, no. 5).
When I arrived here, I felt old, much older than the others... I felt 1 was beyond them intellectually. I didn't socialise with them, I didn't even know how to go to the girls' hostel in my first year, I had no friends there, and I also didn't like the living conditions in the halls. I am equally very individualistic. I have never lived on campus (female final year linguistics student, Ilorin, no. 51).

33These differences, which are supposed to ‘even out’ during their course of stay within the residential system, seem, on the contrary, to be exacerbated, because the social backgrounds and ages of the students are very distinct. It is no surprise that the oldest students are more conscious of these differences, not to say barriers, and those who participate more in union activities are the most prompt in denouncing a kind of depersonalization of the relations among the students:

There has been a definite change since I arrived in 1991. We were not so many. I could know practically everyone in my class, and we took our membership of our associations very seriously... something like a family. When I got to my second year, there was a kind of explosion in admission. People were coming to the university just so they could have a piece of paper as a certificate, not to learn. (...) And you know, people want to make money quickly and easily, by all means, including fraudulent ones ... a-complete idiot can therefore enter the university, cheat his way through and get his degree ... These students who are often kids of rich people don't come here to learn. You see them get committed only to their secret cults, terrorizing everybody, cruising around in the latest cars, taking girls all over the place ... For them the university is a place for social life, not for academic pursuits (union representative, fourth year Social Science student at ABU).

34This interviewee, who is typical of students from a modest background, is very active in the student union life of his university and firmly believes in the university's values of integration, searches for the causes of the university's destabilization outside the institution itself.

35In opposition to the rituals of a student life filled with institutionalized activities, stands the image of those for whom the university space and time do not constitute all of their student experiences. The students of Ago-Iwoye and Shagamu return to their houses in town after classes. For them, the community life on campus is limited to departmental associations, at times to the student unions, but on the whole, the network of friends and solidarity relationships are developed elsewhere. All the same, student life constitutes an experience that is very different from that of the secondary school:

When my brother was at the University of Ilorin I often went to play there. There were the halls and always very lively at that time. Now, I don't know. When I entered OSU I knew there was the town of Ijebu-Igbo, but I didn't know that the students were not given accommodation ( ... ) Students live in town, but that is very expensive because people don't want to have more than one person in a room, and you are even asked in some cases to pay for the toilets (... ) Well, we students get together among ourselves, we're like a small family, it's easy to meet other people, even the lecturers. I am sure that's not the case in a federal university (political science student, OSU).

36In the few places identified with students in Ijebu-Igbo, one of the three towns where campuses of the university are located, students and lecturers (themselves rarely natives of the town) mix freely and organize, at their own expense, night outings and video shows. Though they are all agreed on the sad conditions in their university, the students of OSU are equally the most enthusiastic about the extra-academic relationships with their teachers, which this situation of relative exile seems to encourage.

  • 15 M.O. Arikewuyo, Démocratisation of governance in tertiary institutions: A critical analysis of perc (...)

37The social activities on campus (associations, sports and union activities) are not given a central place by the students, including those in the federal universities. This fact is somewhat surprising, especially for Ibadan, where there are more than 200 registered students' associations. Although the students accord some value to the students' union, because it is the body that represents them all, especially in decision-making,15 they do not seem to expect much from their associations in terms of ensuring their integration into university life.

  • 16 B. Salako,Our U.I. (Lagos: Lyntana Books, 1990).

38The frequent breaks in the academic calendar and the definite move towards a non-residential policy have nearly ruined campus social life which was under the institution's control. Reading the testimonies of ‘distinguished personalities’ who passed through Ibadan between the fifties and seventies, one cannot help but observe the effectiveness of the residential system that was being practised then: these reminiscences do not give much place to purely academic activities, but rather dwell extensively on the extra-curricular life in the university. Life in the halls of residence, the pride of place given to appearance and good manners, commitment to religious associations and the union, pride in having been among ‘those who passed through those walls’, these are the constant themes talked about by the ‘old students’ of Ibadan. These accounts refer constantly to the network of connections that developed in such an environment. The old students remember very precisely their roommates and the members of their social clubs ... and can say what these people are engaged in at present.16

39The students' accounts in our samples tend, on the contrary, to focus on the courses, the lecturers, and the choice of course of study and institution. They clearly associate the university with the market value that they bestow on their certificate and with the strategies that they have to employ to obtain it.

Instrumentalization of the teaching relationship and the autonomization of study paths

40Whether they cheat, harass the lecturers, or work very hard day and night, the students interviewed during the course of this study were clear on what they considered to be the most crucial aspect of their experience: access to the degree. Various strategies are employed, but all have to do with the lecturer, inevitably. This does not mean that the lecturers have a bad reputation; the students actually agree that they have a lot of goodwill. Nevertheless, while some students seem to view the lecturers as their only avenue to success, others see them as victims and actors in a system which needs to be understood to get the best out of it:

(With respect to the long strike by lecturers in 1995): The students were largely in support of the lecturers. What they suffer from the hands of the government is not fair; they don't take care of them. If the lecturers are not happy, then we are not happy either. So on the one hand we were supporting them, but on the other the students were losing time, some had plans which they had to change (female final year French student, U.I.).
I think that on the whole we have a good relationship . . . But most of the lecturers that I had in my first year are no longer there. This doesn't make for closeness (political science student, ABU).
On the whole, they cooperate fairly well, some even give extra hours to catch up on lost time, in maths for example, but otherwise, you have to pay for that (final year, chemistry, ABU).

  • 17 LP. Onyeonoru,Nature and Management of Students’ Conflicts. Ibadan Sociology Series 4.

41The poor conditions of service of the lecturers have led to the reciprocal instrumentalization of their relationship with the students.17 Even though the students may blame the political and economic environment for this situation, they are fully aware of the implications for them. The mercenary practices of the lecturers and the administration are given as justification for all kinds of criminal/deviant behaviour. Massive fraud during examinations, as well as pressure on, or threats to the lecturers, are rampant in a climate where the lecturers are demoralized and the administration has been stripped of all legal and material resources.

Conclusion: New pathways, new stakes

42All the students that were interviewed during this study gained admission into the university in the 1990s. They did not experience the ‘golden age’ which their lecturers constantly refer to with pride and nostalgia. Strictly speaking, neither did they experience the ‘crisis’ in Nigerian universities at the end of the 1980s, when a generation of students witnessed the disappearance of government scholarships, of subsidized meals at the university cafeteria and of the assurance of immediate employment in a well-paying civil service job.

  • 18 Y. Lebeau (1997a) op. cit.

43What they say about their lecturers, about the cost of living and about their degrees reflects a ‘disinstitutionalization of the social cohesion of the campus’18 and highlights the formidable odds against students today. Whatever the strategies adopted by them, the students interviewed showed lucidity and realism; neither victims nor heroes, they took full advantage of any opportunities that were open to them.

44More in-depth research needs to be done, especially in the area of comparing the various disciplines. I also think that we need to look more closely at the issue of studying abroad. Most of the elite trained at Ibadan in the sixties and seventies did part of their studies in the United States or in Great Britain, after which they returned to Nigeria. What is the situation today, and what are the disciplines and the kinds of institutions that are being chosen by young people who are going abroad?

  • 19 J.F. Ade Ajayi, op. cit.

45The strategies and the representations of which an overview has just been given, however, permit us to see the transformations that have taken place in the university system in this country. Some scholars are talking about the imminent death of the system, but as correctly underscored by J.F. Ade Ajayi19 it is the system as it was originally run that is disappearing due to the crisis. The demands of the lecturers and the students during the last strike actions, the strategy of avoidance adopted by the military administrators of the country or, better still, the selective rescuing of the institutions advocated by the World Bank are as much an indication of the restructuring of the university market and the impending competition from other higher institutions (private institutes for management and banking studies, and private universities which are now allowed). Even if the university as a direct passport to becoming an elite in the country is no longer a reality, our interviews revealed clearly that higher education as a prerequisite to social climbing is an ideology that is still widely supported in Nigeria.

46Finally, the essential distinctions among the opinions expressed regarding the future depending on the status of the university, indicate a growing disparity in terms of the study conditions between some federal universities (the oldest ones) and the others. All the universities are suffering, but not to the same degree. The students do not have the same ideas about their certificates, and the certificates certainly do not have the same value. After a phase of democratization of the access to higher education (that of the seventies), it seems as if the movement is clearly on now towards a fragmentation of the university market and, consequently, of the production of the elite, a process in which students from the most well-to-do classes are fully aware.


47Adeyemo, J.A. 1998. The demand for higher education and employment opportunities in Nigeria. In:Elite Formation and the Restructuring of Higher Education in sub-Saharan Africa. Institute Français de Recherche en Afrique (IFRA)/African BookBuilders, Ibadan.

48Aina Akin T. 1994.Quality and Relevance: African universities in the 21st century. Occasional paper, Association of African Universities. 38pp.

49Ajayi, J.F.Ade 1994. Nigerian national system of education, pp. 9-37.The Challenges for Today. Nigeria and Education: The challenges ahead. Spectrum Books, Ibadan.

50Arikewuyo, MO. 1997. Démocratisation of governance in tertiary institutions: A critical analysis of perceived involvement of the student union in the administration of institutions of higher learning in Nigeria.Zimbabwe Journal of Educational Research 9(3): 277-286.

51Assié Lumumba T. 1994.Demand, Access and Equity Issues in African Higher Education: Past policies, current practices, and readiness for the 21st century. Occasional paper, Association of African Universities, Accra. 41pp.

52Bajomi, I. 1992. Des cadres politiques aux managers. Transformation du champ de l'enseignement supérieur hongrois, pp. 149-171. In:Les institutions de formation des cadres dirigeants. Study report. D. Gheorghiu and M. de Saint Martin, eds. CSEC, EHESS, Paris.

53Braimah, K.L. 1987. Class, gender, and life chances-. A Nigerian university case study.

54Comparative Education Review 31 (4): 573-574.

55Copans, J. 1997. Home, sweet home, ou l'identité faussement paradoxale des étudiants.

56Preface to Y. Lebeau,Etudiants et Campus du Nigeria: Recompositions du champ universitaire et sociabilités étudiantes. Paris, Editions Karthala Collection ‘Hommes et sociétés’, pp. 7-20.

57Dubet, F. 1994. Dimensions et figures de l'expérience étudiante dans l'université de masse.

58Revue Française de Sociologie 34 (4): 510-532.

59Fafunwa, A. Babs. 1971.A History of Nigerian Higher Education 1827-1969. Macmillan,


61loan, M. 1992. Eléments pour une histoire sociale des institutions de formation des cadres en Roumanie, 1946-1989. pp. 191-202. In:Les Institutions De Formation Des Cadres Dirigeants. Study report. D. Gheorghiu and M. de Saint Martin, eds. CSEC, EHESS, Paris.

62Lebeau, Y. 1997a.Etudiants et Campus du Nigeria: Recompositions du champ universitaire et sociabilités étudiantes. Paris: Editions Karthala, collection Hommes et sociétés, 359 pp.

63Lebeau, Y. 1997b. The daughters of evil: Images de l'étudiante sur les campus nigérians.

64Politique Africaine 65: 21-34. Lebeau Y. 1998. Le faux-semblant de la mixité des campus nigérian: Stéréotypes, statuts et rôles féminins, pp. 141-166. In:L'école et les Filles en Afrique: Scolarisation sous conditions. MF. Lange, ed. Editions Karthala, Paris, Collection 'Ecole et Education'. National Universities Commission. 1995.Annual Report. Lagos, Nigeria. Onyeonoru, I.P. 1996. Nature and management of students' conflicts,¡badán Sociology Series 4, 44 pp.

65Proteau, L. 1998. Itinéraires précaires et expériences singulières: la scolarisation féminine en Côte d'Ivoire, pp. 27-71. In:L'école et les Filles en Afrique: Scolarisation sous conditions. M.F. Lange, ed. Editions Karthala, Paris, Collection 'Ecole et Education'.

66Salako, B. 1990.Our U.I. Lyntana Books, Lagos.

67Tedga, P.J.M. 1988.L'enseignement Supérieur En Afrique Noire Francophone: La Catastrophe? L'Harmattan, Paris.

68Toulabor, CM. 1993. Masques errants.Politique Africaine, 51: 3-6.

69UNESCO. 1995.Rapport Mondial Sur L'éducation. UNESCO, Paris.


70The University of Ibadan, the only institution to have a complete cycle of tertiary studies in Nigeria at the end of the colonial period admitted in 1948 only 5 per cent of those coming from the secondary schools. In 1952, it had only 18 per cent of Nigerians in tertiary institutions, as opposed to 64 per cent in British universities and 18 per cent in North American universities (Fafunwa 1971. pp.94-95).

  • See I. Bajomi, Des cadres politiques aux managers. Transformations du champ de l'enseignement supérieur hongrois, and M. loan, Eléments pour une histoire sociale des institutions de formation des cadres en Roumanie (1946-1989), in D. Gheorghiu, M. de Saint Martin (eds), Les institutions de formation des cadres dirigeants, Rapport d'étude. Paris, CSEC. EHESS. 1992.
  • The 37 universities in Nigeria (established in 36 years) have less than 300. 000 students on the whole, today. Every year they admit on the average only 10 per cent of the candidates that sit for the common examination for admission to the university (NUC, 1995).
  • Let us recall that Nigerian public higher educational which institutions total more than a hundred (universities, colleges of education, polytechnics), are distributed over the whole of the country, but that more than two-thirds of them are concentrated on a meridional band occupied by a third of the inhabitants (Lebeau, 1997a).
  • In 1997, those who were admitted to Ogun State University (OSU) had to pay tuition fees and levies that were as high as N50,000, for non-indigenes of the state. In Rivers (RUT) and Abia (ABSU) state universities, these fees were up to N4,000 for indigenes of the state and N8,000 for non-indigenes. Access to federal universities is, on the contrary, open to all Nigerians. The News, 27 January, 1997.


1 J. Copans, Home, sweet home, ou l’identité faussement paradoxale des étudiants. Preface to Y. Lebeau,Etudiants et campus du Nigeria: Recompositions du champ universitaire et sociabilités étudiantes (Paris: Editions Karthala,1997: 7-20).

2 P.J.M. Tedga,L’enseignement supérieur en Afrique noire francophone: La catastrophe? (Paris: L'Harmattan, 1988).

3 CM. Toulabor, Masques errants.Politique africaine 51; 3-6.

4 J.F.Ade Ajayi, Nigerian national system of education: The challenges for today.Nigeria and Education: The challenges ahead. (Ibadan: Spectrum Books, 1994: 9-37).

5 Akin T. Aina,Quality and Relevance: African universities in the 21stCentury. Occasional paper, Association of African Univerisities, 38pp.

6 University of Ibadan, Ibadan; University of Ife, Ile-Ife; University of Nigeria, Nsukka; and Ahmadu Bello Univeristy, Zaria.

7 F. Dubet, Dimensions et figures de l'expérience étudiante dans l'université de masse. Revue française de sociologie 34.4 (1994): 573-574.

8 UNESCO,Rapport mondial sur l'éducation. (Paris: UNESCO, 1995).

9 J.A. Adeyemo, The demand for higher education and employment opportunities in Nigeria.Elite Formation and the Restructuring of Higher Education in sub-Saharan Africa. (Ibadan: IFRA, 2000: 211-235.

10 L. Proteau, Itinéraires précaires et expériences singulières: la scolarisation féminine en Côte d'Ivoire. In M.-F. Lange (ed.)L'école et les filles en Afrique: scolarisation sous conditions. (Paris: Editions Karthala, 1998: 67).

11 Y. Lebeau, The daughters of evil: Images de l'étudiante sur les campus nigérians. Politique africaine 65 (1997b: 21-34); Le faux-semblant de la mixité des campus nigérians: Stéréotypes, statuts et rôles féminins. In: M.F. Lange (ed.)L'école et les Filles en Afrique: Scolarisation sous conditions (Paris: Karthala, 1998: 141-166).

12 K.L. Braimah, Class, gender and life chances: A Nigerian university case study. Comparative Education Review 31 (4, 1987): 573-574.

13 T. Assie Lumumba,Demand, Access and Equity Issues in African Higher Education: Past policies, current practices, and readiness for the 21"' century. Occasional paper, Association of African Universities, Accra (1994: 24).

14 Y. Lebeau,Etudiants et campus du Nigeria: recompositions du champ universitaire et sociabilités étudiantes (Paris: Editions Karthala, 1997a: 359p).

15 M.O. Arikewuyo, Démocratisation of governance in tertiary institutions: A critical analysis of perceived involvement of the student union in the administration of institutions of higher learning in Nigeria.Zimbabwe Journal of Educational Research 9 (3,1997): 277-286.

16 B. Salako,Our U.I. (Lagos: Lyntana Books, 1990).

17 LP. Onyeonoru,Nature and Management of Students’ Conflicts. Ibadan Sociology Series 4.

18 Y. Lebeau (1997a) op. cit.

19 J.F. Ade Ajayi, op. cit.

© IFRA-Nigeria, 2000

Conditions d’utilisation :

Cette publication numérique est issue d’un traitement automatique par reconnaissance optique de caractères.
Rechercher dans OpenEdition Search

Vous allez être redirigé vers OpenEdition Search