Remarks by Kole Shettima at the Distinguished Lecture of the University of Benin
November 4, 2005 | Speech | Higher Education in Russia & Africa
An address presented by Kole Ahmed Shettima, PhD, Africa Director, The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation at the Distinguished Lecture of the University of Benin.
It is a great pleasure to be at the University of Benin, one of our first generation universities in the country. This is my fourth visit to the university since 2000.  I have always felt at home.  Indeed it is a privilege to be with you this morning.  
I was hesitant to accept the invitation from Prof. Friday Okonofua to share my thoughts on endowment building for two reasons. First, Foundation staff behaves like judges; they are supposed to be seen and not to be heard. I want, therefore, to state that the views expressed are mine and do not in any way reflect those of the MacArthur Foundation. The only addition to make is that my work at the Foundation over the last seven years has enriched my perspectives on universities.  Secondly, when the MacArthur Foundation was about to choose the universities it will support in Nigeria, I visited this campus more than once. When my colleagues from the Carnegie Corporation of New York were about to make the same decision, we encouraged them to visit UNIBEN.
I believe they visited this campus more than once.  Hence, UNIBEN being out of sight is not out of mind.
Let me briefly talk about the Partnership for Higher Education in Africa.  It is a joint effort of Carnegie Corporation of New York, and the Ford, MacArthur, Rockefeller, William and Flora Hewlett and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundations to support efforts to build the capacity of universities and the field of higher education in Africa.
Since the partnership was launched in 2000, the four founding partners (Carnegie, Ford, Rockefeller and MacArthur) have contributed more than $150 million to build core capacity and support special initiatives at universities in six African countries.  Each of the four foundations had significant grant-making programmes in Africa prior to forming the partnership.  Working together has broadened their effort and impact.
On September 16, 2005, the partnership announced an expanded commitment of $200 million in additional support over the next five years.  The Hewlett and Mellon foundations joined the partnership as contributors and a seventh African country, Kenya, joined the programme.  One of the signature projects of the partnership is the availability of cheaper bandwidth to African universities.  The price will go down, for example, for ABU, Zaria from $11.00 per kbps to $2.33 per kbps. We hope that this price decrease will be available to all universities in Nigeria.
In Nigeria, the MacArthur Foundation has made significant investment in four universities, namely A. B. U. Zaria, Bayero University Kano and University of Ibadan and University of Port Harcourt.  In addition, we support libraries of the University of Nigeria Nsukka and that of the University of Maiduguri.  Recently, we made grants that will benefit all universities in Nigeria.  These are grants to the National Universities Commission, Committee of Vice Chancellors, ICT-Forum and JSTOR.
My invitation letter said I should speak about building endowments.  However, I want to expand the topic to Universities of the 21st Century.  The rest of the presentation is as follows: (1) context and challenges of Nigerian universities, (2) how to overcome some of the challenges and (3) a concluding statement.
Context of Nigerian Universities
It is presumptuous of me to talk about the context of Nigerian universities when there are better qualified persons here: the Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission, the Vice Chancellor and his team, professors who have spent several years teaching and of course our students who wear the shoes and therefore know where it pinches.  Suffice it to say that our university system has undergone significant changes in the last three decades both in terms of the number, breadth and types of the different components that make the system.  We started with Ibadan and added Benin, Lagos, Zaria, Ife and Nsukka.  Currently, we have 75 universities: 26 federal, 26 state and 23 private.  I understand that there are about 300 applications for private universities. In the very near future the system will almost be about 30 per cent federal, 33 state universities and 36 private universities.  Most of the private universities are religiously inspired.  Of course the universities also come in the forms of conventional (UNIBEN), science and technology (Minna), agriculture (Abeokuta), military (Kaduna) and business (Pan-African University). Access to universities has also improved.  There are five challenges I want to emphasis.
Universities all over the world are challenged to respond to a number of issues.  After all universities are supposed to be universal.  One is democratisation of higher education or massification of the system.  In fact, university education is becoming like secondary education - a universal aspiration.  The number of students enrolled in the system is unprecedented.  The total number of students enrolled in our university system increased from 2000 in 1962 to over 500,000 in 2002 academic session.  Over a million students sat for the University Matriculation Examinations in 2002, and of that number the entire 52 universities at that time could only take about 150,000 or 10 per cent.  The trend is not different in 2005 and it will get worst as many of the products of UBE graduates, and beginning to seek for admission into universities.  Currently, universities that are meant for about 10,000 students enrol more than 25,000.  It is not surprising that recently NUC issued guidelines on student enrolment.  In the OECD, the number of adults with higher education qualifications almost doubled from 22 per cent to 41 per cent between 1975 and 2000.  There are mega-institutions such as the University of Rome (180,000 students), the National University of Mexico (200,000 plus) and the Anadolu University of Turkey (530,000).  If you ask any Vice Chancellor of a Nigerian university what keeps him awake in the night, the response is likely student problems: accommodation, electricity, water and classrooms.  Note that these are basically municipal services.  The other core responsibilities of the university such as research, innovation, and publications are not on their radar not because they do not care but it reflects the reality of the day-to-day existence in campuses.
The second challenge is the rise of the knowledge economy or the soft revolution.  Gradually, physical resources are being replaced by knowledge as the most important national resource.  Research is demonstrating that countries that devote significant investment in universities and Research and Development are leading the way in terms of economic and social development.  It is not surprising that countries such as Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia have emerged as important players in the global scene.  I still think, contrary to popular wisdom, that the United States of America will for sometime to come continue with its dominance of the global scene partially due to its investment and that of the private sector in higher education (A recent survey shows that seventeen of the twenty best universities are based in the US). Universities have become one of the most important engines of the knowledge-based economy.
A third challenge is that of funding. Governments all over the world, with the exception of a few such as the Scandinavian, seem to be limiting their support to universities. Of course, many universities are also concerned about their over dependence on government. Increasingly, universities want to move away from being state owned to state assisted. There is the reality of the person who pays the piper dictates the tune. In the Nigerian context, funding is the biggest headache. Certainly, the expansion and massification of the system have not been matched by adequate funding despite recent efforts by the Federal Government. The situation in state universities is even more pathetic. In fact, many state universities are merely glorified high schools.
A fourth challenge is that of globalisation. Universities are by their very nature supposed to be universal. Students are voting with their feet to enrol in other parts of the world. In Nigeria, when you open the education section of our newspapers, you will see adverts of universities and colleges from other parts of the world luring our students. Nigerian students are found in Ghana, Togo, Malaysia and Cyprus, among other places. Indeed, university education has become an export commodity where by universities are opening off shore campuses and offering degrees. (You may recall that we also had our own off shore of the University of Lagos in far away South Korea)!
A related problem is competition. In many parts of the world, the era of state owned only universities is over and many research centres and private universities have become major players. In Nigeria, private universities are recent developments. But they have become significant players in the last couple of years. In most cases it is not the quality of education that is driving parents to patronise these universities but rather the instability of the state-owned sector. Otherwise, it is not rational for professors from first generation universities to send their kids to some of the most recently established private universities that are one-storey building. Most of them are teaching universities.
Facing the future
Given the many challenges universities are facing, it is not surprising that the world over, universities are trying different methods to keep pace with new changes while at the same time not sacrificing their mission. The entrepreneurial universities have come-up with ideas that are worth considering:
(i) Establishing Endowments: Endowments have become one of the strategies for universities to respond to the problems of shortfall in funding. The endowment of places like Harvard is $25.9, Yale $15.2 billion, Stanford $12.4 billion, Princeton $11.2 billion, Cambridge $5.5 billion and Oxford $4.8 billion. One of the best experiences in Nigeria is that of University of Ibadan. Their endowment started with a modest sum of about N250, 000 and now it has climbed to more than N1, 000,000,000. Frequently the endowment gives the university millions of naira for a specific purpose or put a structure on the campus. Its funds are invested in the stock market. In fact, the UI endowment is an institutional investor in Virgin Nigeria.
I consider the UI experience a success. Instead of us looking for outside case studies, it would be helpful to learn from UI. What are some of the factors that contributed to the success of the UI endowment?
Leadership: The endowment is managed by some of the best managers in Nigeria such as Chief Michael Omolayole and Chief Gamaliel Onosode. These are people well-respected in Nigeria and the business community. They also happen to be alumni of UI. Their leadership brings contacts, and embodies transparency, integrity, independence and management experience. If you want to set-up an endowment, it should be led by people who have the right contacts: people who could/can open the door for the university, those who are not easily turned down when they solicit on your behalf and those who could/can contribute in their individual capacity. It is always useful for those on the leadership of the endowment to be able to make their contribution so that others will see that there is serious commitment on their side/part as well. People like Chief Omolayole and Onosode are not likely to deep their hands into your funds; they are among the best managers of funds in the country. Chief Omolayole is the former chairman of the Nigeria Stock Exchange. They know where to invest and how to invest. Importantly also is the fact that they have the interest of the institution at heart being alumni.
Structure: The endowment is an independent entity created by the council of the university. This is very important. Unlike most endowments in Nigeria, the one in Ibadan reports to the Council of the university as an independent entity. Its funds can not be moved or spent by the Vice Chancellor or the Bursar without an explicit permission by the Endowment members. Hence, it is not a cash cow where the VC could always draw from to pay for water or electricity bills.
Soliciting for Funds: I have already said that it is important to have people of integrity and those with contacts to help build an endowment. In reality Nigerians are generous (take for example late M. K. O. Abiola) but they want to make sure that their contributions are properly utilised. It has been shown that many Nigerians would rather contribute to a specific project or earmark their contribution instead of putting their funds into a large fund. Solicitors of funds, therefore, should be flexible to get contributions from persons who are willing to have their funds earmarked as well as those who are willing to contribute to the large pool. All over the world individuals who make contributions would like to be appreciated either by naming a building after them or by establishing special programmes in their names. Chief Omolayole has also said that he is willing to solicit for funds in modules instead of the whole structure.
Investment: It is tempting for Vice Chancellors to think of the short term and spend all the funds collected during their tenure. UI was fortunate to think long term, and I believe they are better. Their modest investments in the stock market have enabled them to reap more. I would recommend that VCs should be thinking about their institution rather than their tenure. Perhaps, we will reach a situation when VCs can actually stay beyond their current tenure period if they wish and if the university community and council desire so. Of course a university should assemble competent managers for their endowment.
(ii) University Advancement or Development Office/Centre: In addition to establishing Endowments, some universities have started with Advancement or Development Offices. The MacArthur Foundation has been instrumental in the setting-up of Advancement Offices at BUK, UI, ABU and UNIPORT. These offices are established primarily to look for funds for the university and in some cases establish relationship with the private sector and with other universities. Advancement Offices could have different sections such as alumni affairs, corporate sector, private foundations, government funds, research grants and special projects. In some of the universities, the leadership of the advancement centre is someone recruited from the private sector. In another the staff are not deployed from the university system but employed differently. The idea is to develop a crop of people who are solely committed to raising funds for the university. Such are profit and not cost centres.
Let me give you an example of what a special section of the Advancement Centre can do. It can organise a welcome orientation and open sessions for incoming students and parents. Parents and students can be introduced to the various programmes in the university, meet their teachers and leadership of the university organise fun fairs and entertainment. The world over it has been established that the most generous alumni are your undergraduates and therefore it is important to make them feel wanted and desired. They should have a fun memory of the university. Transcripts should be available to students when they request.
Certificates should be prepared on time. Our universities should establish counselling services so that students know what field of study is most suitable for them, how to write applications and receive tips on interviews. If the alumni affairs section of the university can be developed to keep contact with former students, it can be a major source of support for the universities. Some alumni can give you N1, 000,000 per annum while others can afford N1, 000 or N10, 000 per annum. For example, ABU has about 500,000 alumni. If it is able to collect on average N10, 000 per annum from 200,000 alumni or 40 per cent of its alumni, this will translate to N2, 000,000,000 per annum. This is a very good return from your alumni. In Princeton 58.6 per cent of alumni contribute to their institution. However, it will require organisation, motivation and discipline to realise such a goal.
(iii) Tuition: This is very difficult for governments all over the world because even where tuition is allowed, governments tend to put a cap. In other jurisdictions, governments do not allow charging of tuition. In Nigeria, we must confront the issue of tuition and arrive at an acceptable solution. Many parents pay tuition for their children from nursery to secondary schools. For example, a friend's child's tuition fees in a secondary school for a year is more than the funds he spent for his university education at the University of Benin. State and private universities are charging astronomical fees. The fees range from N50, 000 to N1, 000,000 per annum. One can argue that after paying high fees from nursery to secondary schools, one is entitled not to pay fees at the university level. The problem with that argument is that we do not have a good research on the demography of students who enter into our universities. There is anecdotal evidence that most of the students entering our universities are from urban middle class private schools or fee- paying public schools. In other words, the children of majority of our citizens who are in rural areas and the urban poor can not see the four walls of our universities. Can one argue that we make primary and secondary schools free and of comparable quality so that children of the poor also have the opportunity to see the four walls of our universities? Or should we argue that middle and upper class parents who have the privilege of putting their wards through fee paying primary and secondary institutions and get them into public universities should be ready to pay tuition fees? Of course it is the responsibility of governments and universities to provide scholarship and bursary to bright students who can not afford to pay tuition.
(iv) Other Investments: many universities have also resorted to various forms of investment to cushion the effect of inadequate funding. These include production of bottled water and running of conference facilities and real estate.
All the above means you need an entrepreneurial leadership to lead an entrepreneurial university. Leadership is not only confined to the Vice Chancellor but everyone in the university: Heads of Departments, Deans, Council members and students. Most importantly, the Vice Chancellor must play a significant role in this drive. In order for universities to become entrepreneurial, certain changes should be considered:
Appointment of Vice Chancellors: I want to suggest that it is no longer fashionable to appoint only Professors with certain experience as Vice Chancellors. The Vice Chancellor is expected to provide academic leadership but that is not only his/her main function. The person should have excellent management and leadership acumen. It is ironic that universities train students to be managers but unfortunately professors are not necessarily good managers. They are academicians. However, because for most professors the ultimate goal is to become a vice chancellor, they do not seem to realise that the qualities required of a professor are not the same with that of being a university manager and leader.
Appointment of Council: It is a good sign that the number of external members appointed by government to university councils has been reduced. In either case, many see their appointment as sinecure (political appointments). However, I want to suggest that universities should be given the power to appoint external members to their councils and reduce the number of their internal members. Hence, universities can appoint persons, who will advise them as outsiders, help them to make contacts and solicit for support on their behalf.
Establish a Business Section: Our universities should think of establishing business sections that will co-ordinate the profit centres of the university: endowment, advancement centre, consultancy and other investments. We should get someone of the position of a Deputy Vice Chancellor to be responsible for co-ordinating these activities.
Strategic Plan: Many universities have so-called strategic plans. There are two deficiencies with most of these documents. One, it is mainly a wish list: number of departments, faculties, students, facilities and other things the university wants to establish. There is hardly any mention of what it wants to eliminate or de-emphasis. However, by definition a strategic plan is about making difficult decisions, not only what to establish but also what to eliminate. A strategic plan should define what the university should be known for. For example, if you want to be a postgraduate university, you should be thinking about significantly reducing your undergraduate programme and increasing your professional and graduate programmes. The investment you want to make in the next 10 years should reflect these decisions. The second major shortcoming of many strategic plans is that it is input- oriented with out a discussion of the outputs. Hence, we have a listing of the things we want to set-up but there is little on the results or end products. At best there are process indicators such as number of buildings and facilities to be established.
(v) E-learning: The university of the 21st Century must embraced e-learning as a strategy for delivering quality teaching and other services for its students. I use e-learning to include digital library, computerisation of administrative services, smart classrooms, and e-journals. Universities could take advantage of new technological developments to address some of the problems of resource constrains. The era of brick and mortar university is over.
(vi) Networking: Our universities and other institutions of learning should learn to share resources and information. It is sad that our institutions look the same and duplicate facilities, programmes and resources even when some of them are in the same city. It will be sensible, for example, for institutions in the same city, to share library resources, classes and training of their staff. How many times do Provosts and Vice Chancellors in the same state or the same city come together to ponder about their common programmes and how they could be helpful to each other?
(vii) Community Service: The universities of the 21st Century must forget about being ivory towers and be rooted in their communities. Universities after all are set-up to provide an environment for teaching, learning, molding of character and community service. Unfortunately, the community service aspect of the university is no longer emphasised. Our universities should see themselves as service to the community. Service to our communities can be organising medical students to provide free medical check-up for the less privileged, setting-up community legal clinic and providing agricultural extension service to farmers.
I want to conclude by stating that the universities of the 21st century must be different. Universities can no longer rest their oars on their past or make claims to the past. The past is past and it can never be regained. In fact, it may not be desirable to go back to the past. The past can be a source of inspiration and should not be a source of constrains. Entrepreneurial universities will succeed. I hope that Benin will join the league of these universities.
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