11th Lesson                                                        

EDU 201.1    -     HISTORY OF EDUCATION      


Prepared and Taught by:

Dr. Abdulrahman Yusuf Maigida




Historical Development of Higher Education in Nigeria



Missionaries’ efforts covered two levels of education – primary and secondary. Higher education was not dabbled into, may be because their intention was not originally to make education their priority. It may on the other hand mean that colonial government too did not want Africans to be well educated, for their authority not to be challenged. Increasing awareness of few educated Nigerians (nationalists) compelled the whites to see the need for additional professional education slightly above secondary education (post-secondary). Central Agricultural Research Station at Moor Plantation in Ibadan and at  Samaru in Zaria were the earliest post-secondary institutions that provided the sub-professional training before the 1930’s proposition by Hussey. E.R.J. Hussey proposed three levels of education for Nigeria, just like he did in Uganda in 1925; established Makerere Higher College. Hussey proposed the structures to include:

(i)                 Primary level which should be six (6) years, replacing the initial eight (8) with local language as the medium of instruction. The curriculum was to include Agriculture, Hygiene, handicraft and interest in the local environment.

(ii)              Secondary level which should also be for six (6) years and after which they can search for employment in any fields.

(iii)            Vocational higher education level that vocational courses are to be provided and to ultimately grow to the British standard of university.


The Birth of Yaba Higher College

Following Hussey’s proposal to the Nigerian parliament in 1930 of the need to structure Nigerian education into three (3) levels as earlier highlighted, the last stage of this proposal eventually led to the establishment of Yaba College in 1932. Yaba Higher College was the first Nigerian institution that provided higher education to train Nigerians to be qualified personnel in the fields of medicine, engineering, teacher training, agriculture, forestry, commerce, veterinary medicine and survey. Officially, Yaba Higher College was opened in 1934, admitted and accommodated its students in 1932 at Kings College, Lagos. By 1934 official opening, the students had already in their first, second and third years.

The establishment of Yaba Higher College was vehemently criticized and lampooned by the Nigerian nationalists who preferred a university to the college. The nationalists found the curriculum of the college too narrow, inferior to and incapable of meeting the needs of the country. The certificate of the college had no recognition outside Nigeria and only qualified Nigerians as junior staff and assistants in the colonial civil service.

With all the criticisms, the Yaba Higher College existed for fifteen years and turned out a number of educated Nigerians who became ripe for administrative and technical positions in the Nigerian civil service at independence in 1960. However and despite the long period of the college’s existence, the nationalists did not relent in their agitation for a university. To this extent, two distinct commission were set up on the prospect for the establishment of universities in British colonies and specifically in Nigeria. The Asquith and Elliot Commissions were set up in 1943.

1943 Commissions on Higher Education

Asquith Commission

This commission was set up to consider the principles which should guide the promotion of higher education, learning, research and development of universities in the colonies; and to explore means by which UK universities and other appropriate bodies can cooperate bring the principles to achievable ends. The commission recommended that:

  1. Universities should be established as soon as possible in areas not served by an existing one and should beginning as university college
  2. There should be training of teachers for secondary schools
  3. Should be residential and open to both male and female
  4. Colonial universities should be autonomous as those in the UK.
  5. Colonial universities should enter into special relationship with the London University for the award of degrees
  6. Etc.


Elliot Commission

This commission was earlier set up in 1943 to in response to criticisms by the West Africans on the restriction of the Africans in participating in the affairs of their own countries. The commission was set up to assess and report on the organisation and facilities existing centres of higher education in British West Africa. Consequently, the commission was to recommend on the future development of universities in the areas.

From the Elliot’s Commission report, it was unanimously agreed on the urgent need and development of university in West Africa. However, there were two shades of opinion and reports (majority and minority).

The majority report

The majority report had it that three university colleges should be cited – one in Nigeria to include faculties of arts, science and professional schools of medicine, agriculture, forestry, animal health and teacher training courses. The second university college was to be cited in Gold Coast with faculties of arts, science and institution of education. The third was designated for Sierra Leone with courses in arts and science, as well as intermediate level and teacher training course.

The minority report

The minority report contrarily recommended the immediate establishment of only one university for the whole of West Africa which should be named West African University and to be located in Ibadan. It however recommended territorial Colleges for Gold Coast, Sierra Leone and Gambia. The reason advanced for this was because of few potential students in the whole West African territory.

The Birth of a University

The consideration of Asquith’s report and eventual advice by the Secretary of State for the colonies, Authur Greech Jones in 1947 advocated establishment of two university colleges, as well as the Elliot’s recommendation of establishing university college in Ibadan.  All these culminated in the establishment of University Colleges Ibadan in 1948 and approval was also given for the transfer of about 104 students of Yaba Higher College to form the foundation students of the new university. Dr. Kenneth Mellanby was appointed the first principal of the University College Ibadan.

The general public and the press were antagonistic to this new university that the very first five years were characterised with criticisms and agitation for full university and not University College. There were a lot of discriminations in the staff strength, condition of service, students’ enrolment and admission policy, so also the curriculum was British-oriented. Between 1948 and 1949, the university had forty expatriates and six Africans. From this period till 1953, the number of expatriates increased to eighty-one while that of Africans remained stagnated at six. Also, from 1952 to 1962, the certificates issued to University Colleges graduate were similar to those given to private candidates who sat for London University Exams.

At independence, the first indigenous and full university status institution was established and named University of Nigeria at Nsukka. The spirit of establishing full Nigerian institution of University standard and status started. Some of the universities later established include Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria (1962), University of Ife, Ile-Ife (1962), now Obafemi Awolowo University; University of Lagos, Lagos (1962), and University of Ibadan, first established as University College and renamed as autonomous University, University of Ibadan in 1962. University of Benin was later established in1970 for the people to have sense of belonging after the creation of Mid-Western region.

The Third National Development Plan of 1975 to 1980 gave Nigeria six new Federal Universities, vis-a-vis the Bayero University, Kano; Usman Dan Fodyio University, Sokoto; University of Ilorin, University of Calabar, University of Port Harcourt, University of Maiduguri and University of Jos. These Universities are today known as second generation universities.  The first and second generations universities were Federal Government owned. There are other universities by the FGN up to the 9 new federal universities, not excluding specialised ones like Universities of Agriculture, Universities of Technology, National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN), Nigeria Defence Academy, Newly established Nigeria Police Academy and so on.

The involvement of the State Government in the establishment of Universities was pioneered by the old Rivers State Government with the establishment of Rivers State University of Science and Technology. Other States of the federation joined in the establishment of university institutions, including those which are conventional, specialised and educational i.e. Universities of Agriculture, Universities of Technology and Universities of Education.

In 1999, private ownership of university was liberalised and individuals and religious organisations became increasingly interested in establishing university. Babcock, Madonna and Igbinedion Universities were the first to be issued licence of operation in 1999 and followed by Bowen in 2001; Covenant, Pan African, Benson Idahosa Universities in 2002. Since 1999, there was no year that a university or more, federal, state or private was/were not established till the year 2012 .

Presently, Nigeria has a total of 117 universities, with 36 being federal, 36 state-owned and 45 privately-owned, providing university education. For more and up to date list of Nigerian Universities, search for NUC Monday Bulletin (MB) on the web.

In summary, other categories of higher institutions in Nigeria are the polytechnics, monotechnics, research and training institutes, as well as the colleges of education.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>