The secretary-general of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors in Nigeria recently disclosed that only 38 women have been vice-chancellors of universities in Nigeria since 1960, out of more than 720 in total. The Conversation Africa asked Ekanem Braide, the Nigerian Academy of Science president and a former vice-chancellor, why this is so and how the country can have more women as university heads.
Why are there so few female vice-chancellors in Nigeria?
Only 12 of the current serving vice-chancellors are women. There are 170 universities in Nigeria at present. So women make up 7.05% of the vice-chancellors.
The ratio is worse in many other countries in Africa.
There are a number of reasons for this state of affairs.
As in other professions, the early career years of young academics in universities coincide with marriage and having children. Most young female academics have to take care of young families, teach, conduct research, publish and generally struggle to climb the academic ladder. Becoming a vice-chancellor is usually not on their minds. At this stage they struggle to balance home and work life. School runs alone take up a significant portion of their time. In Nigeria, as in most African countries, these responsibilities continue to be borne almost exclusively by women.
When their children are old enough to take care of themselves, a few senior female academics aim at becoming head of department, dean, director and, in rare instances, deputy vice-chancellor. Very few have the courage to vie for the position of vice-chancellor and when they do, they have to face subtle but real gender related discrimination. Nobody voices negative attitudes towards women, but it is in the minds of all involved in the appointment process.
Discrimination against women and under-representation of women in leadership positions are deeply rooted in cultural beliefs, values, traditions and attitudes. Societal norms relegate women to the background as objects to be seen, admired, sometimes exploited, but not heard.
In my experience, the belief in male supremacy and female subordination remains dominant. Girls are regarded as inferior to boys and it is believed that boys are cut out to be strong and domineering while girls are cut out for marriage and procreation. Higher value is therefore attached to the boy over the girl even by highly educated men and women.
Women are constantly reminded of their low status and so in the end they become convinced of their unfitness and are afraid to exhibit “unfeminine” traits such as boldness, independence and ambition. The result is that women suffer from self-deprecation and lose confidence.
It is proven that women perform as well as men in leadership positions. It has also been established that gender diversity in leadership has a positive impact on performance and success.
In my view, as long as women, who form half of the world’s population, are not allowed to participate in nation building in Nigeria, optimum socioeconomic development will not be possible because only a part of the nation’s potential in human resources is being utilised. The same can be said about universities.
You have been a VC twice. How did that come about?
My situation is quite different. I did not apply for the position of vice-chancellor in both instances. In 2004, I was invited by Donald Duke, governor of Cross River State, to head the new Cross River University of Technology. I served as vice-chancellor from 2004 to 2009. I was again invited to serve as pioneer vice-chancellor of Federal University, Lafia and I served from 2011 to 2016. We were informed that government deliberately appointed people who had in the past successfully completed a tenure as vice-chancellor to serve in the new universities set up by government in 2011.
Similarly, my emergence as president elect and later president of the Academy of Science was smooth, with no need for campaigning and lobbying. The academy has a procedure that makes this possible.
What advice do you have for women wanting to be a VC in Nigeria?
Female academics who aspire to become vice-chancellors should:
- set a personal goal and plan to achieve it
- prepare a convincing plan for the university, making it clear what they want to achieve as vice-chancellor
- serve well in any position so their name comes to mind
- be confident
- undergo leadership training
- study and be conversant with all mandatory documents guiding operations in the university
- be familiar with the roles of the National Universities Commission, Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board, Federal Ministry of Education and other departments and agencies in the university system
- apply and prepare adequately for the interview.
How can Nigeria have more female vice-chancellors?
It is a mindset issue. Men and women should just change their mindset about women. No quota. No tokenism. No more policies. Just act. There are many women who are qualified to serve as vice-chancellors in Nigeria.
Second, the government at national and state levels, as well as private proprietors, should consider and appoint women to lead universities.
Third, vice-chancellors, councils, senates, and staff of universities should identify and overcome obstacles to women’s entry into leadership positions in the university. Most universities have centres of gender studies. These centres should work harder at conducting regular mentorship programmes for women, providing leadership training for all women who need it and advising university management on how to assist young female academics by providing a conducive work environment.