University education in Nigeria from the beginning seemed to be a mirage for Nigerians,with lack of interest demonstrated by the Christian Missionaries who first started giving education and subsequent involvement of the colonial government who equally neglected the provision of higher education to Nigeria; for the fear of their authority being questioned when Nigerians are provided such opportunity.
Development of higher education in Nigeria came within the pre-independence period (colonial era).The desire for having University in West Africa and indeed in Nigeria was highly exhibited for over a century before it finally came. Although, some Africans, including Nigerians had had what could be regarded as higher education, but not on the African soil. Fafunwa (1974)gives Samuel Ajayi Crowther as one of such early receiver of higher education when he was sold into slavery. Quite a number of other Africans were equally opportuned to receive higher education abroad. The crop of these people later constitutes the African nationalists who were in agitation for better deals for the Africans and their education.
Western or formal education was started in Nigeria in 1842 — only at the primary level — by the Christian missionaries who managed the educational system according to their respective philosophies. The missionary organizations available then were the Chord missionary society, the Wesleyan Methodist, and the Catholic.
The missionaries who started the business of education never assumed responsibility for education above primary and secondary levels.
In short, missionaries’ efforts covered only the two levels of education – primary and secondary. Higher education was not dabbled into, probably; the initial and major intention was not even originally to make education their priority for Nigerians, but evangelism.Similarly,the colonial government from the beginning did not have an iota of focus on giving education to Nigerians, not to talk of higher education.This was the case, because of the feeling that if Africans, generally and Nigerians, specifically were to be well educated;they would become informed and their authority would be challenged.
Secondary education was established in 1859 and the first secondary school was CMS Grammar school, Lagos. The reason behind the delay of secondary schools was not well known. Though, there are insinuations that it was because the missionaries thought that secondary education can induce some critical thinking in people, which may not be helpful for their policies.
After 73 years from the date of establishment of the first secondary school, the first higher education institution was established in 1932. The first institution was the Yaba Higher College. The college was established in 1932, but commenced studies in1934.
In 1948, The University College Ibadan was created, starting with just 104 students. The number of universities rose from one to five in 1962. And in the 1970s and 1980s, an appreciable number of higher institutions was established. Statistics show that, in 1980, the number of students that gained admission into primary school was about 12 million, 1.2 million for secondary school, and 240,000 at the university level.
Today, western education has suffered many damages. The standard of education that the schools were known for is no more. Nigerian university graduates lack the proper knowledge and skills to acquire employment. Measures must be put in place for Nigerian education to attain its past glory.