A recent survey in Nigeria revealed problems in institutions of higher learning. These include too few classrooms, too few student hostels and insufficient staffing and funding. Now, a group of American foundations is helping upgrade their facilities, curricula, and faculties.  Voice of America English to Africa Service reporter Isiyaku Ahmed in Abuja says Bayero University in Kano is one of many in Nigeria where young people take an admissions test.  And if they're accepted, they're likely to face inadequate libraries, classrooms and other facilities.

But the MacArthur Foundation is helping out. MacArthur and other foundations -- Ford, Rockefeller, Mellon and Hewlett -- have formed a partnership to provide grants to some Nigerian universities. Kole Shettima is the country director of the MacArthur Foundation in Nigeria. In 2000, his organization and the four other partners decided to provide financial support to several universities. They include Bayero University in Kano, Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, University of Port-Harcourt, the University of Ibadan and University of Jos. 

Shettima says "We came to them and said, 'OK, can you tell us how you want to see your university in the next five years?'  So they all developed their strategic plans. They came up with a vision of what they want these universities to be. Based on the strategic plans that these universities presented, we started giving grants to these universities."

Shettima says over the last 8 years his organization has given Bayero University about 8 million dollars for staffing, upgrading computer technology and establishing a faculty of agriculture.

The 5 foundations also supported the University of Ibadan by providing 6 million dollars to modernize its library, provide computer laboratories and establish an office to raise funds.  Shettima adds, "We are supporting [the universities] to build their alumni base, to build a list of their own friends and financial supporters so that they will be able to get resources from them."

The University of Port Harcourt has a center that will help raise funds from various sources, including donors from industry.  Helping out the center is a newly established advisory body -- the Friends of the University -- which includes businessmen and other philanthropists.

Already the University of Port Harcourt has raised over 5 million dollars in cash and pledges. In addition, each new and returning student is asked to pledge US $820, bringing the university closer to its goal of financial independence.  The other universities receiving grants from McArthur and its partners will do the same.  

Educators say it's a way to ensure the health of Nigerian universities who have insufficient government funding.  They say tapping into the resources of private businesses and private donors is a strategy that's already proved itself in other parts of the world.