The Idea of a Colonial University

  • John D. Hargreaves


On 1 February 1971 one student of the University of Ibadan was killed, and several were injured, by police who had been called to the campus as a result of student demonstrations originating in allegations of corrupt administration in a hall of residence. The Vice-Chancellor, testifying before a judicial enquiry appointed by the head of state, remarked (with specific reference to the residential system) that the university structure at Ibadan remained “subcolonial”.1 His words were taken up, and given an interpretation which he had probably not intended, by a subsequent witness (a radical young sociology lecturer called Dr Onoge), who defined a colonial university as one which paid greater attention to its standing in the eyes of foreigners than to the relevance of its activities to the needs of its own country. Both men agreed that much of the framework within which their university operates had originated outside Nigeria; but whereas the Vice-Chancellor seemed to direct his criticism at relatively superficial aspects, such as physical facilities, his colleague was attacking intellectual assumptions of a more fundamental nature. It is manifestly true that Ibadan (and other universities in Africa and elsewhere) originated in a particular phase of British colonial policy; it may be salutary for British academics (who are often perspicacious in criticizing policies in which they are not personally involved) to consider how far these alien importations did, as was hoped, bring with them ideas and values of universal reference, and of specific applicability to the needs of twentieth-century Africa.


Colonial Rule Colonial Legacy African Leader Recurrent Expenditure Judicial Enquiry 
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  1. 3.
    Eric Ashby, with Mary Anderson, Universities: British, Indian, African (London, 1866)—a masterly work on which this paper heavily relies.Google Scholar
  2. 9.
    J. T. Saunders, University College Ibadan (Cambridge, 1960), p. 167.Google Scholar
  3. 11.
    For Yaba, see O. Awolowo, Awo (Cambridge, 1960), pp. 115–16; Ashby, Universities pp. 196–97. See alsoGoogle Scholar
  4. F. O. Ogunlade, “Yaba Higher College and the Formation of an Intellectual Elite” Ibadan MA thesis (1970).Google Scholar
  5. 13.
    K. Mellanby, The Birth of Nigeria’s University (London, 1958), p. 77.Google Scholar
  6. 14.
    W. Moberly, The Crisis in the University (London, 1949), p. 218.Google Scholar
  7. 24.
    E.g. Leonard Barnes, Africa in Eclipse (London, 1971).Google Scholar

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© John D. Hargreaves 1979

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  • John D. Hargreaves

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