Duties of the Senate in Nigerian universities


The Nigerian university system has various hierarchies of control. A major one is the senate in each university.

Here, we describe the senate is the academic engine of every university. Without the senate, there is no university.

Other hierarchies necessarily exist but cannot unilaterally determine the award of degrees, which is usually the main reason why students are attracted to universities in the first place.

You must have known by now that universities in Nigeria are mainly regulated by the National Universities Commission (NUC).

The NUC partners with various specialised stakeholders in determining the curricular content of each university. Among its mandate is the accreditation of universities and the courses each offers.

By law, every university is expected to work within that framework.

Beyond the NUC regulations, each university self-regulates its academic programmes through the power vested in its senate.

In this post, EduCeleb.com elucidates the duties of the senate within a university, based on the Nigerian experience.

Membership of the Senate

The law granting universities autonomy in Nigeria is dubbed the Universities (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Amendment) Act, 2003. It is supplementary to the law establishing each federal or state university in the country.

Its provisions lists the following as members of the senate of a university.

(a) the Vice-Chancellor;

(b) the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (s);

(c) all professors of the University;

(d) all deans, provosts and directors of academic units of the University,

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(e) all heads of academic departments, units and research institutes of the University;

(f) the University Librarian; and

(g) academic members of the Congregation who are not professors as specified in the Laws of each University.

(a) the Vice-Chancellor;

A Vice-Chancellor is the academic head of every university. In schools in some other parts of the world, this title might be equal to that of the President of the university. He statutorily chairs all meetings of the senate and see to the daily administration of a university. His/her appointment is subject to the approval of the governing council of each university.

(b) the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (s);

The number of Deputy-Vice Chancellors vary from one university to another. In practice, the governing council approves the appointment of each Deputy Vice-Chancellor. In some cases, it is based on either an election within the senate or nomination by the Vice-chancellor. In other cases, it follows the strict screenings applicable to the appointment of a vice-chancellor as determined by the governing council.

(c) all professors of the University;

A person becomes a professor after at least a decade devoted to teaching and research in the university system. In an earlier post, EduCeleb.com published that in Nigeria today, the NUC has made it mandatory that holding a PhD is another major criterion. Fulfilling these and other requirements to become a professor guarantees a person membership of a university’s senate.

(d) all deans, provosts and directors of academic units of the University

Deans head faculties within universities while provosts head colleges within same schools. The responsibility of each is intertwined. There are also other academic units universities would create to promote learning, research and development. Prominent across universities in this case is the title Director of Academic Planning.

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(e) all heads of academic departments, units and research institutes of the University;

Under each faculty are departments and possibly, other academic units. The heads of each even if they are not professors, are members of the senate.

(f) the University Librarian;

The university librarian heads the team that oversees the libraries within each university. This role, however non-academic it seems, has huge impact on the academic sojourn of students. 

(g) academic members of the Congregation

The congregation of a university refers to a formal meeting of senior members of the institution. The law is specific about the inclusion of members of the Congregation who are not professors as specified in the Laws of each University here.

Duties of the Senate in Nigerian universities

The Universities (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Amendment) Act, 2003 states that the Senate shall have powers in all academic matters including the organization and control of:

(a) teaching and research

Students study various courses while on campus and conducting a research is part of the requirements they must fulfil before graduation. The Senate, with the guidance of the Benchmark Minimum Academic Standards (BMAS) set by the NUC, ensures excellence in teaching and research.

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(b) admission of students

Contrary to popular belief that it is the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) that admits students into tertiary institutions, it is actually the Senate of each university that determines that. You would just have to meet the admission requirements set by the Senate of your university of choice as advertised in the JAMB brochure. Universities admit students through the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME), Direct Entry and inter-university transfer, according to the BMAS.

(c) award of degrees including Honoris Causa, Certificates and Diplomas;

As a student completes each of his/her courses in the university culminating in graduation, it is the Senate of each university that would approve their results within the framework of the BMAS. The senate approval would qualify the person worthy of being awarded a certificate in a discipline which he/she had completed a programme. The Senate also has a say on who to get an honorary degree in a university as it would recommend its choice to the governing council.

(d) promotion of research

The senate would within its resources utilise faculty members to promote research in various specialised disciplines within the university. In some cases, universities with financial resources would even sponsor students and academics to conduct research. Granting fellowships, scholarships, prizes and similar awards are parts of it.

(f) the exercise of other functions in accordance with the Laws and Statutes of its University.

Each university’s senate would perform functions including but not limited to establishing new faculties and departments, organising and controlling courses of study, halls of residences, and similar institutions.

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