The American University of Nigeria-ABTI, or AAUN, will be the first university in sub-Saharan Africa styled after American universities, partially because of the efforts of AU faculty members who have been working with Nigerian Vice President Atiku Abubakar to create the university for the past four years.
Until now, AU had never done anything of this magnitude, Dr. Robert Pastor, AU’s Vice President of International Affairs and a main collaborator with ABTI, said. ABTI is an abbreviation derived from Abubakar’s children’s names.
The collaboration began when AAUN planners approached AU faculty to request their help in creating Nigeria’s first private university. Louis Goodman, dean of the School of International Service, met with planners to register AAUN with the Universities Commission of Nigeria in January 2003. After feasibility studies, multiple consultations and the selection of administrators and faculty, the AAUN accepted its first students in April 2005, according to the university’s Web site.
Since the school’s opening, enrollment has steadily increased each year, with 90 students admitted for the current spring semester. AAUN currently has 380 students in attendance, triple the number of students at the school’s opening, according to the Web site.
“I think what’s most interesting is even in the first year, people dropped out of [the best public university in Nigeria] where they were paying no fees, to go to ABTI and pay $6,000,” Pastor said. “When asked why, students responded, ‘We want an education.’”
According to Pastor, students’ dissatisfaction with public universities stemmed from persistent closings because of strikes, professors who were not serious and the “unproductive” education style.
Before AAUN, upper- and middle-class families sent their children abroad, but the opening of the new university provides the same type of education more cheaply and in a location closer to home, Pastor said.
AAUN currently consists of three schools: a College of Arts and Sciences, a School of Information Technology and Communication and a School of Business and Entrepreneurship. Future plans include possibly opening law and agricultural schools.
Pastor said the university has its own needs that need to be met and AU is only acting as a support to the programs.
“[AAUN] doesn’t feel the need to mimic AU,” Pastor said.
With all the work invested by the AU team into the school, Pastor said the collaboration has been very beneficial for AU. Pastor hopes the opening of the university will encourage student exchange, with AAUN students studying at AU and AU students studying there when abroad. Pastor said a small exchange of students could take place as early as next fall.
In addition to students enjoying the chance to study at both institutions, the AAUN collaborators hope that faculty exchanges will be fostered, though Pastor said that may take more time to work out. Pastor also said AU has not lost resources through investment in the university, but instead has been highly compensated for the intellectual property of the faculty who helped coordinate the different schools.
Some students said they were receptive to the idea of an exchange program with Nigeria.
“I feel it would be a good integration between Nigerian and American culture,” Abby Evans, a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences, said. “It’d be a good way to stay in your comfort zone by going to an American-style university, but still get to experience what the Nigerian culture has to offer.”
Katrina Otero, a freshman in SIS said she thought Nigeria’s culture and political system would be interesting to learn more about through an exchange program.
“I think it’d be interesting to study the interactions of the different ethnic groups [in Nigeria],” she said.
The week of Feb. 5 to 9 will be AU students’ first opportunity to learn about the collaboration between AU and AAUN.
One of the week’s main events is the Nigerian Election Forum on Feb. 7 at 6:30 p.m. Panelists will include Philip Carter from the U.S. Department of State, Johns Hopkins University Professor Peter Lewis and University of Ibadan Professor Rotimi Suberu. Each will offer perspectives on the upcoming Nigerian elections.
Students will get the chance to meet some of the AAUN administration and faculty. Organizers hope this will be the beginning of many future intellectual exchanges between the two universities.
Pastor said he hopes AAUN will inspire other universities in the area to better education standards and that both universities can improve their delivery of knowledge by learning from each other.
“AU should be proud in taking the initiative to help establish an American-style university in Africa, a continent that is poor,” Pastor said.