Yaba Higher College

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The Yaba Higher College was the first institution of higher learning in Nigeria. It was formally opened on January 19, 1934 but in the preceding years, it had already enrolled students in medicine since 1930. In 1947, the students of the college became part of the University of Ibadan.

The students of Yaba Higher College were trained to be prospective employees of the colonial service departments, teachers and to work in the private sector. The college's long term aim was to rise to that of a British university.

Background to higher education

Since the beginning of British trade and colonial rule, modern education in the country was entirely a missionary affair. Though in 1847 a Privy Council memorandum was issued for the West Indies and distributed to other British colonies. The memorandum's contents contained proposals for four tiers of education: elementary schools, day schools of industry, model farm schools and normal schools. However, little was done in Nigeria in terms of the proposed system of learning. It was not until the 1920s when a commission established in the United State to look into education of African Americans decided to expand its duties and look into education in Africa, it was then that the British colonial authorities yielded to pressure and established its own commission. In 1923, an advisory committee on education was sprung up by the secretary of state for the colonies. In 1925 the committee made its report known to the colonial governments and recommended an educational policy on broad issues such as missionary education control and encouragement, religion and women's education. It also outlined an educational system comprised of elementary school for boys and girls, secondary and intermediate education, adult education, technical and vocational education and institutions of higher learning. It was the first major step by the colonial government proposing institutions of higher learning in the country. Succor came for higher learning in the country in 1929 when E.R.J. Hussey became the director of education. The new director released his own memorandum on educational policy in 1930, the new scheme towed the line of the previous colonial position and introduced comprehensive proposals on elementary schools, middle schools and the Higher College of education. Two higher colleges were proposed by Hussey, one for the North and the other for the South, the latter was to be located in Yaba, Lagos close to the departmental offices where some form of training was already in progress and the new college would use some of the departments facilities for vocational training. The college in Yaba, a prototype of the Higher College, Makerere, Uganda started by Hussey was proposed to start out with about 240 students towards a maximum of 750 students. The need for higher education arose mainly for economic reasons, the education of Nigerians would relief colonial expense on European citizens and provide a platform for the economic development of the country. The proposals were later taken to a sub-committee where Hussey's proposals were approved.

Yaba Higher College


The Yaba Higher College held instructions on medicine, civil engineering, agriculture and teacher training, completion of any of the courses led to the acquisition of the Yaba diploma which was only recognized in the country. Courses in medicine took a total of five years, one and half or two years would be dedicated to pre-medical science classes and five years for professional classes in Lagos split into two years for pre-clinical study at the Yaba Medical School and three years of clinical training at the General Hospital, Lagos. Medical students were the first to enroll at the college with classes starting in 1930. Agriculture courses usually takes 4 years, two years spent at Yaba and the other two at a vocational experimental station in Ibadan. Courses in civil engineering general requires 4 years spent at the classroom in Yaba. Other courses taught were related to forestry, two years in the class and two years of practical experience, surveying and teacher training. The survey course came into existence in 1933 as a result of a merger with the Government Survey School. Originally, the entrants to the new college faced lower standards in their entrance examinations but gradually as the pool of prospective students increased the standards became unnecessarily high even higher than comparative British examinations. The high standards of the school and the policy which dictated that the number of students admitted should be proportionate to the number of open spaces available after the completion of studies at Yaba led to high drop out rates in the student body.

The college was built by Messrs Greene & co at a cost of about 40,000 pounds. It had a capacity for 100 students far lower than its initial projection of 240 students.

Campus life

The institution was a residential college and provided various ways to cater to the religious life of the student population. Prayers by protestants and Catholics were allowed every evenings and Sunday service for protestants was held in the school hall, the Catholics attended a nearby Church. The school also had an active athletic life with strong interest in football, hockey and cricket.

The college had an official news outlet, the Higher College Magazine and a student publication, The Viking.

Catalyst of political action

The underlying events leading to the establishment of the Yaba Higher College was a critical point in the nation's political history. When the Lugard sub committee on education was asked to look at the Hussey educational scheme bypassing a first look by the Legislative Council of the country, some Nigerian members of the legislative council were critical of the gesture as the council's debate would be academic as discussions on improving the standards of education in the country in line with the new proposals would be unfruitful. Many Nigerians had sought an institution of higher learning comparable to a university with unrestricted courses. Also, Eric Moore, a member of the Legislative Council lamented the process of change that was becoming a norm in the country's educational policy. Since 1909, when Mr Rowden was appointed as the new director of education, Rowden and subsequent directors have made claims to initiating new codes of education changing the one they met. The College was also thought of by some Lagosians as a white elephant project and a personal legacy of Mr Hussey, the citizens were critical of the extensive vocational offerings of the college which was acting as a feeder for the colonial service.

On March 17, 1934, a public gathering was convened at Glover Hall and attended by many past students of King's College, Lagos. The gathering attended by many Lagos personalities would later be the first meeting of the Nigerian Youth Movement, which was then called the Lagos Youth Movement.


  • Nduka Okafor. The Development of Universities in Nigeria.