1945-55: teaching in West Africa

For a decade between 1945 and 1955, the Department sent tutors to Nigeria, Ghana and the Gold Coast. Those behind the new endeavour were united in the belief that education was the most effective agency for preparing people for democracy, self-determination and self-governance.

The work in West Africa was consistent with the Department’s original mission. Since the 19th century, Oxford had worked to adapt its curriculum to the changing needs of society, to bring the benefits of its research and scholarship to wider British society. To make the university accessible to more people, tutors travelled the length and breadth of England. Planting the seeds of university adult education in British colonies was a logical next step.

The Nigerian Union of Teachers (which in 1947 had a membership of around 700 in 20 affiliated branches) agreed. They welcomed Oxford’s involvement, and passed a resolution at their meeting in 1948, stating: ‘The Nigerian Union of Teachers executive… has learnt with profound satisfaction from its members who attended the courses, of the good work commenced in the field of adult education in Nigeria by the Oxford University Delegacy for Extra-mural Studies; it wishes to congratulate the Delegacy on this noble gesture and expresses the hope that they will continue to render this invaluable help to Nigeria until such time as it is possible for the new University College at Ibadan to undertake this task.’

By the end of 1949, education centres had been established across Nigeria: at Lagos, Ibadan and Ijebu-Ode in the western provinces; at Enugu, Port Harcourt, Onitsha and Calabar in the eastern provinces; at Katsina, Kano and Zario in the northern provinces. Classes were taught on World Political Developments, Modern Social and Political Ideas, Economic History, Politics, Literature, and Constitution.

The West African social and political climate was not always congenial to Oxford’s efforts. Some believed that the Oxford programme aimed to sabotage the establishment of the proposed University of West Africa at Ibadan; some suggested that the scheme was sponsored by the Colonial Office. Some were dissatisfied that this educational undertaking did not aim at vocational training.

In West Africa as in Britain, Oxford felt that the introduction of liberal studies was a primary concern of university adult education, and a benefit to civic life. As distilled in the ‘Report of the Proposals for the Delegacy’s Work in West Africa, 1946’ (Oxford Delegacy Papers), ‘every living person is potentially a student . . . everyone has the capacity for wonder and pure enjoyment.’

Further, Oxford introduced the idea that university education should not be the preserve of a special or privileged group – that the only requirement to university education should be interest on the part of the prospective student.

Photo caption: The Nigerian Educational Association, Lagos Branch, with Mr Henry J Collins, MA (Oxon), Staff Tutor of the Oxford University Extramural Deligacy, 1948.