75 years  

Education for Developing Countries 1973-1985

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Professor Sam Igwe : student 1974-77

Sam recalls his arrival at the Institute and first meeting with Peter Williams. He also recalls the support of fellow students from all parts of the world and the influence on him of Professor Reg Honeybone.  

"My first contact with the Institute was in September 1974 when I arrived to start my programme leading to the PhD degree. It was on Federal Government of Nigeria scholarship. My experience on my first day at the Institute is worth recounting. On arrival in the UK a few days earlier, I had gone straight to Croydon to stay with an elder brother, Dr Alf Igwe. Before I left home in Nigeria to come to London, a tutor, Mr Peter Williams, (later Professor) had already been assigned to me by the Institute. He had also made an appointment for our first meeting on a particular day at 11am. Our Department at the Institute, Education in Developing Countries, as it was then known, was located at the time, in Woburn Square. I had travelled from Croydon by road in company of my elder brother in his car to London. We arrived in Woburn Square at about 10.30 am for the appointment at 11am. For more than half an hour my brother and I were driving round the Square looking for a parking space. We eventually found a place a bit removed from the Square and had to trek back to keep the appointment. By the time I finally reached Professor William’s office, it was 10 minutes past 11 that morning. As soon as I entered the room and introduced myself, he looked at me and remarked “Sam Igwe, you have to understand right from the start that time is very tight and of great essence here in the UK”. Professor Williams could not have delivered the message in a better language, and it was immediately registered in my mind and influenced my activities all through my stay at the Institute, and beyond. That was my first lesson as a student at the Institute.  

Other students arrived about the same time. Soon after that, there were the registration formalities and commencement of new session activities. Thereafter, we settled down to the business of our different academic programmes. In the Department of Education in Developing Countries…., there were about thirty of us in the MA and PhD degree classes. Almost all of us lived together at John Adams Hall, 15-23 Endsleigh Street. We met every morning and evening at breakfast and dinner, respectively, in the Hall. In the afternoons, we would often meet again for lunch at SOAS dining hall in the basement.  We shared a lot of things in common. We organised activities through the Management Committee and for the year 1974 / 75 I was elected the Treasurer of that organisation. Indeed we lived together as members of one family.  And as I have said elsewhere during our years at the Institute the MA and PhD classes can be considered as a mini United Nations but without the cold war of the period.  Or as the Commonwealth of Nations, with students from almost all the continents of the world. For me I think that was the golden age of my educational career and I still have some nostalgic feelings towards that period. 

We studied in our time under a crop of highly dedicated lecturers and support staff. Our head of Department was Professor Honeybone of blessed memory and Sir William Taylor was the Director of the Institute at the time. The library was at Ridgemont street, not as it is now. In fact the Department was not at Bedford way. This building was under construction at this time.  It was at Woburn Square that we stayed most of the time. The study environment was very friendly and cordial and indeed like a typical English society or community. At the first meeting of the class Honeybone introduced himself and the other lecturers. The students in turn introduced themselves also and everyone was to be known by his first name. Honeybone started by saying call him ‘Reg’, and Peter Williams and we should call him ‘Peter’ and for me it was ‘Sam’. We called ourselves by our first names and thus operated more or less as a family.

The academic content of the lectures were highly educative and in fact real preparation for challenges later in our professional careers.  For me, in particular, I made use of the lecture notes and mimeographs for years after my return to Nigeria and in my teaching and other academic activities. The academic structure for Higher degree at the Institute at the time was such that it exposed the students to a wide range of coverage in any given discipline of study. It was very comprehensive and demanded a lot of patience, in addition to intellectual ability, to go through the Higher degree programme at the Institute. At times the PhD student could be very lonely and on his own. Such time called for patience (proper focus) and determination to forge ahead. But knowing what the typical English society is and for a foreigner like us in those days you could feel so lonely when you have no formal lectures to attend and you may not have any appointments with your supervisor for the next one week or two weeks. It was quite an experience, worth having.

On one occasion in the course of my three years (1974-77), I felt rather depressed that things were not moving as fast as I would want. I wanted to finish and go back home to Nigeria. In an academic session with Professor Honeybone, I expressed that feeling. In his response he said to me “Look here Sam, getting a PhD degree of the University of London is not only a test in intellectual ability. It is also a test in patience, independent and logical thinking and ability to analyse and synthesise complex issues”. This was my second major lesson at the Institute, and it has been very useful to me in my professional career to date.  

Again, at the eve of my departure home after the successful completion of my course of study, I called to bid Professor Honeybone goodbye. As I got up to leave his office, he said to me “Sam, as you return home to Nigeria to embark on your career, my advice is that you should always aim at fighting the world to a point where it cannot afford to ignore you. In other words, when you get home, whatever you do in your career, you should always aim at being among the best. In that case, both your friends and foes cannot afford to ignore you”. This was my third lesson from the Institute. My worry here is whether or not it can be said that I have lived up to that injunction. 

It’s also significant and worthy of acknowledgement that Peter, who supervised my PhD thesis, has since remained one of my closest friends and let me say this, acknowledge this publicly, that Peter has been very good to me and has remained, like I said earlier, a very close friend of mine and I am very grateful for that.

The training I received in Educational Development Management and Planning at the Institute has been an asset and of immense value to me in my professional career over the last 25 years. It was from the training that I have had, that as Peter has mentioned, such positions as Head of Department, Dean of a Faculty,  Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Vice- Chancellor and now Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of Governing Council of a Federal University in Nigeria and some other public and non-academic positions. I owe so much to the Institute for the professional and intellectual training which earned me all the positions I have held thus far. I would therefore urge the Institute not to relent in the noble task of training high-level manpower for the education industry, not only for the UK, but for the whole world. I also congratulate the Institute on the Centenary celebrations. I think it is a privilege to have been associated with the Institute of Education, University of London." 

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Compiled and edited by Clare Bentall and Angela Little. First issued Spring 2005.