Nigeria: How did we get here?

Nigeria: How did we get here?. One of the most pressing problems for Nigeria’s higher education system remains the severe underfunding of its universities. The Federal government, which is responsible for sustaining public universities, has over the past decade not significantly increased the share of the government budget dedicated to education, despite exploding student numbers. Between 2003 and 2013 education spending fluctuated from 8.21 percent of the total budget in 2003 to 6.42 percent in 2009, and to 8.7 percent in 2013. In 2014, the government significantly increased education spending to 10.7 percent of the total budget, but it remains to be seen if this share can be maintained following the oil price-induced fiscal crisis. Recent reports suggest that current spending levels have already decreased well below 10 percent.

Due to funding constraints, most of Nigeria’s public universities are in a deteriorating condition. And while efforts at increasing capacity by building new universities have generally been positive for access in absolute terms, they have also created issues related to instructional quality. Nigeria’s institutions and lecture halls are severely overcrowded, student to teacher ratios have skyrocketed, and faculty shortages are chronic. Lab facilities, libraries, dorms, and other university facilities are often described as being in a state of decay. A large proportion of lecturers at universities are assistant professors without doctoral degrees: Reports from 2012 suggested that only 43 percent of Nigeria’s teaching staff held Ph.D. degrees and that Nigeria had one of the worst lecturer-to-student ratios in the world. The University of Abuja and Lagos State University, for example, reportedly had lecturer to student ratios as high as 1:122 and 1:114 respectively.

Although rankings are a notoriously poor proxy for university quality, they do provide the best relative guide available.  It’s thus worth noting that, in 2017, only one of Nigeria’s universities is currently listed among the top 1,000 in international university rankings in the Times Higher Education Ranking – the University of Ibadan at 801.  Universities from other African countries like South Africa, Ghana, and Uganda are ranked considerably higher.

Over the past decade, strikes have become an almost ritual occurrence at Nigerian universities, disrupting lectures, causing delayed graduations, the lost income for university staff, and further eroding the already low trust in the education system. In 2013, 60 public universities were paralyzed by strikes for more than five months over demands for funding increases and better employment benefits for university staff.  In 2016, strikes, likewise, disrupted classes at 10 federal and state universities.

While corruption is a covert activity that is difficult to measure, Nigeria scores low on the global “Corruption Perceptions Index” published by the organization Transparency International.  The 2016 report places Nigeria at 136th place among 176 countries.

Nigeria’s education sector is particularly vulnerable to corruption. As corruption scholar, Ararat Osipian noted in 2013, “limited access to education [in Nigeria] has no doubt contributed to the use of bribes and personal connections to gain coveted places at universities, with some admissions officials reportedly working with agents to obtain bribes from students. Those who have no ability or willingness to resort to corruption face lost opportunities and unemployment.” In 2013, Transparency International reported that about 30 percent of Nigerians surveyed said they had paid a bribe in the education sector.

Australian scholar Tracey Bretag summarized the conditions when describing  Nigeria as a country where “academic fraud is endemic at all levels of the … the education system and misconduct range from … cheating during examinations to more serious behaviors, such as impersonation, falsifying academic records, ‘paying’ for grades/certificates with gifts, money or sexual favors, terrorizing examiners and assaulting invigilators”.

The Chosen Way Forward:

Nigeria is the number one country of origin for international students from Africa: It sends the most students overseas of any country on the African continent, and outbound mobility numbers are growing at a rapid pace. According to data from the UNESCO Institute of Statistics (UIS), the number of Nigerian students abroad increased by 164 percent in the decade between 2005 and 2015 alone– from 26,997 to 71,351.

Due to colonial ties and a shared language, the United Kingdom has long been the favorite destination for Nigerian students overseas with numbers booming in recent years. Some 17,973 Nigerian students studied in the UK in 2015.

In line with a general shift towards regionalization in African student mobility, Nigerian students in recent years have been increasingly studying in countries on the African continent itself. Ghana has recently overtaken the U.S. as the second-most popular destination country, attracting 13,919 Nigerian students in 2015, according to the data provided by the UNESCO Institute of Statistics (UIS).

Despite this repositioning, the U.S. remains a highly popular study destination.  Nigerian enrollments in U.S. institutions have been increasing slowly but steadily over the past 15 years from 3,820 in 2000/01 to 10,674 in 2015/16, according to the Open Doors data provided by the Institute of International Education (IIE). Nigerian students are currently the 14th largest group among foreign students in the United States and contributed an estimated USD $324 million to the U.S. economy in 2015/16. Engineering, business, physical sciences, and health-related fields continually rank as the most popular fields of study among Nigerian students enrolled at U.S. universities.

Another country that has more recently emerged as a popular destination for Nigerians, especially among those from the Muslim north, is Malaysia. Aside from the appeal of Malaysia as a majority Islamic country, low tuition and living costs are attractive, as is the opportunity to earn a prestigious Western degree from one of the several foreign branch campuses that operate in the country. As per UIS, 4,943 Nigerians were studying in Malaysia in 2015, making the country the fourth most popular destination country of Nigerian students.  Another Muslim country that is increasingly attracting Nigerian students in Saudi Arabia, which in 2015 hosted 1,915 students from Nigeria. 

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By Olumide Sekunowo

Content Author for @study4naija

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