Sunday, 22 December 2013
Nigeria's Education Conundrum By Laitan Eyiowuawi
According to the United Kingdom’s Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), Nigeria was the third non-European Union country sending the highest number of students to the United Kingdom in recent time. In 2009/10, it had 16,680 students in UK Higher Institutions and in 2010/11; there were 17,585 Nigerian students in those institutions. Ranking only behind India and China.
These figures hold different significance for Nigeria and the UK as it holds for different institutions and analysts within Nigeria.
For the UK, this year-on-year growth is evidence that marketing efforts in Nigeria by its schools are yielding fruits and Nigeria is now one of the major sources of income for its higher institutions. For the Nigerian government, the UK as well as being a top destination for foreign exchange out of Nigeria, it is also one of the top recipients of its students seeking premium education outside its shores. Other destinations include the United States of America, Canada, Singapore, Malaysia, Hungary and Ghana.
For the Central Bank of Nigeria, if as expected it monitors these outflows, this must represent a remarkable movement in the country’s Current Account and one that will impact the country’s balance of trade with the UK. Ideally, it should raise no eyebrows if there are significant inward returns from this expenditure. The trend however does not suggest that Nigeria’s economy significantly benefits from the resultant output. Some of the eventual graduates do not make it back to Nigeria and those who make it back have not been timely absorbed into the productive sectors of the economy to justify the huge expenditure.
For the National Universities Commission, Nigerian universities and their administrators, it is an indictment and evidence of the failure to respond in sufficient measure to the demand for higher education in the country such that Nigeria is now a marketing turf for foreign universities, including those from non-English speaking countries. The pretense and promises of the dons that run these institutions are now openly vulnerable to truth and experience – the reality is that “our best brains” can no longer provide sustainable succession plans in our higher institutions; would-be successors have increasingly looked beyond our shores without returning. It is now a cheap exercise to continue blaming governments in Nigeria for the near collapse of institutions and values. This is not as if any credible defense can be mustered by the various governments we have been blessed. Yes, we know we have been misruled, corrupted and abused by all sorts of pseudo-leaders who have either been unwilling or unprepared to rule right from independence to date, but what contributions or research have emanated from our ivory towers to stem the tide?
With the recent increase in tuition fees in the UK rising up to £9000 for Home Students per session and more for foreign students, average annual fees for Nigerian students would be about £10,000 with additional annual expenses of £2000 for feeding and accommodation. It then means that in the last two academic sessions, going by HESA’s figures, Nigeria has paid out at least £411,180,000 (N102, 795,000,000 at £250 to the Naira) in two years to UK higher institutions for the education of a tiny percentile of Nigeria’s student population. This is in addition to what is paid to other countries. I imagine these movements must be of concern to the irrepressible and dandy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, notwithstanding the depth or health of the nation’s coffers.
Figures from the Budget Office of the Federation in Nigeria confirms the proposed combined allocations in the 2013 budget to the five Federal Universities in Benin, Ibadan, Lagos, Nsukka, and Zaria at precisely N64,075,077,698 (£256,300,310). Figures available from the Universities Matriculation Examination Brochure 2000-2001, these five universities are about the largest in the country with a combined enrolment in excess of 116,000 as of 12 years ago. Current enrollment in these universities would have risen above 130,000.
The annual expenditure of N3, 000,000 (£12,000) by each Nigerian student in the UK and the proposed allocation of about N500,000 (£2000) per head in the 2013 Budget on each of the student from our five elite universities going by the assumed enrollment figure above will only best describes us as connoisseurs of irony - we would rather hand over more to foreign universities than we are prepared to cede to our own institutions. The best these universities can churn out on this budget would be generations of casually informed graduates. It would be pedantic to delve into the results these disparate figures will produce or the damage this poses to the future of Nigeria, and the prospect of employment of the country’s army of youth whose current unemployment rate is put at over 40%. Even if achievable, the government’s much bandied Vision 2020-20 would be no more than a mirage or a crinkle of papers in the same manner the year 2000 passed without the health for all or education for all promised in the decades preceding that particular year.
It is interesting to note that in the same 2013 budget proposals, the allocation to the National Assembly is N150b (£600,000,000), about a quarter of Gambia’s GDP. As if law making is an end itself and in continuation of the buffet politics Nigeria has bequeathed on itself, the country will spend that princely sum on its law makers for essentially what is a part-time vocation in most countries. A figure that dwarfs, by a ratio of 2.34: 1, the proposed amount to be spent on the combined students of the five elite universities above. Law making must be more important than those expected to implement these laws and build the country’s future.
Whatever laws these lawmakers enact will have little impact on the future of the country, as the key ingredient for the future is not being properly developed – the army of youths, the majority of the country’s demography that are expected to implement, make sense of or obey these laws will part with these laws like tug and tow in a marine misadventure. Nigeria’s current population pyramid indicates that the majority of its population is below the age of 35 years, a relatively young population even if not too far away from the country’s life expectancy of 52 years. Sadly, this majority is not likely going to be an efficient one in the future unless the country prioritizes their education urgently. Every country gets what it rewards, our generous reward of lawmakers even if good for politics is bad for policy. The future belongs to societies with the best solutions to the challenges of an ever-dynamic world we now live in. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), skills have become the currency for the 21st century…employment among low-skilled workers will decline, while employment among highly skilled workers is projected to increase, with a shift from manufacturing to service-based economies.
The sad reality is that Nigeria is still stuck in the rot of solving yesterday’s problems. Putting our development into perspective, a good example would be the recent celebration of the completion by the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation of the refurbishment of the 1160-kilometer Lagos-Kano rail link with a 35-hour service from Lagos to Kano. Though an improvement in the Nigerian context considering several years of neglect and loss of lives on our roads, regrettably this was no more than a refurbishment of the same narrow gauge track originally laid in colonial times in 1912 and running at about the same 35 hours a Nigerian noted it took him to travel this same distance 36 years ago, in 1976.
About the same time we were celebrating this mediocrity and embrace of mendacity, the Chinese (yes the Chinese) took us on a journey into the future with the inauguration of the world’s longest high-speed rail link which reduced the 2298-kilometer journey between Beijing West and Guangzhou South to 7 hours 59 minutes. Other countries, including those with far less wherewithal compared to Nigeria, have taken a similar leap into the future with the acquisition of premium education for their citizens coupled with significant investments in infrastructure to support the jobs of the future that will eliminate the dated jobs that our items of legislation and education are structured around. What role did our engineering departments play in letting this happen?
Whilst the song and dance continues with the Petroleum Industry Bill, major consuming countries of our hydrocarbons, have, with the aid of their researchers and engineers, moved on to fracking for the production of gas as well as the development and production of fuel-efficient engines. The United States of America has already increased its gas production and improved its fuel efficiency resulting in that country’s gradual reduction of its dependency on foreign oil. It is only a matter of time before China does the same, if the orient giant is not already in on it.
That cannot be good news for Nigeria. It would be a masterstroke act of genius if these lawmakers have adequately responded to these and other developments that will eventually determine how much they can budget for themselves and the rest of the country. A generation of Nigerians would have witnessed the peaks and troughs of our economy if these developments conspire with the reality that Nigeria no longer enjoys the near monopoly it had and wasted for more 50 years when it was about the only oil producing country in the West African sub region, it seems every country in the sub region has now discovered its own finds.
In unpleasant company with our captains of lucrative indolence as Professor Wole Soyinka described those who would have us believe they are captains of industries are those I will describe as purveyors of ignorance, dated and repetitive lectures who now populate our higher institutions. Universities underpin developments in most countries pioneering ideas, innovation, research, and policies as well as bearing responsibility for the training of the key personnel for the society’s development. Nigeria may have enjoyed a brilliant start in 1948 with the inception of University of Ibadan which was carried through the initial productive years, even if with progressive decline, until the late 1990s in my view, after which, the universities started producing graduates no longer fit for purpose. We are no longer an intellectually curious nation.
Our university dons have not given us value for the money it has to be said. What intellectual solutions have been proffered to our social, economic or political problems, which apart from the civil war, deteriorated from tacit ethnicity to terrorism and kidnappings? How do they intend to benefit from the huge amount Nigerians pay over to foreign universities? What is the Nigerian Universities Commission doing to attract the best of Nigerian lecturers in Russell Group and Ivy League universities home, even if only on sabbaticals to improve the quality of teaching and research? What alternatives by way of funding have the Committee of Vice-Chancellors come up with when eventually the annual Federal Government gravy dries up as it will some day?
With the reality now evident in the most developed countries that graduates are no longer assured of employment in spite of the time and financial investment, the exalted positions of these ivory towers will face more competition such that only those who can innovate, compete and give value for money will survive. These are interesting times, only recently, Britain’s richest and second-oldest university, Cambridge University in a break from its 800-year history issued a 40-year £350m bond. Apart from the relatively cheap coupon rate, which may have been an attraction, it remains in the realm of conjecture, with happenings in the Eurozone, why the university departed from its long established practice by approaching the bond market?
Also, the Berlin Free University, established in 1948 (the same year as the University of Ibadan) may have guaranteed its long-term future with its development of a driverless car already plying Berlin’s roads. The development of ideas for Nigeria’s survival is truly a responsibility for the eggheads in our universities to figure out, government will not stop being inefficient. Governments across the globe are fast becoming junior partners in their relationships with those who deal in ideas (the universities) and those who move and make money available (the companies) – the tail is now wagging the dog. An opportunity may have presented itself to pension fund managers and issuing houses in Nigeria to approach Nigerian institutions as Cambridge has done. Higher education is about to converge with business; it is no longer the social responsibility of government.
It would be at odds with canons of proper behavior if Nigeria carries on the same way it has since 1960, the social, political and economic consequences may become unmanageable. Nigeria is training an opportunistic and socially awkward army of graduates that will manifest in increased crime rate. The situation calls for urgent measures. Hopefully the best of times may be ahead of us whilst the worst of times may be behind us. With more luck than judgment, our future will be better than predicted, after all, even outsiders too now share our vision, according to Goldman Sachs, (the investment bank with a number of “alumni” in many governments around the world including Nigeria) in the Financial Times of 11 October 2012, predicted that Nigeria’s GDP will rank 12th in the world behind Germany and France in 2050.
A catchphrase from one of the country’s quoted companies is instructive, the future starts today.
Olaitan Eyiowuawi, contributed this from London UK.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of SaharaReporters