The continuing expenditure of hundreds of millions of dollars on foreign university education by Nigerians is generating ripples in the nation’s academic circles. The Committee of Vice Chancellors of Nigeria (CVC), which recently put the amount Nigerians commit to tertiary education in European and American universities at about $500 million, has rightly described the situation as an indication of the lack of faith in Nigerian universities.
The CVC, in a communiqué issued at the end of a two-day Consultative Policy Dialogue on the Future and Relevance of Nigerian Universities and Tertiary Institutions held in Dakar, Senegal, said the $500 million capital flight amounted to about 70 percent of the sum allocated to all federal universities in Nigeria in 2008. The Communique, signed by Prof Michael Faborode, identified constant restiveness of students, their poor relations with host communities and school administrations, and the universities’ weak governance structures and processes as challenges facing higher education in Nigeria.
Nigeria’s huge capital loss to European and American universities is not surprising. It is an inevitable outcome of the sorry state of higher education in Nigeria. The situation with our tertiary institutions is so bad that thousands of Nigerian youths are traveling to even neighbouring African countries such as Ghana for education. This rush to foreign universities would not be happening if Nigerian authorities do all that is necessary to ensure standards in our universities.
As things stand, the situation in our tertiary institutions cannot guarantee quality education. Our universities suffer a glaring dearth of quality teaching staff, as the recent Needs Assessment Report on the institutions has confirmed. The report, submitted by a 10-man committee set up by the Federal Ministry of Education, indicated that some universities have only one or two professors, while majority of teaching staff in the institutions do not have doctorate degrees, which is necessary for teaching in the universities.
Many of the institutions also lack the required full time teaching staff, as most of their lecturers work part-time. In addition, several studies have confirmed the acute shortage of laboratories and other teaching facilities in our universities. Most of the laboratories have obsolete equipment installed when the institutions were established many decades ago.
There is also no serious commitment to funding of education. Instead of the minimum 26 percent of national budget that the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) recommends should be devoted to the education sector, Nigeria’s annual votes for education hardly attain the 10 per cent mark. Countries that are serious about education adhere strictly to this recommendation. That is why they are able to run good universities to which Nigerians are now rushing for education of their wards.
Nigeria’s failure to adhere to the UNESCO advice contributes to the low standards in our universities, with graduates of the system now being described as unemployable in both the public and private sectors of the economy. To reduce the huge rush for foreign education and the avoidable capital flight abroad, the Nigerian government and other stakeholders in the education sector need to pay more attention to our universities. Efforts should be concentrated on recruitment of, and training of university lecturers.
The unbridled licensing of universities without commensurate attention to the grooming of lecturers to man programmes in the institutions should stop. There should be comprehensive, nationwide effort to get brilliant university graduates into the teaching cadre in the universities through various schemes designed to motivate them along that line. Brilliant young graduates desirous of going into academics should be sponsored for higher degrees abroad to reduce inbreeding in our universities.
Adequate funds should be released for upgrading of teaching facilities such as libraries and workshops to bring them at par with the foreign universities to which Nigerians are rushing. Education in foreign countries is very expensive as it is paid for in scarce foreign currency. Nigeria can reduce the capital flight to these foreign universities if our own universities are improved.
Security should also be taken seriously in our institutions, as conflicts between students, their host communities and university administrations are other disincentives to patronage of local universities. Frequent policy somersaults in the education sector are another minus to the educational system in Nigeria.
The relevant authorities should introduce policies that will improve access to our universities, and ensure production of well-rounded graduates who can compete with their contemporaries in other countries.