As more Nigerians flock to higher institutions abroad in search of better education, some stakeholders stress the need to curb the exodus, which drains individual and corporate pockets
He did not really plan to school abroad. Rather Edet Emedong, who just completed his second year programme at the Regional Maritime University, Accra, Ghana, had always dreamt of having his university education in Nigeria.
But when it was time to choose a university, he discovered that the Maritime Academy of Nigeria, Oron, Akwa Ibom State, where he had hoped to study, lacked some of the basic facilities, chief among them being training vessels that are the fulcrum of the course. Consequently, Emedong settled for the Ghanaian maritime institution, where he got admission in 2013.
The Regional Maritime University in Ghana is reputed to be of international standard, recognised by the International Maritime Organisation, IMO. But it is also an expensive institution, particularly so for Emedong as a foreigner, as foreigners pay higher tuition than citizens. Emedong pays $3,500 about N693, 000 (at the ongoing official rate of N198 to the dollar) per semester as tuition.
The fee does not include accommodation and registration, which gulp thousands of dollars more. That notwithstanding, he draws consolation from the fact that the school has all he needs to excel in his chosen field. “I have all I need to train as a maritime engineer. That is what I am paying for,” he said.
Emmanuel Olaniyi, a 300-level law student of Houdegbe North American University, Cotonou, Benin Republic, has a catalogue of reasons for seeking a university education outside Nigeria. Apart from what he described as distrust, whereby admission is denied those who are qualified but given to those who are not, the 21-year-old student stressed that the admission process in Houdegbe is not as rigorous as it is in Nigerian universities. For instance, a candidate does not require the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board, JAMB, result to get admission into the university. The individual only needs to purchase a card, with which the university verifies his West African Examination Council, WAEC, result online to determine whether or not he has good grades. “Once they confirm that you have a good WAEC result, you can get admission in a day without hassles,” Olaniyi said.
But that is not all. He is also happy that the school management gives priority to the safety of students, especially now that terrorism has become a major cause for concern in some African countries. Even of more importance to the law student is the steadiness of the school’s academic calendar. “Once you are admitted into the university, you are sure of the time you will graduate. They don’t go on strike,” Olaniyi said. Apart from the private universities, the only university that has a predictable school calendar in the country is the University of Ilorin, Ilorin, Kwara State, where unionism is outlawed, following a long battle with the local ASUU that paralysed academic process there some years ago.
Compared to the fees charged in some private universities in Nigeria, the cost of education at the North American University, Republic of Benin is relatively cheap. As a law student, Olaniyi pays about N186, 000 per semester, excluding accommodation, which costs N50, 000 annually. He also pays N1, 500 per month for electricity.
Dare Daniel, a graduate of Mass Communication from the same institution, confirmed the affordable education offered by the North American University. He said the cost was “a major reason we decided to go to the university in Benin because it is cheaper than private universities in Nigeria.”
Foreign education may not be entirely cheap. But as Maruf Animashaun, a lecturer at the Department of Foreign Languages, Faculty of Art, University of Lagos, who bagged four degrees, including a doctorate, from three different universities in Malaysia explained, it could be viewed to be so when compared to the quality of education they offer. That was one major factor that motivated his decision to school abroad. “I chose to study there (Malaysian universities) because they are world-class universities, virtually of the same standard of education with what you get in developed nations like Europe and the United States,” he said.
The argument that the quality of education in Nigeria has fallen is also in contention. This has compelled many Nigerians to cross borders in search of better education in countries such as Malaysia, the United States, United Kingdom, South Africa, Ghana, Republic of Benin, Russia, Cyprus, Ukraine and China. But as some observers have also posited, the decadence in the sector did not happen overnight. It took years of consistent decline to get to the present low ebb. This downward slide has been attributed to a number of factors, one of which is the strikes that members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, and the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics, ASUP, embark on almost every year.
The industrial action, which sometimes lasts for months, resulting in a disjointed academic calendar, prolongs the years of study and keeps students longer than necessary in school. By the time the strike is suspended, the academic calendar is glossed over to make up for the lost time. “The result,” said Oladimeji Bamgboye, a social critic, “is that rather than study to learn, students are forced to memorise so as to pass their exams. That is why we have many graduates who cannot defend their certificates.” An antidote to this development is for the authorities, according to some stakeholders, to always be sincere in negotiations, and honour agreements reached, with officials of the relevant unions.
But besides strikes, Nigerian tertiary institutions suffer setbacks in the area of funding and research. Many universities, polytechnics and colleges of education lack basic research facilities for proper teaching and learning. Research in federal tertiary institutions is routinely funded through supervisory bodies such as the National Universities Commission, NUC, the National Board for Technical Education, NBTE, and the National Commission for Colleges of Education, NCCE. But in one of his articles, A.K. Yusuf, a lecturer in the Department of Basic and Applied Sciences, Hassan Usman Katsina Polytechnic, Katsina, Katsina State, said, “Funding of research in these institutions has been generally poor and irregular.” Yusuf maintained that though it has been recommended that five per cent of gross national product be set aside for research, the federal university system spends only 1.3 per cent of its budget on research. The lecturer attributed the shortfall in research funding to the yearly increase in enrolment in universities, which he said overwhelms government’s capacity to maintain proportional support for research and other services. So, despite substantial annual increases in government’s recurrent grant to federal universities, Yusuf said they are still short of financial resources to maintain educational quality. What that means is that the authorities need to increase the funding of education in order to improve on its standard.
Inadequate funding brings ugly consequences, as Animashaun noted. He said because of dearth of facilities, the “Nigerian education system is poorly rated…the latest technology in teaching and learning, with projectors and Power Point presentations in classrooms has not been well adopted. Lack of educational infrastructure in Nigeria and the nonchalant attitude of government in funding education are not encouraging, and these drive people away.”
Like teachers, students are also victims of the inadequacies in Nigerian tertiary institutions, as they have direct impact on the quality of education they receive. As a result of inadequate research facilities, Bamgboye said “students are exposed only to the theoretical aspect of their course of study, while many wallow in ignorance about the practical aspect, even after graduation.” The consequence is that the education received will hardly empower them to partake in efforts at developing the country.
The poor funding of Nigerian tertiary education is all encompassing. Reports have shown that lecturers are poorly remunerated and this affects their commitment to work and capacity. Some of those who spoke with the magazine noted that lecturers in Nigeria are among the least paid in the world. Gabriel Isiguzo, who studied Pharmacy in the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Enugu State, said because of poor pay and the insensitivity of government towards the plight of lecturers over the years, many foreigners who were initially attracted to Nigerian universities “have either returned to their countries or gone to other countries where teachers are valued and rewarded.”
Reaffirming this, Animashaun said teachers in foreign primary schools earn better salaries than some lecturers in Nigerian universities. “Primary school teachers in Malaysia, who have spent about 12 years in service, earn between RM8, 000 and 10,000 Malaysia Ringgit, equivalent to N400, 000 and N500, 000, per month,” he said.
In an article published in the Mediterranean Journal of Social Sciences in 2011, Omonijo Ojo, from Covenant University, Ogun State; Nnedum Ugochukwu and Ezeokana Obinna, from the Department of Psychology, Faculty of Social Sciences, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Anambra State, compared the salaries of Nigerian professors with those of their counterparts in some African countries. Citing the ASUU national secretariat publication, 2010, the trio noted that in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Kenya and Ghana, for instance, professors earn $55,000 (N10, 890,000), $48,000 (N9, 504,000), $6,000 (N1, 188,000), $5,400 (N1, 069,200) and $4,800 (N950, 400), respectively, per annum.
On the contrary, a Nigerian professor earns $4,392, which translates to N869, 616 per annum. The salary disparity remains the bait that lures lecturers to foreign universities. “It is obvious that an average lecturer in Nigeria carries a much heavier burden than his colleague in Kenya or Zimbabwe … Therefore, lecturers in Nigeria would consider it wise to migrate to these countries because the burden of dealing with overcrowded lecture rooms in Nigeria could be gladly avoided,” Ojo, Ugochukwu and Obinna remarked. A review of this situation will impact on the quality of education.
This is because the exodus of Nigerian lecturers to foreign universities has grave consequences for the nation’s education sector. Ojo, Ugochukwu and Obinna noted that it has given rise to brain drain of which end product is the yearly production of “half baked” graduates. Uchechukwu Ikedi, a 200-level engineering student of Imo State University said the rot in some public universities speaks volume of the level of government’s neglect of such schools.
But even when government appears to have paid deaf ears to the yearnings of lecturers for improved funding, it is however aware of the challenges faced by the sector and that was what necessitated the decision of the Goodluck Jonathan administration to set up a Committee on Needs Assessment of Nigerian Public Universities, a fact-finding committee set up to determine the nature of the problems of each Nigerian public university has. By the time the committee was through with its assignment and made its reports available, it was clear that Nigerian universities have a plethora of problems and needed assistance.
In Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma, Edo State, for instance, the committee’s 418-page report revealed that half of the facilities was on the verge of collapse and needed urgent intervention. Basic general learning resources were either grossly inadequate or unavailable, and only four per cent of major laboratory equipment was in good condition. Anthony Monye-Emina, chairman, ASUU, University of Benin, UNIBEN, confirmed the Needs reports in an interview with the magazine. Admitting that the condition of public tertiary institutions in the country was pathetic, he narrowed it down to UNIBEN, where he said that not only were there facilities for learning, teaching and living poor, they were also outdated. He said lecturers still teach with materials procured when the university was established in the early 1970s. “In case of practical lessons, we just show the students, this is what this equipment looks like and this is what it is used to do, Monye-Emina said.”
The ASUU branch chairman, who said the condition of the university hostel was “horrible,” described a mild drama that played out during the visitation of the assessment team to the institution, when a lady who was part of the team ran out of the hostel because “she didn’t believe that human beings or students could be staying in these conditions.” The laboratories are not spared. Where Bunsen burner is supposed to be used during practical, he said students make use of kerosene stoves. “We went to the Physics lab, all we saw were rulers and electric bulbs,” Monye-Emina further lamented.
The situation at the aforementioned university was the same in most public universities that the assessment team visited. This explains why parents who have the wherewithal send their wards to foreign universities. However, the curious thing is that the authorities that commissioned such investigation often demure in implementing recommendations from such reports. The result is that the condition further deteriorates.
In the 2013/2014 Times Higher Education, The World Universities Rankings, no Nigerian university was listed among the first 400 universities. The ranking was done across all the core missions of universities, which include teaching, research, knowledge transfer and international outlook. Recalling that the University of Ibadan, the premier university in Nigeria, ranked the fifth best university in the Commonwealth in the 1970s, Beatrice Makinde, a civil servant, lamented that such a feat has continued to elude the country. She said the continuous downward grading of Nigerian universities points to the fact that the country is losing its grips on education.
Studying abroad has its good and bad sides. While the students bask in the exposure and more quality education they get, Nigeria as a country suffers the financial and human losses that accompany it. In September 2012, Wale Babalakin, then chairman, Committee of Pro-chancellors of Nigerian Universities, said about 75,000 Nigerian students were in different universities in Ghana. This number, which he said was the size of about three universities in Nigeria, resulted in capital flight of about N160 billion in 2011 from Nigeria to Ghana. Babalakin noted that the said amount was higher than what the federal government budgeted for education in that same year. Lamido Sanusi, former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, and currently the Emir of Kano also lamented the development. Speaking in June 2014, he declared that the annual budget of the federal government for all federal universities across the country was N121 billion, whereas the 71,000 Nigerian students paid an annual tuition of N155 billion, in Ghana.
In some other countries like the UK and the US, the admission of thousands of Nigerian students into their universities on a yearly basis also causes enormous financial loss to Nigeria. In the UK, for instance, reports showed that in the 2007/2008 and 2008/2009 sessions, about 20,090 Nigerian students enrolled in some of the country’s recognised universities. In the US, a similar figure was recorded in the same period. While 6,222 Nigerians were reportedly admitted into some American universities in the 2007/2008 session, the number increased the following session with an admission of 6,256 Nigerians, bringing the total number of Nigerians that gained admission into US universities in the two sessions to 12,478. Currently, Will Laidlaw, US Country Consular Chief, said between 7000 and 8000 Nigerian students are studying in the US.
International students, including Nigerians, paid an average tuition of £19,000, an equivalent of N5.725 million, per session in UK universities, just as those in the US paid $21,000 as tuition, which translated to about N4.16 million per session within the same period. If this sum is multiplied by the number of students, it would amount to about N33.28 billion per annum. On the average, a Nigerian student in the US spends about $26,000, an equivalent of N5.148 million, on tuition and other basic needs, which includes accommodation and feeding expenses. If the student is into a science-based course, he pays more.
The lowest tuition fee for a foreign student in the University of Ghana, Legon, in 2012, was $5,500, an equivalent of N1, 089,000, per session at the exchange rate of N198 to a dollar. At the University of Cape Coast, foreign students pay $6,000, translating into N1, 188,000, per session. For foreign medical students, the tuition is almost double, at $10,000 or N1, 980,000 per session. This excludes feeding and accommodation costs. If the government devotes more attention to development of education, even if fees are to be increased minimally, parents would spend much of what they send abroad for their wards’ education in the local economy.
Somehow, foreign universities understand the challenges the Nigerian education sector is facing and are cashing in on the lapses. Universities from Europe, America and Asia visit Nigeria regularly to hold “education fairs” with a view to recruiting students. Last October, the EducationUSA section of the US consulate general Lagos organised a College Fair to expose Nigerians seeking US education to the possibilities that abound. Hundreds of students from the 20 secondary schools that participated in the fair held at Dansol High School in Agidingbi, Ikeja, listened with their parents as Frank Sellin, Deputy Public Affairs Officer, US Consulate general, Lagos, and a Professor told them that the possibilities in the US were “unmatched by any other country in the world.” For the past 16 years, the EducationUSA section of the US consulate has organised a College Fair. Some Nigerians have also joined the business by establishing recruitment agencies to assist applicants to get admission and visa to their choice countries.
Ironically, not all those seeking foreign education get what they want. Some of them, after all the hassles, find themselves with the short end of the stick. TELL’s investigations revealed that a number of the schools Nigerians pay through the nose to attend in far-flung countries are substandard. While Ezekiel Agbani, a businessman, whose child is studying in a public university in Ghana admitted that the country’s public universities are of international standard, he said the same could not be said of their private schools. Because of the international acknowledgement of Ghana’s public universities, coupled with the desire to make quick money from foreigners, especially Nigerians, several substandard universities have reportedly sprung up in Ghana. Whereas some operate from rented apartments with no space for normal academic and recreational activities, others are study centres or satellite campuses of foreign universities but use low tuition fees to entice unsuspecting Nigerians.
For instance, there is the case of a university in one of the West African countries, which has on its enrolment over 800 students, 98% of who are Nigerians. It has no hostels or recreational facilities for students. As a matter of fact the building that houses that university also has another university. The institution run by Asians charges $1,250, an equivalent of N247, 500 per semester. It reportedly awards bachelors degrees in just three years.
A source said some of the Nigerian students in the university claim that they opted for the school because they did not need to write any entry exams. And perhaps the more attractive reason is that prospective students could secure admission with just six passes from their WAEC examinations. At the Accra Institute of Technology, there are about 2,000 students, of whom about 1,200 are said to be Nigerians as at 2013. Operating from an uncompleted building, the school runs a doctoral programme and charges between $1,150, about N227, 700, and $1,410, about N279, 180, per session. Wisconsin International University College, in North Legon, of which premises can hardly accommodate 10 cars, is affiliated to both the University of Ghana and the University of Cape Coast. The university takes $2,668 (N418, 876) per session from foreign students, besides accommodation.
Apart from Nigeria’s fortunes draining into foreign coffers, the country has also lost some of its citizens in their quest for foreign education. In 2014 alone, the country lost three citizens studying in Ghana, Malaysia and Dubai. They included Godwin Ayogu, a 300-level student of Social Sciences in Cape Coast University, who was allegedly killed by a fellow student over money. The police allegedly killed Adelabu Tunde, another Nigerian student in Malaysia, during a raid in his neighbourlood. Oluwadamilola Oloruntoba, son of Aisha Folade, producer of AMAZONS, a television programme, was also killed in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
While the standard of education in Nigeria is no longer what it used to be, there are exceptions in the narrative. As investigations have revealed, some Nigerian universities, public and private, are far better than some foreign universities. Despite the low pay and harsh work conditions, Nigerian academics rank tops in the world. Nigerian students too, some of who got their first degree here before travelling, have also distinguished themselves, an indication that the country still gives the best with the little facilities they have.
In 2014, Julius Okojie, professor of forestry and executive secretary of the National Universities Commission, expressed satisfaction at the performance of the beneficiaries of the Presidential Scholarship Scheme set up by former President Jonathan and who are studying in the US and UK. Okojie, who said their various universities have rated them as “top grades,” stressed that none of the students has failed to transit from Master’s to PhD, adding that most of them “were on 3.8 or 4 points of the 4 point maximum scale of the American system.”
Dare Daniel corroborated this. He said “there are some schools in Nigeria that are better than mine.” Yenoukounme Fabric Sonou, president and founder, Les Cours Sonou University Institute, Benin Republic, also agrees. In an interview with a national daily, he said, “You can’t compare the quality of private universities in the two countries, (Nigeria and Benin Republic). Nigeria is experiencing a remarkable progress in the area of technology currently,” he said.
As some stakeholders, including unions such as ASUU, have said, if the federal government could fund education properly, the sector would improve. For instance, the UNESCO recommends that countries should allocate 26 per cent of its budget to education. While there have been policies aimed at achieving this by past governments, Nigeria still falls short of implementing them. Last April, UNESCO in its report listed Nigeria, Chad, Pakistan and Ethiopia as some of the countries that were unable to meet the six key educational goals between 2000 and 2015 in 164 countries assessed. The six key educational goals in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) include enrolling all children in primary schools; halving adult illiteracy, and ensuring that girls had equal access to schooling.
Currently, Nigeria’s budget for education is 10 per cent, a far cry from the UNESCO approved figure. While Nigeria is lagging behind in implementing the 26 per cent of national budget, nations such as Nepal, Sierra-Leone, Rwanda, Tanzania and India were lauded by UNESCO report for their efforts. In fact, education reportedly takes the lion’s share of South African budget. In 2014 for instance, Pravin Gordhan, the country’s finance minister, announced that 20 per cent of government expenditure for 2014/15 would go to education. While that was one per cent reduction from the 2013 budget for the sector, which was 21 per cent, it is miles away from what the Nigerian government allots to the sector.
Reacting to the UNSECO report then, Professor Ralph Akinfeleye, former Head of the Mass Communication Department, University of Lagos, had urged the Muhammadu Buhari government to make a change by giving priority attention to education so as to meet the six UNESCO educational goals. Stating that it was embarrassing for countries like Ethiopia and Chad to be graded alongside Nigeria, Akinfeleye, “We need to get out of this poor rating in enrolment, performance and standard. This is the time to pay more attention to the sector and invest
more…This is the time for government to change our welfare. It is
no longer stomach infrastructure but knowledge and intellectual
infrastructure,” the professor stressed. The authorities, therefore, need to consider these suggestions with a purpose to improving the quality of education in Nigeria and stopping brain drain and the urge by the youth to seek good education abroad.
That is the argument of Barth Nnaji, former minister for power, while speaking in Abuja in 2014 at the National Higher Education Forum, organised by TELL communications and Tertiary Education Trust Fund, TETFUND. He said, “Our challenge is to find the will to do what other nations that found themselves where we are now had to do. Let us stop patching and managing…Let us show light so that our children can find their way.”