One of the most difficult truths I have reconciled myself with as a Nigerian is that: it is extremely difficult to have free QUALITY TERTIARY EDUCATION.
A lot of Nigerians, in the past and present, have argued that corruption and embezzlement of funds are the biggest issues preventing the country from parading world-class public institutions, but I am of a completely different opinion.
The current education system isn’t working as it ought to and this is saddening, especially when the transformative powers of education as a vehicle to move from a social class to another are considered. While other factors such as the circumstances of birth and divinity may mean that not everyone gets the same start at life, or enjoy same conditions and access to need material and immaterial items, education serves as a bridge that allows people ‘migrate’ from the poor zone to the rich one.
It is the most powerful tool that offers a man access to opportunities to attain success and rub minds with the Kings, irrespective of his background or whether or not he hails from a shanty, ghetto or slum. Examples abound to make this point.
However, a distinction we must make, and a truth we must awaken ourselves to, is that this can only be made possible through the acquisition of quality tertiary education, not just enrollment in tertiary institutions that produce half-baked or unbaked graduates with neither skill nor imagination.
Although arguments could be made that Nigeria is a rich country that should be able to devote large sums to tertiary institutions, the reality, as seen in other countries with accepted better models, is that the government alone cannot provide the funds needed as the things we associate with good universities here, such as building classrooms and regular payment of lecturers’ salaries, though important, are not enough to bring our tertiary schools to the required level.
Research alone, an organized inquisition for new knowledge, not the routine final year ‘project’ work we do here by buying and injecting guinea pigs or asking people to fill questionnaires, gulps a lot of money that the government alone may not be able to muster. I am referring to funds needed to fund a University to the point where the nation is certain that when there is an outbreak of a particular disease, it can rise to the occasion and produce a potent, breakthrough vaccine that will save millions of lives in the country and across the globe.
For example and to further illustrate the point, Cambridge University’s endowment fund (which can loosely be interpreted to mean its ‘budget’) is about £7bn while Oxford University is within the same region. MIT (a specialized institution) spends about $3bn as operating expenses. These funds are not sourced from the government. Outside of private organization donations, students desirous of quality learning pay the sum equivalent to the value the institution is offering. There are some courses in MIT that go for as high as $48,000 (N16m/session). As an international student, you pay as high as £30,000 to study law at Oxford University.
Conversely, Lagos State University, Obafemi Awolowo University, University of Benin and a couple of other tertiary institutions in the country believed to be top Universities to consider for a Law degree in Nigeria charge a tuition fee that’s lower than N80,000 a session. This glaring disparity accounts for the reason our University undergraduates fail to produce drones, electronics and telecommunication devices, the likes seen elsewhere.
I think 2020 should be the last time we consider building new schools. What we need to do is abolish the subsidy on education in Nigeria, especially at the tertiary level, and channel the funds to primary and second school education because as sources of foundational learning, they are jointly the most important schools as we restructure.
I propose that we select 10 of our Federal Universities across all regions of the country and use them as pilot schools to learn important lessons for expansion and adaptation. There will be more suggestions on the methods to adopt but one thing is clear: we need to start running our tertiary institutions with utmost seriousness. We have to involve like never before the private sector. We also need to start using our institutions to create indirect wealth by ensuring that 90% of our graduates are ready to create wealth and jobs no matter how difficult it is. These changes will come with a huge cost that will directly mean that people will pay more to get the best.
I know some may ask: how will a son of a poor man or daughter of a ‘nobody’ afford the fees? This is where we need to look into grants, scholarships, academic loans, etc.
Institutions can be charged with the creation of tangible income to create jobs. As an undergraduate of food science, my department runs a bakery and water factory which supplies the host community with delicious bread and well-treated, safe water. Faculties and departments can employ this model which will mandatorily create part-time jobs for students of such departments and also serve as a platform to learn the real-life applications of what they read in their books. They get a percentage of their income while the larger percentage goes into the school’s pocket for their school fees.
Foreigners will come from far and wide to have a taste of our quality tertiary education and be made to pay more than citizens to help the school meet its financial obligations.
Civil servants and parents from the private sector can be granted soft educational loans for their children for any of the 10 selected universities. This will drastically reduce corruption in Nigeria given that the desperate acquisition of wealth through illegal means by most parents is motivated by the desire to secure a good future for their kids through quality education considered expensive and beyond reach as a legitimate worker.
The revolution doesn’t have to start with all our Universities, I believe we can start small and let the successes recorded entice other actors, including state universities into adopting the system.