Nigerian Higher Ed Struggles as it Exports Students, Tuition Dollars

Senator Babafemi Ojudu recently spoke at Fifth Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities Distinguished Lecture, hosted by the Federal University of Agriculture, in Abeokuta, Nigeria. His remarks focused on how the money that the government spent yearly on remittances paying for Nigerian students to obtain their college degrees abroad in Ghana was contributing to the impoverishment of institutions of higher learning in Nigeria.

According to the Chairman of the Committee of Pro-Chancellors in Nigeria, Dr. Wale Babalakin, of the N400.15 billion that the federal government of Nigeria is allocating to higher education this year, more than N160 billion will be spent on paying the tuition of 75,000 Nigerian students who are enrolled in universities in Ghana. That means that nearly half of the country's total education budget is given to a number of students that would only fill about 3 out of the 33 federally-funded Nigerian universities.

Unfortunately, the reality might even be worse than this. A special report by the Daily Trust indicated that the total remittances by Nigerians to our students in Ghana, including school fees and living expenses, may be up to $2 billion – that is N320 billion, twice the amount mentioned by Babalakin. Let me ask you as members of a university community, whether it is N160 billion or N320 billion, is this good news?

It means that a substantial chunk of a budget that is already quite limited is diverted not to the betterment of the university system in the country, but is instead channeled abroad. Such misallocation of funds is contrary to the patriotic spirit of the country that had to fight its colonialist masters in 1948, in order to have a university established within its borders.

Ghana seems to be far from alone in siphoning education and human capital out of Nigeria. Students from the country spend more than N246 billion annually on tuition and fees at UK universities alone. It would be one thing if such an investment paid dividends for the country in the future, but as matters stand now, Ojudu pointed out, very few people come back to Nigeria once they obtain a university education elsewhere.

Although in the 1980s, Nigeria's education system possessed a very high reputation worldwide, over the course of several military governments, that reputation was tarnished. In an attempt to reverse the decline in perception, a rush of new universities were founded — yet each successive one rather added to the system's woes, instead of ameliorating them.

The university must become a primary tool for Africa's development in the new century. Universities can help develop African expertise; they can enhance the analysis of African problems; strengthen domestic institutions; serve as a model environment for the practice of good governance, conflict resolution and respect for human rights, and enable African academics to play an active part in the global community of scholars.

11 2, 2012
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