Student migration: Counting losses for Nigeria’s private varsities
Nigeria ranks high in the index of sending countries on overseas education. An estimated population of 10,540 Nigerian students are in the United Kingdom, while 16,039 study in the United States of America contributing over $514 million to US economy. Over 75,000 more are in Ghanaian schools. Similar worrying statistics emanate from West African, European and Asian countries. Back home, the 79 Nigerian private universities are suffering serious under-subscription, impacting negatively on their return on investment. Godfrey AKON reports.
Since the Nigerian government liberalised the establishment of universities in the country, nearly two decades ago, the number of private universities has increased considerably.
From zero private sector participation on investment in the university system prior to 1999, the number of private universities has risen to 79, while the states and federal government have 91.
Together, these institutions are projected to have a carrying capacity of just over 600 thousand students.
With an estimated 1.9 million candidates applying for the yearly Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examinations, UTME, to gain admission into universities, an annual backlog of over one million candidates, representing over 70 per cent of applicants are left out.
But statistics reeled out recently by the National Universities Commission, NUC, indicate that about 90 per cent of private universities in the country are undersubscribed, meaning they cannot fill their yearly admission quotas.
Majority of candidates seeking university education in Nigeria subscribe to tuition-free federal universities, but are fended off by the limited admission spaces in those institutions to neighbouring West African countries and other parts of the world with ready admission opportunities.
It is estimated that over 75, 000 Nigerian students study in Ghanaian institutions, contributing about $1 billion US dollars in annual revenue to the West African country’s economy.
According to the UK Council for International Students Affairs, between 2017 to 2018, Nigeria ranked 6th in the list of sending countries for overseas education in the United Kingdom with a population of 10,540 students only coming behind countries like China, India, US, Hong Kong and Malaysia.
Previous figures also showed a substantial rise on the Nigerian and Chinese sending population per session, while that of India declined marginally. Meanwhile, the Nigerian student population in US in 2019 was put at 16,039.
Authorities believe that over N80 billion was expended by Nigerian students in UK in 2012 alone, during their period of study, while global expenditure by Nigerian students on education tourism abroad, rose to N1.5 trillion eight years ago.
Now, what informs this exodus? Some analysts factor their argument on inadequate access to university education back home, given the backlog of over one million qualified candidates not being offered admissions by the universities.
Others cite low quality university education as portrayed in the ranking of Nigerian universities on the global index and the alleged un-employability of graduates from the institutions, claims the National Universities Commission, NUC, refutes.
It is also believed that the Nigerian system encourages student migration because of the value it places on foreign certificates.
Although it is unclear if the issue also affect job placement and career progression, candidates with foreign certificates are easily considered for available job opportunities.
There is also a failure of cross border education policy in the country; an approach which could attract the best institutions in the world to site their campuses in the country and partner with indigenous universities, making it easy for Nigerian students to study in the institutions from their own country.
What accounts for this failure could be the lack of willingness by the institutions abroad or their refusal to comply with NUC’s regulations.
According to the NUC Director of Information and Public Relations, Mallam Ibrahim Yakasai, “there are models to follow when doing cross boarder education in Nigeria.”
“We have issued guidelines on how to do it; on how a foreign university can approach cross border education in Nigeria but the impact, for me, is zero because nobody has gotten a degree in that arrangement,” he said.
The guidelines, which do not cover the export of education to other countries by Nigerian institutions, stipulate that “the fee to be charged by the foreign university shall be commensurate with what is in existence in the host country and shall take due cognizance of the local economy.”
The document also states that “the foreign university shall provide thirty per cent (30%) of the academic staff for the intended programme while the host university provides the remaining seventy percent (70%) and in line with NUC’s approved mix by rank and ratios.”
Based on this arrangement, foreign institutions could freely maximise profit on their investment in the university subsector, but not in the manner they make money from Nigerian students abroad.
While it is widely admitted that Nigeria lacks adequate access to university education, spaces available in private universities are being ignored on the excuse of high charges of fees and non-academic considerations.
However, NUC believes that Nigerian students thronging institutions in West African countries, lack entry qualifications into universities back home as the system is properly regulated and accommodates only suitably qualified candidates.
A major worry of increasing migration of students is the perception problem it generates for private universities.
Apart from the tittle-tattle over high charges of fees, questions about their academic standards and prospects of growing to become famous institutions are being raised.
In the future, a daunting task for the institutions may well be the struggle to change negative public perceptions in order to stay relevant.
Although quality issues with the universities do not exist, since they are properly regulated by NUC, economic realities inherent in the society they operate also create some setbacks as the institutions jostle to woo the few viable candidates.
In defence of private universities in Nigeria, Yakasai noted that most of the migrating students do not seek admission into government universities in the countries of their sojourn, but private universities.
“The greatest number of our candidates wants to go to federal universities because they are tuition-free and only a few whose parents can afford go to private universities.
“Private universities in West African countries cannot be as good as our private universities here because our private universities are well regulated and very good.
“The quality of education in those private universities is good. Look, they are regulated and they meet the same standard as government universities. Accreditation of private universities is the same as public universities.
“We don’t lower standards for them. We accredit them in the same manner, assess them in the same manner and give them results when they achieve the same kind of conditions,” he explained.
One cannot agree any less with Yakasai that “there is no country in the world that neglects private universities as much as we do in Nigeria.”