Interview: Abubakar A Rasheed

What are the challenges facing tertiary education?

ABUBAKAR A RASHEED: Security, job security and infrastructure make it difficult for people to come to and stay in the country. We have to make Nigeria attractive all round and address the social, political, and security challenges it faces. In the case of tertiary education, we will lag behind until we develop a robust university system, which would allow us to transition from a resource-based society to a knowledge economy. Moreover, there is a close correlation between a lack of education and poverty: the best way to fight poverty is through education. Hence, we need to develop and distribute education to all levels of society.

It is known that a university education helps broaden minds and open people up to other cultures. This is why we have been both engaging stakeholders to stress the importance of education for national development and lobbying for a greater public education budget.

How are university graduates being provided with the skills necessary for the future?

RASHEED: By 2050 Nigeria will become the third-most populous country in the world after India and China. To address this, we need to rethink many things. For instance, we need to analyse which skills will be in demand, as well as how many people the education system can accommodate and the best method to educate the most people. Statistics can be used to optimise the use of available educational resources.

Moreover, we are determining the number of graduates compared to the capacity demanded by the labour market, and we have begun engaging the private sector to coordinate the country’s needs with the universities’ training. We want to strengthen the system in terms of both the number of graduates and the quality of education, as well as increase its responsiveness to the requirements of the private sector. We are working to understand the actual needs of both the private sector and our students. Because of this, we have created a directorate on skills development and entrepreneurship to monitor the expertise content of jobs, as well as consult the private sector. However, developing a governance and oversight framework for such a system will be necessary to make further progress.

How can Nigeria attract the best teaching talent?

RASHEED: We aim to emphasise the experience and skills of our lecturers. However, many lecturers teach engineering, despite never having worked as an engineer; but amateurs cannot teach professionals. Hence, we are restructuring the curriculum and staff of the university system in collaboration with the private sector. We have not provided our youth with the skills needed to succeed in today’s society. Going forward, there will be a comprehensive review of all university curricula at least every five years. This should help ensure that hospitals, industry and agriculture get qualified doctors, engineers and agricultural experts, respectively.

What can be done to increase the number of university graduates in the country?

RASHEED: First, we need to introduce scholarships for the poorest students. Many do not graduate due to a lack of funds. There are 2m students, or 1% of the population, enrolled in 2018. We have developed a blueprint to widen access, attracting more students, while providing additional facilities and equipment. We have 75 private universities and are in talks with more than 300 bodies interested in starting a university, including some foreign institutions. Attracting international universities will create healthy competition and enhance educational merits countrywide, ending the need to send children abroad to acquire a quality education. However, universities will need to bring in staff from abroad to strengthen their programmes.

Lastly, we hope to attract several universities to Abuja and Lagos. We should consider anything that could improve educational quality, investment and access.