Economic Update

In a bid to improve the quality of Nigeria’s universities and ensure that more secondary school graduates opt to attend local rather than foreign institutions, the government has unveiled plans to increase the number of campuses and improve funding for state education initiatives.

According to a late-October speech by Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, some 71,000 students currently attend university in neighbouring Ghana. To put this figure in perspective, during the 2009/10 academic year, some 180,000 students were enrolled at Nigerian universities, including public and private institutions.

Sanusi added that underfunding of the local educational system was the main cause of the large number of students leaving Nigeria to attend institutions in Ghana and South Africa, nations that he described as having “organised educational settings”.

Some Nigerians also attend university in Western European countries, primarily in the UK, which in 2009 issued about 10,000 student visas to Nigerians, according to a report from the Network of Migration Research on Africa (NOMRA), an organisation that studies migration and development issues in Africa. Nigeria “is believed to be the largest supplier of African students to universities in the West because of their relative wealth”, NOMRA reported.

Indeed, a substantial amount of funds are required to finance studies abroad. The 10,000 Nigerians who attended universities in the UK in 2009 paid about N42bn ($259m) to their host country, according to NOMRA. Similarly, Sanusi noted that Nigerian students who attend Ghanaian institutions pay about N155bn ($955.8m) annually in tuition fees, an amount that is greater than the annual budget of N121bn ($746.1m) for all federal universities in Nigeria.

As the governor of Lagos State, Babatunde Fashola, pointed out during a speech in November, sending students to other countries not only undermines the local educational system, it also deprives the economy of capital that could be used to develop the Nigeria economy.

One way to slow the trend of students going abroad, Fashola said, would be to establish new universities and increase capacity at those that are currently in operation. The federal government has plans to do just this, according to President Goodluck Jonathan. The president, speaking at an event in Ebonyi state, noted that new universities would be built across the country to ensure broad public access.

“The siting of the new federal university in Ebonyi State is deliberate. As a far-reaching measure to bring tertiary education closer to the people, the Federal Executive Council took the bold decision to create more new federal universities, and Ebonyi state … was considered so that more federal presence shall be registered in the young state,” Jonathan said.

States can also improve their universities by taking advantage of federal money that is available from the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND). At present, many state-level officials remain unaware of how to access TETFUND monies, according to comments from the minister of education, Ruqayyah Rufai, at a meeting of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum in Abuja on November 10. “There is still a lot of money lying there for the states. That is why we made a presentation to the state governors, guiding them on their roles on how to access the funds,” she said.

Until recently, TETFUND was known as the Educational Trust Fund (ETF). The latter was set up in 1993 with a mandate to disburse monies to federal, state and local government educational institutions, including primary and secondary schools, for a variety of purposes, including staff development, library systems, equipment procurement, work centres and the purchase of books. The TETFUND – like the ETF before it – is financed by a 2% tax that is levied on the profits of all Nigerian companies.

In July President Jonathan approved an amendment to the ETF Act, which effectively removed primary and secondary schools from the ETF’s interventional list, a change in mandate that Rufai said would help alleviate funding concerns at the tertiary level of education.

At present, only public universities have access to TETFUND monies, but the programme could be extended to include their private sector counterparts. In October vice-president Alhaji Namadi Sambo said that the latter could soon be beneficiaries of the TETFUND.

“I know for instance that a lot of private tertiary institutions, particularly the universities, still grapple with the issue of funding and are clamouring for consideration with regard to [TETFUND]. The government will, as a matter of responsibility, look at this issue and devise means by which necessary support will be rendered,” he said.

Private universities are an important part of the Nigerian educational landscape, although they have only been permitted since 1999. More than 30 private tertiary-level institutions have been established since then, and they took in about 32,000 students during the 2009/10 academic year.

The improvement and expansion of local universities – whether public or private – could go some way toward reducing the flight of students who leave the country for their post-secondary education. If Nigeria is to become one of the top 20 global economies by 2020, as is the goal of its long-term development plan, additional investment in the educational system is likely to play an important role.