Do you feel that your degree was value for money?
That was the question that the British Broadcasting Corporation asked recent graduates, not in Nigeria, but in the United Kingdom last week.
The question was sequel to concerns expressed by members of the British Parliamentary Committee on Education over the value both government and graduates are getting from their expenditure on tertiary education.
The chairman of the Committee, Mr. Robert Halfon made the following observations amongst others,
1. Too many universities are not providing value for money, and students are not getting good outcomes from the degrees for which so many of them rack up debts.
2. 49% of recent graduates were not working in graduate roles across the UK in 2017.
If the UK, an advanced economy feels disappointed with the returns on its investment in tertiary education, what should anyone conclude about the situation in Nigeria?
Value for money is measured on two levels. One, the pay that a graduate receives and two, the contribution he or she makes to society (value for government).
How many Nigerian graduates end up in non-graduate roles. How many Nigerian graduates are taking up jobs and salaries far below their education just to get by? Will the situation get better or get worse as more students study courses that are not their preferences in a shrinking economy were jobs are hard to find? What would be the value for money to government as academic degrees continue to overwhelm professional degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).
It is from STEM that a country derives the most value for the funds spent on education. STEM touches every sector and provides the greatest momentum to move any society forward.
At the moment, Nigeria is not in charge of any of the commanding heights of its economy. For instance, the oil and power sector are to a large extent in the hands of foreigners. This is a consequence of the failure to have a coordinated STEM policy and plan.
I had expected that since the Federal Government is finding it difficult to fund STEM, it should have made it mandatory for those who have the resources to establish private universities to specialize in those areas. Unfortunately, that is not the case. These private universities are churning out academic degrees just like government funded universities.
The Academic staff Union of Nigeria (ASUU) has maintained the position that Government should suspend establishing more universities and focus on funding the existing ones. That does not in any way address the bulk of the problem we have with university education. Increasing funding of existing universities will not correct the tilt in favour of academic degrees which do not address our industrialization challenge. Besides, the truth is that the country does not have enough tertiary institutions to cater for the millions exiting secondary education.
An Army University has just been set up in Maiduguri. I do not have the details of what they want to do there. But it will amount to another waste of resources if that university begins to offer the same (almost worthless) academic degree, from the standpoint of development. That university ought to be a research and development lab targeted at the priorities of the country.
But, there is also a bigger question that demands attention. Must every post-18 education be in a university, given that most of those who acquire such education simply waste their time and money? A visit to most of our universities will convince you that most students are not happy to be there. They are just there to have a degree whose value in the future they do not know.
Nevertheless, a follow up question would be if not university education what else is on offer? But for the “coercion” in the forms issued by the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB), students applying for admissions into tertiary institutions routinely ignore non-university institutions. They feel there is nothing there for them and they are right. Unfortunately, there isn’t much for them and the country in university education either.
Therefore, university education needs a total overhaul if Nigeria still intends to take its place among developed nations someday.
Recently, there have been concerns in the United States that while university education is strong, secondary school education is weaker than it is in Asia. Some Americans believe that in the long run, that weakness will percolate into the tertiary system and make it less competitive than it is in Asia.
As mentioned above the UK is already feeling that weakness, hence a final parliamentary report will call for a restructuring in 2019 and beyond.
As I mentioned in my first piece on education, the additional year students are made to stay in secondary school is a waste because the purpose of that extra year has never been achieved.
In summary, everywhere you look, you will see waste in our education system. Nigeria must take a “hard look” at the issue of an education regime that teaches practical skills with multiple exit points that students are comfortable with from secondary to university level. Otherwise, we shall continue to call on the Chinese and other nationals to come to our rescue, a huge drain on and waste of dwindling resources.