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‘Nigeria needs more varsities to address human capital development’

By Omiko Awa
12 November 2020   |   3:06 am
It is the collection of traits, knowledge, talent, skills, abilities, experiences and wisdom possessed by an individual. In a corporate organisation, human capital includes the totality of the educational knowledge, experiences and wisdom of workers.

Dr. Joseph Oyekunle

Dr. Joseph Oyekunle, tax consultant and human capital management specialist, in this interview with OMIKO AWA speaks on the importance of human capital development to an organisation and the economy.

What is the relevance of human capital development in a developing economy like Nigeria?
It is the collection of traits, knowledge, talent, skills, abilities, experiences and wisdom possessed by an individual. In a corporate organisation, human capital includes the totality of the educational knowledge, experiences and wisdom of workers. In the past, the saying was that money is the major factor of setting up a business, but today, that has changed because with knowledge, all other things would fall in place. We are in a knowledge-driven economy, which is the reason some people could effectively carry out business transactions with their computers in the comfort of their bedrooms.

There are allegations that professionals in Nigeria are migrating to other countries for greener pastures. How can government stop this and also bring those already outside back home?
There is no way government can stop professionals from moving from one country to the other for greener pasture. Besides, this is not peculiar to Nigeria; professionals all over the world go to places they get higher pay or enjoy better conditions of service.

However, going to other countries to work has its own advantage because these professionals bring in hard currencies or send money home to improve the economy. Many of them have investments in various sectors, while some of them finance their relation’s small/medium-scale businesses, which are also contributing to the internal revenue of the state or local government where they operate. I will encourage government to even export its surplus professionals in any field to other parts of the world, because it is better than exporting finished goods.

How can Nigeria develop its human capital when most schools, from secondary to tertiary institutions are poorly equipped?
Not properly equipping our schools has to do with the high level of corruption in the country and lack of planning. Government should increase its budgetary allocation to education and fund the universities to accommodate more students. For instance, some newspapers reported that the number of candidates that took the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) in 2019/2020 was over 1.8 million, while only above 100,000 were admitted. I want to believe that before the 1.8 million candidates obtained forms, about 1.2million were already having the minimum requirement, while the remaining may still be awaiting their results. If out of the 1.2 million candidates, the universities offered admission to only 100,000; where does JAMB want the remaining 1.1million candidates to go? Do you know that this number keeps increasing every year? This does not encourage human capital development. When you know the available space is 100,000, why sell forms to 1.8 million candidates? This in a way frustrates applicants, especially those from the southern part of the country that must have a high score to be admitted in any university in the country.

Must everyone pass through the university, when there are professional bodies whose certificates are equivalent to university education?
Education is a right and whosoever desires it should be allowed to have it. Candidates should be allowed to make their choices; there should be no denials. The major issue is that we do not have enough universities in Nigeria. The 174 universities operating in the country are not enough to take care of our human capital development needs. The United States has 5,300 universities; Nigeria needs more universities to develop its youths. When I hear people say Nigeria already has too many universities and government should stop approving any, I wonder why.

Many people do not even know that a university is an enduring industry. An average university employs 2000 to 2,500 or more direct staff, while the indirect staff, such as commercial bus operators; food vendors, printers and others run into several thousands. Tell me, how many companies can directly engage the services of 2,000 to 3,000 workers in Nigeria?
The truth is that training brings out one’s hidden potentials or hones an already existing skill. If we all take a good look at the society, we will discover that some of the young people involved in crimes are those who have not been motivated to develop their skills, which they let out through crime. Our population is growing and there is need for human capital development, Nigeria needs more universities to do this.

What has the registration and establishment of more universities got to do with crime?
With more universities, there will be need for more academic staff and less young people going into crime. For instance, if government increases the number of universities in the country from 174 to 500 or more, many of the unemployed Ph.Ds and Masters degree holders roaming the streets looking for menial jobs will be gainfully employed. University is a big industry, how many industries can really engage these highly educated young people, except the universities?

How possible is this with the exorbitant fees private universities charge?
If not for these private universities and polytechnics, the situation would have been worse than what we are experiencing today, so, we need to be grateful to them. If we are serious about human capital development in Nigeria, we should focus on how a large number of our youths would develop their knowledge.

Human capital is about knowledge because we are currently in a knowledge-driven economy. At Ikeja Computer Village, you will see raw skills at work; these young people need further education to bring out their best. Some of them are school certificate holders, but they can be mentored to do what they are currently doing in a better way.

With knowledge, you think better, create jobs and multiply wealth. Why is it that with the 5,300 universities in the U.S., people still travel to the country to seek for employment, while their universities keep admitting students from different parts of the world? Outside this, their tertiary institutions still run satellite campuses in different countries, yet they are not complaining of unemployment. The issue is, if Nigerian policy makers cannot come up with a new developmental model, they should borrow the model of countries that have attained greater heights to make Nigeria great.

Instead of establishing more universities, would it not be better to review the curriculum in line with current needs of entrepreneurship?
This is exactly what I am advocating; we need to equip our universities, and make our youths acquire practical skills to grow the economy. In the past, there were technical schools where students learn different skills, from plumbing to carpentry, and auto mechanic among others. We need to bring back this policy, make it start from primary to tertiary institutions. It will help bridge the human capital development gap in some sectors, because some of the students that have acquired the necessary skills may end up establishing their own firms, instead of looking for white-collar jobs.

From what you have seen so far, is Nigeria really developing its human capital?
We are not doing enough. As a strategy, government should learn from the U.S., United Kingdom and other countries in Europe and Asia to make its educational system meet its needs; and tilt towards entrepreneurship. We must first understand the importance of training and re-training to make things better. This concept should not be limited to the youths, but everyone in an organisation because it helps to improve quality of service, reduce cost of production and brings in more gains to any organisation.

Training should not be a one-off thing, it should be a continuous process because new concepts keep coming and one needs to update himself to remain in a competitive market. Training should also not be limited to new staff, but everybody, including board members and staff that have moved from one level to another. Training is an investment in human capital and for any company to succeed; it needs to engage people with the right knowledge.