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Nigerian students and insatiable appetite for foreign certificates

By Iyabo Lawal
13 June 2019   |   3:46 am
The nation’s tertiary education system always sticks out like sore thumb and it is less than bemusing when the federal government announced in April it was auditing 40,000 foreign certificates obtained by Nigerian students from universities abroad. As the country suffers from the consequences of taking education with a pinch of salt, Head, Education Desk,…

Executive Secretary of NUC, Prof. Abubakar Adamu Rasheed

The nation’s tertiary education system always sticks out like sore thumb and it is less than bemusing when the federal government announced in April it was auditing 40,000 foreign certificates obtained by Nigerian students from universities abroad. As the country suffers from the consequences of taking education with a pinch of salt, Head, Education Desk, IYABO LAWAL writes that things may be heading south.

The United Kingdom appears the choicest destination for study visa hunters among Nigerian students. By 2015, there were nearly 30,000 Nigerian students – from about 18,000– studying in the UK.

“These numbers account for seven per cent of the total UK university population,” a British lawmaker, Iain Stewart, said at a seminar organised by Focus Learning Support (FLS) last year. Those who cannot afford an education asylum can always live with the part-time option. On average, the study noted, 13 per cent of Nigerian university students are part-time.

By nature, that kind of enrolment caters mostly for programmes in the management, arts, and social sciences – all less competitive.

The busiest hives of part-time studies are the Adekunle Ajasin University (AAA), Akungba; the University of Port Harcourt, the Federal University of Technology, Akure, and Lagos State University, Ojo.

More than 62,000 – about six per cent of the total student population – are also on the affiliate programme.

Only 17, of the 30 universities running the total of 210 programmes in 63 colleges have the National Universities Commission (NUC) approval though. The institutions, the study said, absorbed more affiliate students than the freshmen.

Nigeria, once home to some of the best universities in the world, missed out even on the Africa Group of the elite in the 2016 editions of Global Ranking of Universities on Employability Skills Index released by two reputable global bodies.

The rankings, which recognised only four universities in Africa, marked out two in South Africa and another two in Egypt. None of the more 160 universities in Nigeria was rated.

The decadence in university education, according to experts in the sector is attributable to years of poor funding, incessant strikes by university teachers, poor admission standards, corruption, and fraud.

The four African universities reflected in the 2016 Quacquarelli Symonds’ (QS) “Graduate Employability” and “Global Employability” rankings were the Universities of Cape Town and Witwatersrand in South Africa; the American University in Cairo and Cairo University in Egypt.

Jumping from the frying pan into the fire, Nigerians are also seeking university education in unlikely – even at times bizarre – places in search of ‘foreign certificates’.

For instance, all manner of universities in the Republic of Benin has become the go-to institutions of learning for Nigerians. That is not the concern because there are too many young Nigerians chasing few universities in Nigeria.

The federal government’s worry about the attraction of the youngsters and their sponsors to Benin is that the little nation is riddled with illegal universities which have sprung up to satisfy what seems to be an insatiable desire for university education by Nigerians.

Not long ago, the Nigerian government blacklisted 52 non-accredited universities in Benin Republic and declared at least 51 illegal in Nigeria.

In addition, the government explained that the institutions are sub-standard, pointing out that Nigerian students are being exploited in countries like Ghana, Togo and Benin. Nigerian students who graduated from such institutions should expect to be barred from participating in the compulsory one-year national service, the government has warned.

While blacklisting unaccredited tertiary institutions is good, experts in the sector have noted that the appetite for higher education in the world’s most populous black nation is huge with existing infrastructure, policies and political realities being a stumbling block for the hundreds of thousands of Nigerian youths.. 

The situation has resulted in the unwieldy rise of illegal tertiary institutions in the country with most of them claiming affiliation to established universities in the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada – even Ghana and the Republic of Benin. 

It is not surprising when in April this year the federal government, through the Ministry of Education announced that it had constituted a 16-man committee to screen over 40,000 degrees claimed to have been obtained from Nigerian students who studied in foreign institutions.

The Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, while inaugurating the committee in Abuja at the 33rd meeting of the National Standard Committee on Evaluation and Accreditation of Foreign Qualifications, said the screening by the committee was necessary to detect cases of fake foreign degrees obtained, particularly from sub-standard institutions in Africa and beyond.

According to a preliminary assessment by the Federal Government, no fewer than 40,000 Nigerians were either holding such certificates or currently studying in various tertiary institutions abroad, with the education ministry revealing that it had already identified certificates from questionable institutions, especially from countries such as Benin Republic, Togo, and Cameroon.

Between 2015 and 2017, not less than 20 persons were arrested for being in possession of forged certificates, presentation of fake certificates, and forgery of the signature of ministry officials.

However, considering the Federal Government’s appointment of Salisu Buhari, the disgraced, certificate-forging former Speaker of the House of Representatives, to the governing council of a federal university, it is not difficult to see the kind of support the NUC will get from the government. Buhari was elected into the House based on forgery and perjury – he had lied about his age and academic qualifications. He had claimed a degree from the University of Toronto, Canada, which he never earned.

A couple of months ago, the Minister of State for Education, Prof. Anthony Anwukah, had tabled a proposal at the retreat for the governing councils of Nigerian federal universities, organised by the NUC. In a self-indicting tone, Anwukah announced to the eminent councils: “The universities are producing products that are not matching the needs of the industries. I urge the committee of pro-chancellors and committee of vice-chancellors to end the decline in the standard of education.”

The minister’s comment only illustrates the growing decay of the Nigerian university system because only three universities – out of over 165 – made a showing in the 2019 Times Higher Education World University Ranking featuring 1,250 tertiary institutions across 86 countries.

In the report, Covenant University is ranked 601- 800, the University of Ibadan, 801–1000; and the University of Nigeria; Nsukka (UNN) is ranked 1001+. Covenant University and University of Ibadan occupy fifth and sixth position respectively on the table of all the 28 African institutions for the 2019 ranking. University of Nigeria, Nsukka, is 23 on the African table.

The ranking is based on five points:  teaching, research, knowledge transfer, and international outlook.

Unfortunately, these are core factors missing in Nigeria’s university education system, thus rendering the once-shiny ivory tower without sparkles in the galaxy of universities around the world. And with the raft of challenges facing the system, nothing better is expected.

According to a former executive secretary of the NUC, Prof. Peter Okebukola, the quality of tertiary education is depressed.

The decline started way back, and it’s been worsening since 2009. Then the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and the Federal Government had made a deal to overhaul the system after a two-month long industrial action that shuttered the entire university system in 2011.

The then Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Anyim Pius Anyim and former Education Minister, Prof. Rukkayat Rufai, had to initiate a move back to the drawing table.

They set up the committee on Needs Assessment of Nigerian Public Universities to examine the depth of the decline in the tertiary education system.

Chaired by Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, the then executive secretary of the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund), who now heads the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the study team included two federal lawmakers, seven bureaucrats, the past president of ASUU, Prof. A. Awuzie, and a couple of eggheads from the tertiary institutions. It was a fact-finding mission.

And those facts gathered were hard ones – starting from access, to carrying capacities, erosion of learning quality, poor staffing, and brain drain.

As of that time, 1.25 million eager students – of 1.5 million applicants – are denied admission every year into universities. Actually, the whole shebang of the university system, the ministry of education noted, can take in just 150,000 – when about 1.2 million students, the committee confirmed, currently cram themselves in the institutions.

As for the quantity, education experts say 50,000 teachers, at the minimum, are required to meet the standard teacher-student ratio.

A teacher, the university regulator says, should be assigned to 30 students, except in science, engineering, and agriculture where it is either 1:15 or 1:20 at most. With the explosion in enrolment in Nigeria now, the average ratio stands at 1:40 – with some extreme exceptions.

At the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) with 58 campuses across the federation, a teacher is assigned to 363 students, according to the committee. UniAbuja follows with a teacher to 122.

At LASU and the AAA, 114 and 77 students, respectively, have access to a lecturer. Worse still, 4,526 – that is six per cent of the lecturers – are jobbing, especially in the state-owned universities in the northern part of Nigeria. So they have their fingers in every pie. And, on the credit side, across all the institutions, 75 per cent of the entire academic staff is full-time; others are either on sabbatical or contract.

Stakeholders believe that corruption; poor funding and rudderless leadership are responsible for the collapse of the university system. Spending a maximum 15 per cent of its annual budget on education, compared to the 26 per cent the United Nations suggested, Nigeria has committed less than N3.90 trillion of the N55.19 trillion budget to education in the last 10 years.

Many believe this is a major problem. But the committee report pointed in a slightly different direction.

“There’s an unhelpful tendency in Nigeria to always blame inadequate funding, for instance, for all our woes, including the revitalisation of the education system,” said the committee. So money is no object, it argued. And the committee presented the issue of funding as “a back-end consideration”. Monies actually flowed into the university system from seven tributaries: capital and recurrent allocations; TETFund intervention, donations/endowment; internally generated fund and research grant; and service charges.

The largest – 68 per cent – comes from the recurrent allocation, and it is followed by 16 per cent of the internally generated revenue. Capital vote and TETFund have seven per cent and four per cent respectively. Research grants are gold dust – one per cent. The most accessed of these funds is the IGR, which is 105 per cent in the last three years. About 98 per cent of the recurrent vote has also been accessed.

Donations, however, are difficult to draw while the capital vote has been especially gummy – 38 per cent since 2010. Their meagre capital allocation is not quite accessible either.