Is tertiary education a right?
In the colonial days of yore, the British possessing few personnel adopted indirect rule which necessitated the use of the natives to uphold the tenets of their administration. This made them to invest heavily in education as the locals needed to have basic literacy and numerical skills to be able to easily communicate with them and faithfully execute their public policies. The education that they gave them wasn’t designed to make them critical thinkers as that could make them question the legitimacy of the sinister regime; it was rather to make them surreptitious enablers to further accentuate their divide and conquer strategy. Thus, primary and secondary schools both government and missionary were built all over colonial Nigeria to achieve this colonial inspired purpose.
When Independence drew near, Nigerians then developed a sudden craze for university education as they selfishly saw it as the route to replace the then departing colonialists as well as saw it as an instant meal ticket to wealth and power untold. They were then prepared to do anything to acquire it including selling their ancestral heirlooms just to acquire the Golden Fleece most popularly obtained in the UK.
More than six decades after the Union Jack was lowered, most Nigerians are still tragically stuck with this colonial hangover of the tertiary education being a right for all. The baby boomers never fail to regale their children and grandchildren with the tales of the meal tickets where they ate sumptuous meals of jollof rice, a whole chicken and ice cream, the rejection of foreign education by many Nigerians in favour of the indigenous because it didn’t make sense to pay your way through school with menial jobs abroad when you could school like a King in the country with even your laundry being done for you.
The youths were subsequently indoctrinated from the cradle to view education as an inalienable right in such a manner that would even frighten famous liberty fighters like Tom Paine who wrote the evergreen ‘Common Sense’ which is a Locus Classicus for Human Rights till date and Thomas Jefferson, America’s third President whose ‘Declaration of Independence’ which he wrote as a compensation to his lack of oratorical prowess lit the fire for the eventual American War of Independence spearheaded by the rag tag army of George Washington who led his countrymen to the defeat and humbling of the then most powerful army in the world – King George III’s British Army.
Vocational education which is largely reflective of the real needs of the society and which has a huge capacity for self-employment was jettisoned by majority of Nigerians in favour of the tertiary education whose by product – a certificate – created a dependency culture and entitlement mindset of a job being the right of its graduates even when the degrees were sadly not reflective of genuine market needs.
The colonial mindset of the government being the largest employer of labour through the Civil Service still rears its ugly head even in the 21st century where wealth creation has shifted from natural resources to human capital development as well as intellectual property made greatly scalable by ground breaking technological innovations. How many Nigerian youths are even consciously aware of this glaring paradigmatic shift let alone mentally and intellectually prepared for its challenges?
They still listen to tales by moonlight that their parents told them of the ‘good old days’ of car loans after graduation and head hunters prowling the university campuses as well as scholarship offers for postgraduate degrees abroad. They fail to realize that it belongs to the threshold of history and that there is the need to move on and face the present-day reality of adjusting to the new world order.
Let us take a critical look at the current new oil in Africa – the tech start up space. Between January and June 2022 – a mere six months period according to BD Funding Tracker, over $2.5 billion was invested in tech startups in Africa with the big four – Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa and Egypt getting a lion share of the humongous funds. The most valuable startup in the African Continent is Flutterwave valued at $3 billion and they are barely six years old. The valuation of Africa’s wealthiest man’s companies, Alhaji Aliko Dangote wasn’t valued at even a billion dollars six years after he commenced business after famously taking a 500,000-naira loan from his uncle. This shows that tech and data are the new oil but how many Nigerian youths are prepared to adequately exploit the numerous opportunities that it offers? Paystack, a five-year-old company in 2020 was acquired by American based Stripe for a whopping $200 million.
How many companies in other sectors of the Nigerian economy had such a huge exit? How is the curriculum of our universities reflective of this new wealth creation potential in technology? Technology is broad and is not restricted to coding, cyber security, software development, front/back-end design etc. There is now a huge demand for tech content creators. How are our liberal arts and Mass Communication Departments responding to this new challenge of producing the next generation of tech content creators that can not only get gainfully employed in the country but also work remotely for foreign clients and earn hard currency from the comfort of their bedrooms without going through the indignity of what in most cases constitutes the second slavery in the name of economic asylum or to use the popular street lingo ‘japa.’ Most Departments of English – the discipline I studied are still stuck with teaching Shakespeare instead of revising their archaic curriculum to suit the needs of the 21st century labour market.
Still talking about japa, we carry that same mentality abroad especially to the UK since their re-introduction of the two years post study early last year. Most Nigerian youths all want to do a Masters Degree because they ignorantly assume without doing a due diligence on the labour needs of their intending host countries that it will automatically guarantee them jobs after graduation. The West places a primacy on skills and experience as opposed to certificates which explains why Google recently scrapped a university degree as a condition for being hired into tech there. PWC UK abolished the 2.1 grade to work there. Why do a Masters Degree in IT for instance which is generalist and doesn’t make you a specialist or an expert in a field as broad as IT and assume that simply because you have a post graduate degree in IT that the system abroad owes you a job? It makes more sense to pick an area say programming – learn the nitty gritty of coding, and get your hands dirty with relevant projects which will land you a job.
On my sojourn to the UK some years ago, I met many so-called Masters Degree holders doing menial jobs after their overrated and overtly expensive degrees all in the name of japa. While I have absolutely nothing against economic migration as it is as old as man, it is wise to painstakingly research the real needs of the host countries instead of making spurious assumptions and getting your fingers burnt in the process. Trust the Brits who are making a killing from Nigerian educational tourism with many universities even going as far as setting up offices in Nigeria to attract the hard-earned funds of these Nigerians who still tragically live in the bubble of the primacy of a mere piece of paper in the 21st century where ideas, skills and talents reign supreme.
Trevor Noah migrated from South Africa to the US and made a success of his career as a comedian and talk show host without a university degree. Piers Morgan became the youngest Editor at the time in the UK at 29 when he edited the now-defunct News of the World owned by Rupert Murdoch without a university degree. Ditto for Sean Hannity, one of the world’s most successful journalists who is a two-time university dropout.
For the umpteenth time, I am not condemning the pursuit of university education at any level but it should be done based on innate ability and labour market needs so that at the end of the day, it has an ROI that makes economic sense.
A bosom friend of mine did his doctorate in the UK in the Boko Haram and Niger Delta Crisis and finished five years ago. He complains bitterly to me all the time about racism but common sense dictates that jobs are created based on market needs. Wouldn’t it have made more sense to have studied ISIS or Al -Qaeda instead if he was hell-bent on becoming a counter-terrorism expert as those two groups constitute a far greater threat in the UK than the ones he studied?
A word is enough for the wise!
Ademiluyi is a Lagos based Journalist , writer and can be reached via email@example.com