Reimagining higher education in Nigeria
Higher or tertiary education, like all sectors, is fair game for disruption. We saw a glimpse in the pandemic, where classes were held online, and courseware unbundled from college staples like libraries and cafeterias was delivered directly to devices. Overnight, technology automated the traditional lecture, and logic supports the argument that anything that can be automated will be disrupted. As memories of the tumultuous time fade two years on, remote learning is everything, everywhere, all at once.
Nigerian tertiary institutions have played a key role in framing national consciousness and identity. They have also played a pivotal role in advancing the economy by delivering skills that saw the country and companies gain dominance on the continent. For decades, they met the demands of the era, but their agility has now come under deep scrutiny at a time when profound change is sweeping through society,
Futurist Adam Alexander introduced the theory of “peak higher education” and based his hypothesis on six straight years of enrolment decline at US universities pre Covid-19. While the theory might not apply so much to the region, partly because university education is still aspirational, enrolments are on the decline in many parts of the world.
The student loan bill passed at the end of last year in Nigeria has divided opinion, with concerns that the lack of employment opportunities could leave students debt-ridden like in the US. Collective student debt in the US has risen to over $1.7 trillion, surpassing auto loans and credit card debt.
Universities remain the pinnacle of academic achievement, but alternatives are fast emerging in credentialing and certifications. There is a growing chorus of voices that want universities to accelerate the process of updating their curriculum. Leadership skills, critical thinking, problem-solving, communication, and tech savviness are emerging as par for the course, but universities have been apathetic toward them.
In a landscape where a virus or a war can fundamentally alter the course of your business, executives are sceptical that universities can deliver the right people with 21st-century skills for the jobs of tomorrow.
By some estimates, the pandemic accelerated digital adoption by five years. This “digitalisation at scale and velocity” results in massive skill shifts. Data from Gartner TalentNeuron shows an outsized number of techies being hired outside of IT. That trend is only likely to accelerate further as organisations demand digital skills far beyond the IT function and deep into other areas of the business.
This demand has manifested itself in the fast-growing citizen developer movement. A citizen developer is a non-techie that can create application capabilities without formal software programming or coding experience. According to Gartner, citizen developers at large enterprises will outnumber professional software developers by a factor of 4:1 this year. Citizen development is a micro-credential that anyone can acquire in 6-8 hours and requires no formal educational qualifications.
Another big challenge credentials and certifications address is job readiness. According to the African Center for Economic Transformation, almost 50 per cent of African university graduates do not get jobs. Economists refer to this as structural unemployment, unemployment caused by a mismatch of skills workers can offer versus the skills required by industry. While the number of graduates keeps rising, over 300,000 anually in Nigeria, there is a consensus amongst employers that university qualifications translate poorly in the new world of work. Amongst those employed, a large portion end in careers not aligned with their education.
Credentials and certifications are entering the mainstream because they meet the genuine needs of the industry. Moreover, they offer a more accessible, affordable, and accelerated way to demonstrate workforce readiness. They also provide opportunities to retool, and recharge resumes to enter other sectors as the skills are transferable, such as project management skills. Moreover, with certifications like the PMP, one can earn 16 per cent more than a non-PMP certified project manager, according to the “Earning Power PM Salary Survey” by non-profit PMI.
Far-reaching changes in the global economy, spurred by COVID-19 and climate concerns, are transforming the future of work. While universities do their best to deliver talent, they will likely play catch up for the foreseeable future rather than set the pace. To close the talent gaps, universities must join the revolution by engaging with industry, embedding in-demand skills in curricula, and cultivating learnability among students.
To quote Kirill Pyshkin, Senior Portfolio Manager at Credit Suisse, “In the future, 2020 will likely be regarded as the pivotal point at which the traditional education system began to undergo extensive disruption. This is education’s Netflix moment.”
Asamani is the MD, Sub-Saharan Africa, Project Management Institute