One of many recent news about higher education of Nigerians is that Nigerian families pay N52 billion tuition in the United Kingdom per year, while Nigerians in the United States, according to the Institute of International Education, currently spend $514 million on tuition and living allowance per year.
Going overseas to study is not new in Nigeria. Even before the Amalgamation of 1914, many Nigerians had gone to obtain post-secondary education in the United Kingdom, and later in the United States, especially before the founding, in 1948, of University College, Ibadan, and many other internationally respected universities that were established in the 1960s.
The irony about the number of Nigerians obtaining undergraduate training in the UK, USA, Canada, Australia, South Africa, Ghana, Egypt, UAE, Sudan, and Germany today is that Nigeria, until the 1980s, used to host students from other African countries for high quality undergraduate training.
That Nigerians now spend so much of the nation’s foreign exchange in more advanced and wealthier countries for education of less than 10 percent of the total number of Nigerians in search of university education is a sad commentary about a nation that has within its borders over 200 universities and colleges of technology.
More concerning is that majority of Nigerian students abroad are studying for undergraduate degrees that they could have done within Nigeria, if conditions to do so were right.
It is necessary to recall that the Federal Government that controls about 52 percent of Nigeria’s revenue has budgeted in the past 10 years an average of seven per cent of its annual budget on education, while other countries, such as Ghana budget between 11 and 15 per cent for education, thus making Ghana more attractive than Nigeria to Nigerians seeking post-secondary education.
According to a former Minister of Sports, Nigerian students pay an average of N300 billion on education—secondary, undergraduate, and postgraduate—in Ghana.
The reasons for the decision of Nigerian youths and their parents to look for post-secondary academic and professional training outside Nigeria are obvious.
Education in general is poorly funded by governments in Nigeria; quality of higher institutions for academic and professional training is lower than in many countries that welcome Nigerian students to their universities.
If Nigeria is to be able to prevent its dwindling foreign exchange from being used to buy abroad what citizens should be able to get at home, the priority of the country must be to invest more funds to bring its university system up to par with what exists in the countries that have been attracting young Nigerians in droves and for decades.
Until the 1980s, Nigeria had many universities with competitive academic and professional programmes—Ibadan, Ife, Lagos, Zaria, Nsukka, Benin, Calabar, Port Harcourt, and many others that kept young Nigerians at home and attracted people from other African countries. It should pluck the political will to do so again.
Granted that in the century of increasing globalisation, Nigeria does not need to isolate its citizens from obtaining foreign education, it should not be for undergraduate degrees.
Recovering the high quality of undergraduate education of the past will make it more cost-effective for Nigerians to receive graduate and post-graduate training at many of the academic centres of excellence across the globe, as many other countries do for cross-fertilisation.
Nigeria had done this in the past, it had sent thousands of holders of first degrees across the world to receive post-graduate training and many of them excelled.
In the post-pandemic era, needing to commit $2 billion to mostly undergraduate education in foreign countries calls for rethinking on the part of governments in Nigeria.
They must encourage young ones to obtain their undergraduate training at home, like their counterparts elsewhere. And to do this, the country must change course: make its educational system as attractive and user-friendly as it was before the 1980s, while providing cutting-edge technology for teaching and research, which other competitive societies provide for Nigerian students abroad.