During the first quarter of 2021, the University of Lincoln, UK in collaboration with the African Development Institute of Research Methodology, Enugu received funding from the UK Research and Innovation QR Strategic Priorities Fund to investigate the educational policy reforms required for sustainable higher education in Nigeria. The project engaged Nigerian higher education policymakers and stakeholders through one-to-one interviews and focus group meetings that included executive officers from key stakeholders such as Tertiary Education Fund; National Universities Commission; National Commission for Colleges of Education; Teachers Registration Council of Nigeria; Committee of Vice-Chancellors; COHEADS of Polytechnics; Committee of Provosts of Colleges of Education; Nigeria French Language Village; some current Vice-Chancellors; some former Vice-Chancellors; Ministry of Education; some State commissioners for Education; ECOWAS Commission; current/former Registrars and Deans of faculties in the Nigerian universities; and Commit Technology &Consult Limited (Consultant on Digital Skills and Information Technology).
During the consultations, stakeholders identified that Nigeria has made several signs of progress in the development of the higher education system, however, policies, innovations, and practices seem disconnected or disjointed. Nigeria has one of the most robust education policies, but a major challenge is the implementation of the policies. Federal agencies such as the NUC, the NCCE, National Board for Technical Education, and TET-Fund are responsible for formulating, funding, monitoring and implementations of higher education teaching and research policies. The NUC develops the minimum academic standards, accredits degrees and other academic awards. Also, these agencies are responsible for ensuring that quality is maintained within the academic programmes.
A participant at one of the events observed that, “There is an urgent need to close the funding gap in the education sector in order to improve the physical infrastructure, technological, digital and manpower requirement for improving the standard of higher education in Nigeria”.
The key challenges of Nigerian higher education have been attributed to the funding gap and non-implementation of policies. Stakeholders fear that the non-implementation of policies has an impact on the standard of education and has impeded institutional response to advancing knowledge, employability skills and meeting the international educational standards. Stakeholders observed that Nigeria’s funding allocation to tertiary education has declined over the years. Also, Nigeria’s spending per student is at the lowest and higher institutions have limited diversified income streams outside government funding.
As another stakeholder opined, “In terms of progress, Nigeria has made a huge progress in the higher education system, but several challenges remain such as funding gap and weak technology.”
According to Professor Suleiman Bogoro, Executive Secretary, TET-Fund, the body is an intervention agency set up to provide supplementary support to all levels of public tertiary institutions using funding targeted at the rehabilitation, restoration, and consolidation of tertiary education. The key activities of TET-Fund include funding essential physical infrastructure for teaching and learning, institutional material, equipment, research, publications, and academic staff development. Some participants noted that a decline in the demand in the oil sector and lower oil prices have led to low revenues and a weak economy, hence, cuts in public expenditure.
The lack of funding has an impact on access to education and inclusivity, hence, Nigeria has a high rate of out-of-school children and youths. Besides funding inadequacies, stakeholders identified several other factors affecting the Nigerian higher education system including an overemphasis on degree qualifications, ineffective governance, weak technology or digital infrastructure, systematic corruption, and lack of performance measurement.
A serious concern is that as the population grows, demand for higher education has been on the increase. To address this challenge, the Nigerian education policy reforms focused on increasing enrolment, creation of more public institutions and licensing of more private institutions. However, funding remains the biggest obstacle. Across all levels, public and private institutions remain ill-equipped to function effectively and efficiently. TET-Fund scheme favours the public over private institutions, thereby limiting the funding of infrastructure, research, and innovations capacity of private institutions. Also, there is a disconnect between the universities and industries leading to graduates being underdeveloped in terms of emerging digital skills, employability skills, entrepreneurship education, vocational and industrial development.
The traditional teaching method of face-to-face dominates the teaching pedagogy in Nigerian higher education with less attention to digital learning. COVID-19 pandemic has brought the long-standing vulnerability of the Nigerian public higher institutions. COVID-19 pandemic and labour strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities disrupted the university system for about nine months. The ASUU strike was targeted at improving the working conditions and welfare of its members and pushing the government to increase investment in higher education. Stakeholders identified improving academic staff remuneration, investment in professional development and digital education resilience should be the focus of future policy reforms.
Globally, digital systems have become an integral part of the educational landscape. It appears that the quality of teaching in Nigerian higher education is affected by the lack of digital infrastructure and the lack of digital orientations of staff and students. Stakeholders advocate policies to support the development of a virtual learning environment or blended learning (a blend of face-to-face and the use of online digital resources) across all public and private institutions. Also, they advocate the establishment of emerging digital skills certification and digital literacy standards.