THE disclosure by the Committee of Vice Chancellors of Nigerian universities (CVC) on Saturday that Nigerians spend an average of N75 billion ($500m) annually on schooling in European and American universities might not be new to most Nigerian. What is new, however, is that this situation might remain unchanged for sometime as private universities that are supposed to provide competitive and quality education are still in their gestation period.
According to a communiqué issued at the end of a two-day Consultative Policy Dialogue on 'the Future and Relevance of the Nigerian Universities and other Tertiary Institutions', organised by CVC and Trust Africa, Dakar, the noted that the amount was about 70 per cent of the total allocation in 2008 to all federal universities.
Signed by Michael Faborode, former VC, Obafemi Awolowo University, the communiqué said that this was an indication of the loss of faith in Nigerian universities as shown by the rush for foreign institutions, even to other African countries.
The communiqué cited constant restiveness between students and host communities, school administration, weak governance structure and processes; constant bickering among academic and other staff unions, university management and government, among others as some of the challenges facing the Nigerian higher education sector.
It noted that the global ranking of Nigerian universities had nose-dived considerably, adding that there had been growing concern over the quality of graduates from Nigerian universities.
The Policy Advisor, Civil Society Action Coalition on Education for All (CSACEFA), Mr. Wale Samuel, ties the huge capital flight to Nigeria's falling education standard, which is made worse by incessant closures and poor infrastructure.
"Parents have lost faith in its output seeing that quality has dropped, and going by the law of supply and demand, parents who have a choice and the means have naturally drifted abroad to procure for their children the missing quality education in Nigeria."
In agreement is the VC, Bells University, Ota, Ogun State, Prof. Isaac Adebayo Adeyemi, who opines that the amount spent on external education can be used to improve Nigeria's education system.
Private varsities to the rescue?
Aside absorbing students who were unable to gain admission into public universities, one of the reasons for licensing of private universities is to provide competitive education as obtained in developed climes. But this is yet to be achieved as, according to the VC, Bells University, Ota, Prof. Isaac Adebayo Adeyemi, private universities are still in their gestation period.
"But despite this, private varsities have been able to reduce the capital flight by admitting some of those students who would have traveled out to further their education."
Quest for foreign education to increase
In spite of the high cost, more parents are willing to send their wards abroad to acquire foreign education. In a research published by the British Council in 2008, it was predicted that the number of Nigerian students in the UK would have risen from just 2,800 in 2007, to 30,000 by 2015.
Giving the better teaching method as her reason for wanting to study in the UK, Obioma Ochuba said "I want to further my education in the UK because their schools are well funded, they have better facilities and their teaching method is superior to what we have in Nigeria. Schools in Nigeria can be at par with UK schools if only they are well funded and adequately equipped."
Omotola Layeni isn't satisfied with the standard of education in Nigeria and prefers to study in the UK for better understanding of her course of study so as to increase her chances of becoming successful in life.
A teacher with a private school, Harold Oseni, opined that human capital development of any nation is very important for that country to progress.
"Asian countries are where they are today because they invest in education. Also, research institutes are doing the same thing universities are doing. For us to make progress as a country, government, research institutes and companies ought to work together as obtainable in developed countries."
For Mrs. Patience Dappa, her major reason for wanting to send her wards to the UK is the opportunity to mix with other people and learn their ways of life.
The way forward
Pointing out that the higher education sector plays a critical role in forging a sense of nationhood, nation building as well as citizenship, education stakeholders urged government to be more cautious on the current trend of establishing and approving new universities without commensurate increase in the number of teachers.
CSACEFA's Policy Advisor posited that parents will gravitate back to Nigeria universities once government restores confidence in the system through improved investment. Prof. Adeyemi called on government to provide the right structures needed for the provision of quality education.
"There is need for internalisation because we can't stop Nigerians from seeking foreign education. By putting in place the right structures, government can attract foreign students to Nigeria," Adeyemi added.
Meanwhile, the Committee has resolved to restore a culture of consultation, strategic productive engagement, partnership and collaboration between management and staff of Nigerian higher education institutions.
It also resolved that the nature and dimension of the problems confronting higher institutions in Nigeria would require a new approach to governance, while the appointment of VCs must include respect for academic excellence, managerial and leadership capabilities, transparency and accountability.
The committee also resolved that government must invest in the future of the country by providing adequate resources to enable universities achieve their goals, while stakeholders should be committed to investing in higher education through sponsoring of research.