The recent suggestion by the Minister of State for Education, Professor Anthony Anwukah for Nigerian graduates to go for an extra year of studies after graduation to bridge the skills gap and make them employable did not seem to go down well with stakeholders in the education sector. Though they acknowledge that such problem exists among graduates, they think other steps can be taken to achieve a positive result.
The issue of graduate unemployment and un-employability has been discoursed on various fora over time with various recommendations made on how to solve the problem. Some reports had it that jobs abound in the country, but they are given to expatriates and Nigerians that studied abroad because graduates of Nigerian universities are unemployable; the lack the skills that employers are looking for and are not teachable.
Several factors have been blamed for this problem, mainly the poor funding of the education sector by successive administrations. Over the years, Nigeria's budgetary allocation to the education sector is way below the 26 per cent UNESCO benchmark. Consequently, poor funding comes with attendant problems like dilapidated structures, outdated equipment in the laboratories and workshops, overcrowded classrooms and hostels, among others.
The problem prompted the federal government to set up a committee on the needs assessment of Nigerian universities in 2013 in line with the agreement it reached with the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Non-academic Staff Union (NASU) and other stakeholders in the sector. The committee's report presented a detailed analysis of the rot in the tertiary education sector and with recommendation on how the system can be salvaged.
It is also worthy of note that ASUU embarked on strike countless times as a result of the government's non-implementation of the agreement it reached with the union regarding funding, including implementing the recommendations of the committee on needs assessment.
Therefore, the minister's statement that Nigerian graduates are unemployable was not news, the news was the approach he suggested to tackle the problem. According to him, like law and medical graduates that proceed to the law school and housemanship for a year after graduation before being mobilised for the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) mandatory year of national service, graduates of other disciplines should do the same in some specialised institutions like the Lagos Business School.
He partly blamed the un-employability of graduates on the failure of the Students' Industrial Work Experience Scheme (SIWES) in Nigerian universities, saying that SIWES is not playing its role in bridging the gap between universities and industries. He said the one year re-schooling would serve as a training ground for graduates to be well equipped with the rudiments of the courses they studied in the university.
However, stakeholders have disagreed with the minister's recommendation, as it could pose more problems instead of solving the existing one.
Some experts are of the opinion that since the law school is specifically for law graduates and medical graduates go to the teaching hospital, if the minister's suggestion should be implemented, it would require setting up specialised institutions for each course, which will be capital intensive.
A university lecture, who preferred anonymity, described the minister's proposition as an escapist strategy, saying that the government wants students to pay for the skills they will acquire if the plan is to be implemented.
The lecturer said for instance to pursue a postgraduate programme or even a certificate course at the Lagos Business School, one has to pay as much as N400,000 or more. "That means the one year re-schooling period will be optional for only those that can afford it and the children of the poor will be left out."
Another university lecturer noted that over the years, ASUU had been clamouring for proper funding of Nigerian universities, but the government kept reneging on its agreements and promises.
According to her, if the laboratories and workshops in tertiary institutions are well equipped to industry standard and an expert is invited once in a while to teach students how to use them, there will be no need for any re-schooling programme after graduation, as well as the SIWES programme, as the students would have acquired the required workplace experience while in school.
With the right equipment and facilities, the experts also called for periodic review of the curriculum of tertiary institutions with inputs from captains of industry and other relevant stakeholders so that the institutions will be abreast with the ever-changing demands of the industry and be able to produce work-ready graduates and entrepreneurs.
It is also believed that with advances in technology and the availability of the internet, which has made the world a global village, universities can form partnerships and linkages with their counterparts anywhere in the world. With such partnerships, experts on a particular field from a foreign university can be invited to the country and vice-versa. The internet can also facilitate virtual learning so that students can be taught by any expert, irrespective of his/her location.
A parent, who identified herself as Mrs. Jane, who was visibly confused about the generalisation asked "what about graduates of private universities, are they among the un-employable youths, if they are, what happens to the high fees being charged by private universities."
According to her, most private universities impart in their students the skills and competencies required by modern day employers, some have entrepreneurship courses in their curriculum, as well as other programmes which expose students to various trades and crafts that will make them self-reliant after graduation.
"It will not make any sense for someone to graduate from a private university with all the fees and skills acquired and then go for a year of re-schooling, so I don't think this idea will work."
A secondary school teacher, Mr. John Ene also suggested regular review of the curriculum at the basic and secondary level, as they are the foundation on which the tertiary education rests.
While applauding the introduction of trade and entrepreneurship subjects in the basic and secondary schools' curriculum, he said the move should be given the level of seriousness it deserves with the provision of the right equipment and facilities to stimulate students' interest in the trade and entrepreneurship subjects to make them self-reliant upon graduation from secondary school and to give them good grasp of their courses of study when they get to the higher institution of their choice.
A teacher in one of the technical colleges, who does not want his name in print, decried the state of facilities in these colleges, saying that most of the machines are outdated and out of use. He said if these equipment were in good condition the products of technical colleges will do well when they get to the tertiary institutions because they would have acquired the fundamental knowledge and skills in the secondary school.
"The Nigerian education sector needs to be overhauled from the primary level to the tertiary level. Anything short of that is just a waste of time."