Until recently, public universities in Nigeria were on strike. The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) on the 23rd of March 2020 downed their tools and forced students to go back home. 

It is ingrained in every student in public tertiary institutions in the nation to expect strikes. Strikes are like punctuation marks, commas, in almost every academic session. So, this strike was not an anomaly. But after six months at home, students began to voice out their frustrations. It took another three months for ASUU and the Federal Government to reach an agreement. However, as the strike progressed, academic life in private universities continued unabated. 

The role of education in national development cannot be over-emphasised, as no country can develop beyond its educational level. Education is essential to human and economic transformation of any nation. It provides the much-needed human capital and resources needed for said transformation while also acting as an agent in developing the necessary technological tools and know-how for economic take-off.

In Nigeria, inadequate funding, poor infrastructure, shortage of qualified personnel, political instability, poor policy formulation, and corruption are clogs in its wheel. In 2015 and 2016, the budget for education was N392.4 billion and N369.6 billion representing 15.05% and 9.32% respectively of the total budget. This is below the 26% threshold recommended by the United Nations Education, Social and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) for developing countries.

This apparent underfunding has made frequent and unabated clampdown on public institutions through strike actions embarked upon by lecturers a mainstay. Every public tertiary institution in Nigeria lacks basic facilities for teaching and learning. Under-equipped laboratories, congested residential and lecture halls, are all common sights on public campuses. 

There is a huge supply gap for tertiary education in the nation. Every year over 1 million candidates apply for admission into tertiary institutions, with only about 13% being offered admission into said institutions. With dwindling financial resources, a lack of an educational sector framework, unstable systems, inadequate and untimely remuneration of teaching and non-teaching staff in public institutions, it is hard to see how the government can salvage whatever is remaining of the educational sector. 

The actualisation of a country’s economic development, advancement, and freedom are dependent on the educational capacity of its working and political class. In every part of the world, education is capital intensive, but Nigeria is one of the poorest countries in the world in terms of per capita income. This makes investing in education, by the government, difficult as a lot of scarce resources is dedicated to keeping the soul and body of the country together. 

Owing to the numerous problems besetting the educational sector of the country, there is a need for increased private sector participation in the sector as this will unburden the federal government from a role it is clearly failing at, and allow it cater for other social amenities, and create prosperity. 

Nigerians are not alien to private education. Already, private secondary and primary schools are considered better alternatives to their government-owned counterparts. Whereas, private tertiary education is considered to be a luxury rather than a necessity by the majority. In light of present realities, this view is no longer tenable. In order to infuse quality and enhance productivity of human resources needed to grow the Nigerian economy, it is essential that private tertiary institutions are seen as key to providing quality and increasingly affordable higher education.

Further deregulation of the education sector, will lead to the establishment of more private institutions which will expand access to Nigeria’s increasing population, who, though are ready for tertiary education but for whom the government cannot provide. With more private tertiary institutions entering into the foray, tuition fees will crash, making it relatively affordable to more households in the nation. Nigeria just doesn’t have enough money to continue to subsidise public tertiary education.

It is clear as day that public institutions, under the management of the government, have lost their value as a result of mismanagement and a lack of political will, leading to a decline in the quality of graduates been churned out by them. Private tertiary education will ensure that the government can only serve as regulators and quality control agents. Increased tertiary education means that tertiary education will become less expensive for the average Nigerian. This can be further eased by government funding in form of student loans. 

Imagine a Nigeria where ASUU doesn’t have to agitate; where universities are allowed to strive towards becoming the best they can be on the continent. A Nigeria where what is taught in tertiary institutions actually matter, and make graduates assets to economic development. With government continued dominant participation in higher education, this would only be an imagination. But this Nigeria is possible with increased private ownership of tertiary institutions. 

This article conveys the views of the author and not necessarily that of Ominira Initiative.

About the author

Temitayo Jaiyeola

Temitayo explores and simplifies social complexities around Africa through his writings and storytelling. He tweets @theTemi_