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Too little, low quality education: Can PPPs help?

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With a growing population, now estimated at 200 million, the demand for education, especially higher education, continues to expand each year. This demand overwhelmingly outstrips the installed capacity of Nigeria’s universities. When it comes to higher education, Nigeria can rightly be said to be an educationally poor country – if not the poorest in the world.   The huge gap in admissions – the admissions deficit – is as the result of the limited capacity of local tertiary institutions relative to growing population of students.   For the 130 million Nigerians aged 24 or younger, there are just 170 universities, 165 polytechnics and colleges of education. The US alone has above 5000 higher education institutions for its population of 319 million. Data shows that from 2010 to 2015, only 2.5 million out of 10 million applicants got admission into Nigerian universities. Nearly 75 million applicants failed to gain admission. The 164 private universities could admit just about 8% of total number seeking admissions.

 

It is not only the quantity that is grossly insufficient, the quality of Nigeria’s education is abysmal. The quality of instruction in the insufficient schools has progressively deteriorated over the years to a level where a typical university graduate today has educational competence that sometimes rivals that of a 4th grader in 1976. The Economist in January 2017 argued that just 1 in 4 of secondary school students in countries such as Nigeria could reach the basic level of attainment in standardized international tests.

 

In this edition, we argue that Public-Private Partnership in education offers the leverage to improve access and enhance quality in Nigeria’s educational system.

 

To question the link between education and human development and material progress in all its dimensions is to question whether the grass is green or the sky, blue. In this age and time, not investing in education is nothing other than self-annihilation. It does not matter whether the economy is structurally equipped to create jobs for graduates — this is a different order of question. We have argued elsewhere that education can also be a solution to joblessness.   The World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs argues persuasively that the jobs of the future cannot be predicted today — just as increasing number of jobs on offer today did not exist as recently as 5 years ago. It therefore means that the only way to equip or ‘future-proof’ jobs is to have entrepreneurial, complexly adaptive higher education system.   A market-based educational system is the only one that has the potential to introduce the kind of result that we would expect for the future. A free market that has flooded the society with cheap cars, radios, television sets, houses, household electronics and all manner of goods and services can definitely produce good education for a mass society. What is needed is availability, competition and entrepreneurship. Government’s direct monopoly of subsidised schooling clearly crowds out investment in private schools.

 

The only way education can respond to the challenges of a disruptive society is to switch to a complex adaptive system that prioritizes entrepreneurship. Private educational entrepreneurs, who are disciplined by the demands of the market, are more likely to create such adaptive systems. Since we don’t know today all we may learn about educational methods and objectives tomorrow and also, we do know that our educational curriculum does not provide relevant knowledge and skills in students, we need educational entrepreneurs to address this disconnection.

 

The market failure in education is no better illustrated than in the ridiculous disparity between tuition in public and private universities.   Where on earth does a medical student pay just 16,000 naira (50 dollars) per annum as tuition? And after this humongous subsidy enjoyed, the student leaves the shores of the country upon graduation to go live and work in Canada, US, UK, Australia and other overseas destinations?   The public university subsidy in Nigeria is an irrational rape of the commonwealth. We end up subsidizing other countries!

 

Despite the subsidy wasted on public tertiary institutions in Nigeria, 75% of eligible tertiary institution candidates cannot gain access. Should public policy not be used to address this by shifting the subsidy towards more efficient and market-friendly provision of education such as partnerships with the private sector? We argue that using public monies to givesubsidized access to privately delivered education under public-private partnership (PPP) arrangement offers a way to solve what UNESCO has described as the “learning crisis” — limited access to very poor quality schools lacking in competency and relevance.   PPPs have been used to great advantage in countries such as the Netherlands, where public monies are used to provide free or subsidized access to privately delivered educational outcomes to improve both access and learning outcomes.

 

Recent studies have shown that PPPs in education do raise learning outcomes and are sufficiently cost-effective. In the face of an increasing child population, pressures on educational quality and ever-tighter budgets, governments are facing immense pressure to deliver education in a more equitable and efficient manner. As a result, governments around the world are making the economic and political decision to engage the non-state sector to deliver education that may have previously been delivered by the public sector. They do this because they believe the resultant public-private partnerships (PPPs) bring about efficiencies that improve not only the quantity but also potentially the quality of education for all children across all sectors by maximising the advantages offered by each sector.

 

Bongo Adi

 

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