Nigerian tertiary education has remained under the grip of a financial crisis despite the efforts of the Federal Government to increase education funding since independence.
The underfunding of tertiary education in the country undermines the goals of expanding the system and maintaining equitable access to quality tertiary education.
Nigeria falls within the welfare states being a third-world country where education funding is a shared responsibility between the state and the citizens. However, the level of governmental involvement in funding tertiary education is poor.
Charles Onwunali, a senior lecturer at the University of Lagos, does not believe that Nigerians are underpaying for tertiary education but rather that the government is not investing in the sector as it ought to.
Onwunali said that Sanni Abacha had in place the Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF) as an intervention development agency to bring succour to the people, especially in rural areas.
According to the mass communication lecturer, Abacha used the fund in 1994-1999 to address challenging issues in the education sector.
He said that the country’s minimum wage of N30,000 would not allow parents to pay for their children’s tuition fees of tertiary education, unlike in developed countries where there is an option for student loans.
“As a parent, you cannot be paid N30,000 as minimum wage and be expected to pay tuition fees in advanced countries such as the US, and the UK among others,” he said.
He frowned at increasing tuition fees in tertiary institutions because the money does not really come into the coffers of these universities. He reiterated that the problem is not the tuition fee increase but having the wrong managers of the funds provided.
“It is not a question of tuition fees but fund management. The government does not want to allow tertiary institutions to run their affairs. The problem is that they want to control everything from Abuja,” Onwunali noted.
In the United States of America (USA), for instance, freshers in the University of South Florida pay as much as $17,324 (about N8,662,000) to be admitted for undergraduate courses. While in the Federal University of Technology, Minna in Niger State, freshers pay N61,200 (about $122.4), which is about 0.71 percent of what is obtainable in the USA.
Friday Erhabor, the director of media and strategy at Marklenez Limited, believes that primary and secondary education should be free, while parents should pay for the tertiary education of their children.
“I have said several times that Nigeria should make primary and secondary education free and compulsory. But tertiary education should be paid for.
“Where the government can come in is to set up viable and transparent loan boards for indigent students who can take loans to fund their tertiary education which they can pay back when they graduate and start working.
“But tertiary education should be funded by parents and not the government. It does not make sense for the government to fund tertiary education with unavailable resources and after training a medical student for almost free for instance, the guy graduates and leaves for Dubai, the United Kingdom, or the United States.
“It means the Nigerian government is training doctors for another country. Until students pay properly for tertiary education, there will continue to be a crisis. But primary and secondary should be made free and compulsory,” he said.
Cost-sharing seems to be the principal untapped source of funding in Nigeria’s tertiary institutions. It needs to be increasingly incorporated into funding strategies for the tertiary education sector to thrive.
This can be accompanied by targeted scholarships/ bursaries or loans to maintain enhanced accessibility for qualified students from poor families.
Nigeria can draw lessons from what is obtainable in the US with a huge range of instruments to assist students with or without low socio-economic backgrounds.
In America, federal student aid is grouped into three; federal aid consists of PELL grants, Stafford loans, and Direct Plus loan; state aid entails merit and need-based scholarships, while institutional aid is the third aspect; according to Alfred Acquah from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
The tuition fees being paid in Nigerian federal universities is poor when compared to what it takes to obtain a similar degree in most developed countries, which understands the benefits of well-funded tertiary institutions.
At Harvard University a new student for an undergraduate course is expected to earn not less than $54,768 (about N27,384,000). How can one reconcile this with the less than N100,000 obtainable in Nigeria in most federal universities?
According to Emmanuel Nnadozie, a professor of economics, there are several broad typologies of financing tertiary education that have been observed across countries.
The first is the government financing model characterised by no or low tuition fees and a generous student support system. This model is common in countries such as Denmark, Finland, Iceland, and Norway among others.
Read also: Local governments and management of primary education fund
The second model, Nnadozie said, is the government and private individuals shared responsibility. This is characterised by high tuition fees and a well-developed student support system. USA, UK, Australia, Canada, Holland, and New Zealand among others are in this group.
To address the insufficient funding of tertiary education in Nigeria, stakeholders can tap into the diaspora via the global knowledge community. They can also consider the education trust fund options and many other sources to be financially independent.
Tertiary institutions should have deans of advancement for university/ industry partnerships.
Besides, there is the need for stakeholders and the government to be willing to share the burden of funding education in Nigeria as it is obvious that the government cannot shoulder it alone any longer.
With the look of things, Nigeria should adopt the model of government and private individuals’ shared responsibility.
A situation where the federal government will insist on funding tertiary to meet selfish ends does not augur well for the country. This is so because, despite the funding trends, available statistics suggest that the provision and access to tertiary education in Nigeria have remained low and worrisome,” the professor said.