Nigeria lags in race to expand access to tertiary education, global competitiveness

With a public university system battling to stabilize after months of industrial action by lecturers, Africa’s most populous nation Nigeria can learn lessons from Mauritius, Cape Verde and Seychelles in the race to expand access to tertiary education as one way of promoting job creation and global competitiveness. Data from the Institute of Statistics of UNESCO have revealed.

According to the report Continental Overview: Bridging Continental Strategy for Africa and Sustainable Development Goal 4 in Africa published in January, Mauritius, with a gross enrolment ratio of about 40.6 percent, has increased its access to higher education more than any other country in Sub-saharan Africa.

Cape Verde at 23.6 percent has the highest tertiary gross enrolment ratio in West Africa.

Nigeria with a 10.2 percent access figure continues to be shaded by other West Africa countries like Ghana 17.2 percent and Senegal 13.1 percent

Gross enrolment ratio for tertiary education is the total enrolment in tertiary education, regardless of age expressed as a percentage of the population in the five-year age group immediately following upper secondary education.

Silvia Montoya, director of the UNESCO Institute for Statistics says the new report is expected to give countries an overview of the progress they are making in providing quality education.

The new datasets have exposed the highly skewed access to university education in Africa, not just among countries, but also regionally.

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They have also revealed that, in spite of massification in the past two decades, Africa’s higher education sector is still lagging behind other global regions.

According to the Continental Education Strategy for Africa’s (CESA 2016-2025) position paper, many countries are still pushing to reverse the proportion of the fields and disciplines in favour of science and technology, as the current landscape continues to be dominated by humanities and social sciences.

“Post-graduate education remains underdeveloped and its contribution to research and innovation remains minuscule,” states the African Union’s strategy paper for education.

What is also in question is how African countries, especially those in Sub-saharan Africa can absorb the massive number of graduates of the secondary education systems without compromising quality, when the existing universities are overcrowded and most academic facilities overstretched.

University education systems in Africa are also reeling under an ageing population of professors, with most of them expected to retire soon.

What this implies is that there is a need for a hasty renewal of the teaching force, probably even before planning for a massive influx of high school graduates.

“Although UNESCO’S report was meant to be a wakeup call for African countries to become aware that they are falling behind the higher education targets as projected in CESA 2016-2025 and Sustainable Development Goal Four, the new datasets could be a panic bell indicating that all is not well in the agenda and processes of promoting access to university education in most countries on the continent”, Montoya said.

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