The scarcity of foreign exchange, which has made foreign tuition fees more expensive, and the incessant strikes by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) are forcing more parents to opt for private universities.
In an interview with BusinessDay, Serena Marcus, a 16-year-old secondary school certificate holder said her parents now want to send her to Afe Babalola University, a private school in Ekiti State as FX scarcity scuttled the initial plan of studying abroad.
“The tuition is very expensive now. They would not be able to handle it because they are already paying for my older sister’s tuition fee who has been studying in Canada for about three years,” Marcus said.
Sandra Chukwuemeka, a parent, said her children who would have travelled to Europe to study computer science and aeronautic engineering cannot go again because of the worsening exchange rate.
According to her, the family has resolved to have the two children study for their first degrees in Nigeria then later go abroad for their Master’s degrees.
Many parents and guardians are turning to private universities to ensure that their children get the best education possible.
On August 5, at the official market, the exchange rate between the naira and the US dollar closed at N430/$1, an increase of 23.95 percent from 327/$1 in March 2020.While at the parallel market, it closed at N670/$1, an increase of 45.07 percent from N368/$1 in March 2020.
According to a survey of the annual average tuition fees, from foreign education publications, Canada’s average fee is $22,500, followed by the United Kingdom ($31,380) and the United States ($34,200), depending on the university and the course.
By estimating the amount in naira, using the official market rate, Canada’s average tuition fee is N9.7 million, N13.5 million for the United Kingdom and N14.7 million for the US. This is many times costlier than many private universities whose average tuition fees are around N700, 000-N3million per session depending on the course.
The surge in FX has also affected the number of Nigerian students seeking admission into universities in the US.
Data from Institute of International Education show that it reduced to 12,860 in the 2020/21 session, its first decline in three years from 13,762 in the 2019/20 academic year.
“Over the past three years, there have been quite a number of parents who have withdrawn their children who are studying in the US and other countries, thereby putting them into private universities,” Moses Ojo, a Lagos-based economic analyst, said.
Ojo said that it was not surprising because the difficulty in sourcing for foreign exchange, volatility in exchange rate and uncertainty that persists in the exchange rate environment has made it too difficult to pay school fees.
Apart from the FX, public universities are frequently shuttling between strikes, and an ongoing one for almost six months discourages parents from letting their children study in those schools.
Stanley Boroh, a lecturer at Federal University, Otuoke, Bayelsa State, said considering the current trend of incessant strike actions by ASUU as a result of paltry budgetary in education, and the overall poor state of the Nigerian education system, the standards of the Nigerian schools have been thwarted.
“Private universities have thus upgraded in a bid to take advantage of the rot in public schools, hence raising their bar to nearly the standards of the foreign schools,” Boroh said.
The private university system, having suffered an initial setback in the 1980s, has renewed success today because of failures of the public university system to adequately address multiple problems such as access, quality, funding, strikes, cultism, and stability of the academic calendar, which the private system has been able to overcome more effectively.
Until 1999, only public, government-owned universities existed in Nigeria. Babcock University, Ilishan-Remo; Madonna University Okija; and Igbinedion University, Okada were the first three private universities to launch in 1999.
But 21 years later, that number has increased to 111 private universities in Nigeria, higher than 106 public universities, according to the National Universities Commission.
A further analysis shows that in recent years, private universities have been established more than the public ones. For example in 2021, a total of 20 private universities were set up against a total of eight public ones. And this year so far, 12 private universities have been established while none has been recorded for public schools.
“Parents who can afford it will take their children to private universities because they are not affected by the strike and are a bit cheaper than international schools abroad,” said Akin Benjamin, a Lagos-based education consultant.
He added: “Private universities may not be up to the level of the European one but at least schools like Covenant, Afe Babalola and Babcock are of good standard.”
Analysts say the deteriorating state of the public university education system is a boon for more investment in private university education.
“Over the years, there have been concerns over the quality of output of public varsities as their graduates have been found to lack basic employability skills,” said Damilola Adewale, a Lagos-based economic analyst.
Adewale added that invariably, the establishment of more private universities that would provide relatively affordable albeit quality education could as well help improve the employability prospects of fresh graduates in the Nigerian job market.