• Tuesday, July 16, 2024
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BusinessDay

Diminishing access to higher education widens Nigeria’s skills gap

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The rising fees structure for higher education and the demand/supply mismatch means over 800,000 young Nigerians may fail to secure admission into a tertiary institution this year, helping to widen the already acute skills shortage.

To develop and sustain competitive advantage, advanced economies like Britain, advocate the creation of a high-skilled and high-waged economy by upgrading education and skills of its workforce.

However, this is with the understanding that creating world-class skill set, serves as the route to national economic prosperity, reduced income inequalities and social cohesion.

Analysts say this requires a larger proportion of workforce with tertiary education and continuing access to lifelong learning opportunities.

In Nigeria however, demand for tertiary education is out of synch with its supply.  “In 2016, about 800,000 candidates will fail to secure admission into Nigerian universities. Working on the premise that about 60 percent will be suitably qualified, we shall have a large army of about 500,000 roaming the streets after the 2015/2016 admission period.

“An annual 8-9 percent increase in the number of candidates who take the UTME will translate into millions who are not able to gain admission. The attendant societal problems from this ‘mark-time’ phenomenon are enormous, “explained Peter Okebukola, chairman, governing council of Crawford University, and former executive secretary of the Nigerian Universities Commission (NUC).

The World Economic Forum’s New Human Capital Report (a metric to assess current stock of human capital and assess opportunity for effective interventions) shows that in sub-Saharan Africa, Mauritius (72) holds the highest position in the region.  While six countries rank between 80 and 100, and another 17 countries from Africa rank below 100 in the index.   

South Africa is in 92nd place and Kenya at 101. The region’s most populous country, Nigeria (120) is among the bottom three in the region, while the second most populous country, Ethiopia, is in 115th place.

Innovative ideas and technical expertise hold the key to the new global competitive advantage.  Economies in Eastern Europe and Asia are fast becoming appendages of high-skilled economies with positive developmental consequences.

Analysts say no economy can long endure in the 21st century knowledge-technology-driven economy, when it continues to rely on creating low-skilled jobs or citizens without the skills to compete in the global economy.

BusinessDay investigations show two major factors account for diminishing access to tertiary education: financial burden on parents, and the carrying capacity of tertiary education institutions.   

Nancy Onuoha, a high school leaver who graduated with six distinctions in all science subjects and three credits in others, highlights this problem in an interview.   

“My mother is a petty trader and didn’t complete her junior secondary school. My father worked for a construction company as a day labourer but has since lost the job. My parents want me to attend university and I want to read Chemical Engineering. This dream might not be realised. I might probably end up a seamstress because my parents cannot afford it,” Onuoha said.

In some African countries like Ghana, there exists a students’ loans scheme to aid brilliant willing students like Nancy, who cannot afford the cost of tuition and boarding.   

“I am a proud beneficiary of the Students Loan Trust Fund. It provided me the opportunity to be more conscious and responsible for my studies, rather than going to and fro in search for money to cater for my expenses. Further, the loan reduced the financial burden on my parents as I used most of it to purchase my books, food, and even pay my accommodation fees,” said Georgina Tindan, a computer science student at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Ghana.

Okebukola says students’ loan schemes will be of help.  “You may wish to know that these loan schemes existed in the past in Nigeria and had to be wound up since repayment rate was pitifully low.

“ Beneficiary’s evaded re-payment, claiming it is part of their share of the national cake. I am not sure that this posture among our students has changed. Besides, in the absence of a reliable national ID scheme, tracing beneficiaries will be a hassle. Even now, this phenomenon plays out in the high volume of bad loans that our banks incur,” affirmed Okebukola.

STEPHEN ONYEKWELU