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Nigerian higher education reforms: A solution for rising youth unemployment?

Nigerian higher education institutions must rise to the occasion and provide young people with more than just a paper degree, says Taibat Hussain

In the last few years, there has been an increased demand for higher education in Nigeria. This demand has been  driven by a rapidly rising youth population and the desire to improve employment opportunities. According to popular studies and statistics, higher education should mean that young people have higher employability,  However, in the case of Nigeria, this is far from the truth. 

HIGHER EDUCATION FOR BETTER JOBS?

For young people in Nigeria, despite higher educational achievements, employment opportunities are scarce. While one can argue that the economic repercussions of COVID 19 have contributed greatly to the declining numbers of employed youth, graduate unemployment has been on the rise since 2018, pointing towards a more deep-seated, systemic flaw in the education system of the country.  COVID-19 has revealed deep fault lines in the Nigerian education system, making it essential to address unemployment in Nigeria with targeted policy interventions. 

Education institutions are seen as important places  for young people to gain skills and experiences, but year after year, the system continues to under-perform.”

Despite the large number of Nigerian higher education institutions, and the thousands of young graduates it churns out annually, the return on investment in education in terms of job prospects remains low. Education institutions are seen as important places  for young people to gain skills and experiences, but year after year, the system continues to underperform. A large number of these institutions, especially those funded and managed by the government, fall short of  expectations – they are  underfunded, utilise  outdated resources and curriculums,  failing to keep pace with changing dynamics of the labour market and fast-paced economy. 

DISRUPTIONS IN EDUCATION

The education sector is also subject to recurrent strikes that oftentimes damages students’ the quality of education. Recently, the Nigeria Academic Staff  Union of Universities (ASUU) embarked on an indefinite industrial strike due to months of unpaid dues. Unless working conditions for teachers and staff are improved in response to their demands, future generations are likely to suffer. Disruptions in the academic cycle means that many students end up spending more years in school than required, this limits the kind of graduate jobs they can apply to due to the age sensitivity of Nigeria labour market. 

According to  research by Restless Development, many young Nigerians believe that the education they have received has not prepared them well for the labour market. The COVID 19 pandemic and economic fluctuations have compounded the problem. Amidst widespread downsizing, pay cuts and layoffs, young people seeking work are facing stiff competition because of the limited job opportunities available. 

CURRICULUM REFORMS

In order to ensure that the skills and knowledge young people gain through education align with the demands of the labour market, Nigerian higher education institutions must go through a complete overhaul. There is an urgent need to move away from outdated  curriculums that are overly theoretical towards courses that are better  suited to the changing labour market dynamics. According to Andreas Schleicher, Director of Education and Skills at the OECD, it is important to think more systematically about what we want to achieve from curriculum design, instead of continuing to add more “things” to what is being taught, as is the norm with many tertiary institutions in Nigeria.

In a higher  education setting, soft skills, IT skills, entrepreneurial and business skills are often not taught, but are necessary for young people to transition into the labour market and find  work. According to several employers, there is a mismatch between the skills learnt in university and the skills required to find jobs. Institutions need to integrate these essential skills into formal education to ensure that young people well prepared for the work available 

A complete shift from in-person to online teaching has provided higher education institutions the opportunity to assess their fundamental structure and organisation. Perhaps now is the perfect time to their existing curriculum, and work alongside  employers, governments, civil society organisations to understand what skills are important in the Nigeria context and what skills should be included in young people’s learning.

THE ROAD AHEAD

Besides a shift in curriculum, institutions must invest in keeping up-to-date with newer technologies to ensure that students can continue to learn regardless of physical barriers to education. Lecturers and educators too should be continually trained on utilising new teaching methods to make learning interactive. Placement cells in universities should support and facilitate students’ transition into the labour market by initiating and encouraging skill development. 

The higher education sector needs urgent improvement to ensure young Nigerians do not fall further behind their peers across the globe.”

The higher education sector needs urgent improvement to ensure young Nigerians do not fall further behind their peers across the globe. An underperforming education system coupled with neglectful administration has failed millions of young people, and we need systematic change across the country to redress the problem. It is well due for institutions to look beyond providing students with a customary degree and instead begin to help them build a strong skill-set to find suitable employment.

Taibat Hussain

Taibat Hussain

Taibat recently completed a MSc in Development Economics at SOAS University of London, under the Commonwealth Shared Scholarship scheme. Her research interests lie in education, work, inequality, women advancement and youth development. She is an active member of SOAS Feminist Economics Network; she tweets at @aduragbataibat

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Nigerian higher education reforms: A solution for rising youth unemployment?

by Taibat Hussain Reading time: 3 min
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