University education is a more profitable investment than the average returns on the stock or bond market.
By “return” we mean the increase in your wages relative to not attending university. The improved employability of university graduates drives this.
In 2018, 54% of Nigeria’s labour force with post-secondary education had formal wage paying jobs. Compared with a third of students with secondary education.
But how about the remaining 46% of graduates?
Almost 10% are engaged in farming activities, 5% are unpaid house workers, and around 20% are “self-employed” in non-farm related work.
A significant number didn't even make it to the labour force. 2018 data showed that 25% of graduates are unemployed.
While the harsh job market is a significant factor, Nigerian university students are also not competitive globally. We hear stories of Nigerian companies requesting for “foreign-trained” students - illustrating that the quality of education is an important factor we can’t ignore in the discourse.
University rankings such as the Times Higher Education (THE) world university ranking provide measures for assessing the quality of education in our institutions. These rankings use a range of metrics and arrive at an average score to determine the ranking of each university.
One of such metrics is the Student to Teacher Ratio (STR), which shows if a school has enough teachers for the number of students that enrol in it.
This is one of the main indicators for measuring the quality of education. The logic being that with fewer students per teacher, more attention and time is spent on average per individual.
The top 15 universities in the world have their STR ratio between 6:1 and 12:1. In Nigeria, the average STR for the top universities is 16:1.
While there is no universally acceptable number for the student to teacher ratio globally, our higher ratio suggests that our students could be receiving less one-on-one time.
Another indicator for quality is the frequency of researchers’ citations in other research papers in Elsevier Scopus indexed journals - which is the largest database for peer-reviewed literature.
The idea here is that citing an academic paper acknowledges the relevance and quality of the research done. THE uses the citation to rank institutions affiliated with the author(s) of the research paper that has contributed to “human knowledge.”
THE examined 77.4 million citations made between 2014 and 2019. It created a standardised score out of a 100 to measure the number of times an institution was cited.
Unsurprisingly, the top 5 universities had citation scores of about 97 to 100.
Meanwhile, of the four Nigerian universities that featured in THEs recent top 500 universities list, Covenant University and the University of Ibadan scored 78, while the University of Nigeria and Lagos achieved 19 and 59 respectively.
Ahmadu Bello University
Source: Atlas Network via Flickr
The metrics are not always applicable
A word of caution, though. Writing great research papers, which are cited by other scholars does not necessarily mean that the same knowledge is being passed down to the students.
In many ways, the focus on research takes a teacher’s attention away from their students. Most times, citations are routes to achieving promotions, which also makes research less about the teaching and more about the writing.
According to Covenant University’s appointment and promotion criteria, the university only accepts Scopus indexed journals and conferences as the criteria for their promotion exercise.
The criteria document explains that consideration for a lecturer’s next position requires gathering a certain number of points per publication.
While these metrics are useful to show the research prowess of a university, they do not entirely show the full picture of the quality of education that students receive.
So let’s focus more on the outcomes of graduates; specifically, on their level of employability.
The British council carried out a study in Sub-Saharan Africa to measure the quality of graduates.
In Nigeria, they found a significant “skills mismatch” between employer requirements and graduates’ display of skills in the workplace. Mainly, there were significant gaps in communication, IT, decision making and critical thinking skills.
These are skills that help graduates think creatively and independently outside of their degrees. The top universities challenge their students through case studies, preclass learnings and other interactive experiences which give them a glimpse of real-life experiences.
“In Covenant, I don’t think I really did any critical thinking; most of the assignments asked you to define something or explain something. I didn’t really do any in-depth research on it, and I graduated with a first-class. But in Manchester, you have to do your reading before the class so you can participate in the class conversations and assignments were actual essays or case studies which required that you do proper critical thinking,” says Chidera Mbelede, a graduate of Covenant University and the University of Manchester.
Currently, the Nigerian learning experience is not providing enough of the right skills for the world after graduation.
Library in New York
Source: Robert Bye via Unsplash
Teach the teachers, teach the students.
When we look at the student-teacher ratio, citations, and skill mismatch issues, several things have to change.
Some are structural. For example, the government will need to address the current capacity issues at Nigerian universities.
A third of eligible applicants from secondary school are unable to enter the university because of a lack of space. With cramped campuses, there is less room for students to get time with their teachers.
Another fundamental problem is the current learning curriculum. Evidently, more skills that are required by employers need to be included in Nigerian university education. This ranges from more emphasis on IT skills to exercises that test communication and improve critical thinking.
Finally, teachers need to be improved.
The requirements for landing a role as a lecturer in Nigeria is not very different from other countries. It mostly starts by having a masters’ degree or PhD and publishing research papers in journals.
However, just like any other graduate, a lecturer who passes through the Nigerian education system has already gone through a system which does not adequately prepare them for the job market.
Therefore, to solve the skills gap that exists, it’s important to ensure that even with the required qualifications, a lecturer should have the ability to teach or incorporate the relevant desired skills in their classes.
The last point is on salaries. For teachers to be in the best position to teach students at a high quality, they need not be worried about getting paid. Lecturers’ salaries are inconsistent, and some of them go as long as 13 months without getting paid.
This often leads to strikes, which are detrimental to both teacher and student.
When you’re not getting paid, quality is bound to suffer.
Lecturers need to be better prioritised. Their impact on not just education, but the rest of the economy is significant.
With quality teaching, you empower and improve other sectors through the graduates that end up being employed in them. A high-quality graduate enhances the output of their employers while increasing the chances of a better income.
Without quality education, all sectors in the economy suffer.
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