I had been thinking about writing something on e-Learning and how it could shape the future of education in Nigeria but it is hard to discuss topics other than politics during the campaign season. However, when I came across the following tweet a few days ago I was motivated to do a little research and write this short piece:
@fimiletoks: University education is a privilege even in developed parts of the world. Basic education is a fundamental human right. Right to free and compulsory primary education. Right to available and accessible secondary education (including technical and vocational education and training), made progressively free. ASUU should realise that in the scheme of play, they are on the lowest rung of the ladder. The least of our worries.
In tweeting his musings on the ASUU/Fed Govt imbroglio that has become a permanent fixture in our tertiary education calendar the author also echoed the thoughts of many including yours truly. He went ahead to suggest that the federal government should quit subsidizing tertiary education which is supposed to be a privilege and focus more on providing basic and secondary education which should be a fundamental human right for every citizen.
Historically, governments have played a dominant role in funding tertiary education, especially in Africa where the need to bridge the gap created by departing expatriate civil servants at the wake of independence from colonial masters necessitated governments input. The exigency to train a group of professionals was well appreciated thus in the early 1970s the federal government abolished school fees in all the six federal universities and took up the task of funding them.
With the subsequent discovery of oil and the attendant boom witnessed by the Nigerian economy, all the federal universities in the country were fully and adequately funded precipitating an increase in the demand for higher education, which in turn led to the establishment of additional tertiary institutions. Consequently, the government’s allocation to universities has continued to increase. This trend has continued to date.
As a matter of fact, a study titled “Higher Education Funding in Nigeria — Issues, Trends and Opportunities” presented at the 2016 International Business Information Management Association Conference in Milan, Italy revealed that the appropriation to federal universities rose from N10 billion in 1999 to over N223 billion in 2013. The average allocation per university equally increased from N500 million to over N5 billion in the same period.
However, a combination of factors such as inflation and the geometric increase in student population has ensured that these increments amount to little. Between 1990 and 1997, the real value of government allocation for university education declined by 27 per cent even as enrollment grew by 77 per cent. In other words, there’s been a lot of movement without commensurate motion or better still backward motion. What’s more, the pressure and competition for limited public resources from other sectors of the economy; including sub-sectors of education have greatly hindered the ability of successive governments to fulfil its funding obligation to these universities. These and other reasons have been responsible for the incessant ASUU strikes embarked on by lecturers in a bid to force the government to meet its commitments.
If we are to go with the Nigeria Universities Commission which put the cost of training an undergraduate to full accreditation at over N1 million per annum, then with about two million enrolled nationwide, funding university education will cost N2 trillion annually. This figure is more than double the total budgetary allocation for the health and education ministries combined. And with the Babalakin led negotiation team standing its ground in the current impasse it has become imperative for us to explore other ways of funding higher education especially now that the demand has moved beyond quantitative to qualitative education. The government is therefore left with no other option than to partner with the private sector if Nigeria is to avoid a total collapse of our already haemorrhaging tertiary institutions.
This much Vice President Osinbajo alluded to in a recent workshop when he stated that “while government funding is important and critical, it is not the only source of funding for education — the second source of funding is from non-governmental sources — these include contributions from sources such as school charges, private donations, corporate sponsors, alumni associations, charitable and faith-based associations and among others.’’
Now while some will criticise the idea of the federal government pulling the plug on tertiary education subsidy as being a capitalist proposition, others will question the rationality of implementing such in Nigeria where an average citizen lives on less than $2 a day. However, the more important posers beg; how has the socialist approach improved the standard of education in our tertiary institutions? How has it improved the quality of graduates churned out annually by our universities? Your guess is as good as mine here.
The world has been reshaped by the internet and e-Learning is already integrated into education in developed nations. Nigeria cannot continue grappling with the paradox of spiralling cost and the declining standard of education at a time when China is teaching 5-year old pupils coding.
It is time for the government and ASUU to agree on a gradual withdrawal of subsidy from our universities. This will free up funds that will be invested in the provision of basic, vocational and technical education. Partnering with the private sector to invest massively in e-learning will help to achieve this. The benefits are too numerous for the scope of this piece but it will be proper to list a few.
E-Learning makes higher education more accessible to unique populations such as parents with children, service personnel, students with full-time jobs and those with disabilities. It is also cost saving as it eliminates the often expensive logistics of having the lecturer and students in the same location. I just finished a six-week creative writing course with all the study materials and coursework delivered online.
And gone are the days when it used to be referred to as informal or distance education to be looked down on by employers. More Ivy options are also springing up as the demand for cost-effective alternatives continue to rise. From Cambridge to Yale to Harvard you can now earn a certificate from the dining table in your kitchen and still deploy the knowledge gained competitively among peers who studied in the classroom.
So as we as we march on in our democratic journey it is expected that the next few years will present opportunities for investors and students alike in e-Learning as the federal government continues the search for alternative funding. I have already earmarked courses to study in order to maximise these opportunities as they come and I will be doing a follow-up article on the requisite resources. Keep a date with me for a ride into the future with e-Learning.