It is no longer news that the corruption-soaked Nigerian education sector has fallen deep into a state of disrepair, over the years. In a country where teachers are not being taken care of, not properly trained, and owed months and years of salaries, the direct implication is certainly what we have now in Nigeria – a scary one.

For a sector which has become the means through which foreign nations continue to determine the “progress”, or otherwise, of Africans, it is quite surprising that the situation is being taken with such reckless abandon. Students’ quests for foreign education has constituted a great deal of financial drain to the continent, especially because the diasporas tend not to transform the brain drain to brain gain.

As at 2015, Nigeria had about 125 universities and yet, majority of the students seeking admission to higher education could not have access, as less than half gained admission into the universities. As aptly captured by the Brookings Institute, Nigeria has one of the world’s lowest levels of social spending, resulting in poor school infrastructure, lack of school maintenance, inadequate learning materials, and ill-qualified teachers. According to the annual report of the Central Bank of Nigeria (2015), expenditure on education fell by 45.7 %.

Students’ brain drain, money drain and the implication for development

According to the 2016 UNESCO Institute for Statistics, the number of African students seeking higher education abroad grew from 343,370 (in 2006) to 427,311 (in 2014) constituting about 24 % growth in students’ mobility abroad. From 2013 to 2014 alone, it rose by 9%. Of the all the countries sending students abroad, Nigeria occupies the topmost position with 71,351 students. Nigerian students constituted about a quarter of all the United States enrolled African students (IIE Open Doors 2016). The outbound students from Nigeria grew by 45% from 2010 to 2013, with the United Kingdom being the highest recipient of 17,973 constituting more than 25% of all Nigerian student migrants. Nigeria is one of the top ten countries sending students to the UK. The other top destinations that have received over 2,000 Nigerian students are Ghana (13,919 [19.5 %]), the United States of America (9,786 [13.7 %]), Malaysia (4,943 [6.9 %]), Ukraine (3,328 [4.7 %]), Canada (3,257 [4.6 %]), and South Africa (2,525 [3.5 %]).

For Nigeria and its economic challenges, this large number of students definitely causes a drain on the economy. This is more so that most of these students attend the UK universities considered to have the highest average student tuition fees in the industrialized world. This is apart from the living expenses and accommodation. On the average, international undergraduate students pay an annual £13,394 for classroom taught courses, £15,034 and £24,169 respectively for laboratory and clinical courses. Postgraduate students pay, on the average, £13,442, £15,638 and £20,956, respectively for classroom, laboratory and clinical based courses. Master of Business Administration (MBA) students pay £18,226 on the average. According to the UK’s National Union of Students (NUS), the average annual cost of living outside of London for students is £12,056. To study in London, students would have paid about £15,180 annually. For visa purposes, international students pay about £1,265 for each month of stay while those outside London pay about £1,015 per month in order to prove that they can cover cost of living in the UK.

It takes an average of about $33,000 per student to study in the USA. This is about ₦12,177,000 (calculated at ₦369 to a dollar) per student annually. For the more than 10,000 Nigerian students in the USA, the total cost is about more than ₦15 billion annually per student. This brings the total amount of money drained abroad to about 92% of the total budget for all educational levels in the Nigerian educational system in 2016.

One can imagine how much is drained out of the nation when the costs of all foreign students are calculated. And in a nation where the minimum wage is N19, 800, one would have thought that only those in the very high echelon of the Nigerian society are the ones who can afford to send their children abroad. But, this is not totally true! Students of not so wealthy parents also struggle to travel out for foreign education.

The need to prevent this huge economic Loss

Indeed, Nigeria’s public tertiary institutions remain in perpetual deteriorating condition in spite of the efforts at increasing capacity by building more universities. The institutions are severely overcrowded with sky-rocketing student to teacher ratios and chronic faculty shortages.

In saner societies, we have the best of minds being teachers, ensuring that the chain of knowledge is not polluted by some incapable hands. In Nigeria, teachers are the most indigent, most derided lot in the polity. The decline in the value of teachers is indeed a troubling one.

So, one wonders whether it is possible for the diasporas to come back to work in the state in which these universities are. This is more so that the fears of the diasporas cannot be allayed given the enormity of challenges they would face if they come home. Some of these challenges include, but are not limited to, corruption, political patronage, security risks, lack of access to productive inputs, lack of sufficient government stimulus, inconsistent government policies, high rate of unemployment, low wages and poor state or lack of infrastructure.

Overcrowding at institutions and inadequate funding resources are contributing factors to the decline in the quality of higher education. The system has far outgrown the resources available to it to continue offering high-level quality education. Other factors contributing to the decline in quality are the unstable environment due to frequent strikes by students or staff, the quality of students admitted to programs, and the quality of the academics recruited. These factors need to be taken into consideration in rethinking quality promotion.

As noted by a corruption scholar, “limited access to education has no doubt contributed to the use of bribes and personal connections to gain coveted places at universities, with some admissions officials reportedly working with agents to obtain bribes from students. In 2013, Transparency International reported that about 30 percent of Nigerians surveyed said they had paid a bribe in the education sector.

Extremely worrying is also that something as basic as electricity is still lacking in Nigeria! In 2018! This makes teaching and learning extremely uncomfortable and cumbersome. Foreign schools have the edge over Nigerian higher institutions, as they have constant electricity and a peaceful atmosphere, among other basic amenities which often suit the desire of an average Nigerian.

Until Nigeria fixes issues on corruption, electricity, budget planning, intelligent prioritization and channeling of resources, the hope that more and more youths, our financial and human manpower will not be sold to foreign lands, is indeed a pipe dream.

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