Funding Higher Education in Nigeria; Confronting Inherent Challenges


Monday, January 10, 2022 / 09:12 AM / by FDC Ltd / Header Image Credit: Irish Times


Nigeria is home to one of the world's most youthful populations - 14th largest in the world.1 As a result, there is a high number of university applicants. In 2020, a total of 1,949,983 people applied to universities across the country via the Joint Admissions Matriculation Board (JAMB) entrance tests, this is 17.27% above what was recorded in the previous year. Noteworthy is the fact that JAMB is currently trying to clear a backlog of 706,189 illegal admissions. Higher education not only enhances the living standards of individuals through access to better-paid jobs, it also has the potential to increase productivity and enhance economic growth through research and innovation. Despite a significant demand for higher education in Nigeria, it remains underfunded – impeding the education system in its function as a growth catalyst.


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Failure of the current model

The government, which relies on the performance of the oil sector, is a key player in the funding of education in Nigeria. It is no news that Nigeria is an oil-exporting economy and its earnings are mostly dependent on the performance of the oil sector. The oil sector contributes over 65% of the government's total revenue.2 The drawback with this revenue model is that oil earnings, on which the government is strongly reliant, is very vulnerable to volatilities in the global oil market.


The recent emergence of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 sent oil prices plunging 20.85% to $67.28pb from a peak of $85pb. In Q3'21, the oil sector's contribution to GDP fell 1.24% to 7.49% from 8.73% in 2020 due to lower oil production.3 In addition to lower oil earnings, volatile exchange rates, an expanding debt service burden, a growing population of students in all educational institutions and the rising cost of state administrations, have also hindered the government from meeting its financial obligations satisfactorily. This has resulted in ongoing squabbles between the government and the Academic Staff Union of Universities in Nigeria (ASUU) over ways of improving the country's deteriorating education infrastructure, teaching, and research standards, as well as saving the higher education system from collapsing.


Underfunding education - How bad can it get?

Insufficient financing has negatively impacted the quality of Nigerian higher education. Schools have been deprived of facilities and infrastructure that should have aided research, innovation, and capacity building. A grossly distorted incentive system manifests in diverse ways like the monthly salary of a Federal University Professor being as low as N400,000, which is less than $1,000. In addition, these salaries are often delayed, further fueling brain drain. In the year 2020, Nigerian students lost nine months of their academic year due to strike actions by ASUU as lecturers went unpaid for upwards of six months.


The lack of funding has also forced students to shoulder additional costs. Students now need to purchase textbooks that were once available in the library. The increased financial pressure puts undue stress on students who are already grappling with constant blackouts, poor internet access and other infrastructure deficiencies, which impair academic performance. This has necessitated students to opt to travel to other countries to continue their education. As a result, Nigeria is dealing with brain drain at the student level as well.


Acknowledging that the government has fallen short of expectations in terms of funding education in Nigeria, is the first step to resolving this debacle. In the last decade, Nigeria has averaged approximately 8.09% for its education allocation. This is a far cry from the 26% benchmark recommended by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).


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Given that higher education in Nigeria has remained deficient in terms of quality, accessibility, and funding, finding other sources becomes imperative. University administrators and direct beneficiaries must devise more aggressive and effective tactics for adequate university funding. Recommended strategies to supplement funding higher education in Nigeria include the following:


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Internally generated revenue: Improving the internally generated revenue of universities can potentially increase the viability of the institution's management. It also helps reduce the heavy dependence on the government. Some of the ways through which this can be done is reintroducing moderate tuition, commercializing research work and undertaking consultancy services.


Public-private partnership (PPP): PPPs involve the collaboration between the government and the private sector in the delivery of high-quality, cost-effective higher education. The United Kingdom introduced their private finance initiatives with the primary purpose of constructing and remodeling schools through leasing agreements and thus, established the Academy Sponsors Trust to acquire private sponsorship.


Many institutions in the United States get considerable funding through competitive grants. As a premier university, Harvard University, for example, earns 30% of its revenue from tuition, 10% from private contributions, and 60% from projects.


Bringing it home

Nigerian banks can lend a hand by building libraries and funding research initiatives. Fintech companies can collaborate with universities by donating information and communication technology (ICT) facilities. Private companies can also build hostels, facilitate scholarships, donate textbooks and other learning aids.



The insufficient funding cycle is a toxic one. Poor funding demoralizes staff, which leads to strikes, and cohort upon cohort of students losing years of their peak employable years. The product of a poorly funded educational system is an economy that suffers due to the production of weak intellectuals, who are not equipped with the critical thinking and hard and soft skills needed to be productive and innovative members of the workplace. As a result, the workplace and ultimately, the economy suffers. This is the reality Nigeria faces. It is imperative that school administrators and other stakeholders seek alternate sources of funding in order to achieve the economic development Nigerians desire.

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