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Nigeria proposes free tertiary education in science, technology

The President of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, has announced plans to make tertiary education in the fields of science, technology and education free, in his speech on the country’s budget.

Photo: US Institute of PeacePhoto: US Institute of Peace

"Indeed, this will mark a historic milestone for us as a nation"

Buhari laid out this and other plans for the country’s education sector at the 2016 budget speech, given to the National Assembly last month.

“The challenge will be to ensure that they have the quality of teaching staff on the ground to deliver this pledge”

He announced that the government is working with development partners to design “an implementable and transparent conditional cash transfer programme for the poorest and most vulnerable”.

“In the coming weeks, we will present the full programme, which will include our home-grown public primary school feeding and free education for science, technology and education students in our tertiary institutions,” he said.

“Indeed, this will mark a historic milestone for us as a nation.”

Dubbed the “Budget of Change”, Buhari proposed a budget of N6.08tr ($30.5bn), of which N369.6bn ($1.8bn) will be spent on education.

Stuart Rennie, managing director of SJRennie Consulting, which focuses on African markets, said free tertiary education for students studying science, technology and education could encourage more Nigerian students to go into these fields.

“Buhari and his government are aware that they can no longer rely on the price of oil to sustain their economy,” he told The PIE News.

“They need to reverse the brain drain that has been flowing out of Nigeria and look to provide education opportunities to all levels of society in the STEM subjects.”

“This in the future will allow Nigeria to start investing in its own manufacturing and engineering industries, without having to buy in expertise and capacity from overseas.”

According to Rennie, capacity issues, along with delivering “work ready graduates with the right skills set”, are key challenges for Nigeria, and are motivating Nigerian students to study overseas.

“The challenge will be to ensure that they have the quality of teaching staff on the ground to deliver this pledge,” he said.

The same capacity issues could prevent higher education institutions from seeing the massive pull towards these subjects, said Bukky Awofisayo, regional manager at UKEAS in Nigeria.

“I think problems to be solved alongside or before the free tuition is to improve quality of offering and learning facilities at tertiary institutions and provision of more institutions to absorb more postsecondary school leaving students,” she said.

However she acknowledged the funding is a welcome move from the government.

“I believe it’s a step in the right direction to start to fix our education and institutional problems”

“Given the chunk allocated to education in the 2016 budget, I believe it’s a step in the right direction to start to fix our education and institutional problems,” she added.

Folabi Obembe, owner of Worldview Events, which organises education fairs across Africa, said that because students are “paying little or perhaps nothing for education in most federal universities, free education in this subject area will only make the subject popular but not attractive to students”.

“Also, the institutions are currently oversubscribed and hard to manage an ever-stretched resources making the quality of education in federal and state owned institutions decreasing,” he said.

Obembe also added that “the Nigeria government must implement policies that give the impetus for quality, by modelling teaching and learning to meet the challenge of the current world and its future development”.

“They must be built from a clear vision of the impact Nigeria seeks to achieve through education.”

Also as part of the budget, Buhari said that as an emergency measure, the government will partner with state and local governments “to recruit, train and deploy 500,000 unemployed graduates and NCE [Nigerian Certificate in Education] holders”.

This will be introduced in order to address the shortage of teachers in public schools across the country.

“These graduate teachers will be deployed to primary schools, thereby, enhancing the provision of basic education especially in our rural areas,” he said in his speech to the National Assembly.

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