Speaking at UUKi’s Transnational education conference 2021+, Nigerian high commissioner to the United Kingdom Sarafa Tunji Isola noted there is “ample room for improvement” for cooperation with the UK’s biggest TNE partner in Sub-Saharan Africa.
“Our expectation is that the bilateral cooperation on education between Nigeria and the UK should be deepened”
In 2019/20, 4,368 students studying degrees in Nigeria through TNE, a 20% increase from 3,615 the previous year, he said.
“Our expectation is that the bilateral cooperation on education between Nigeria and the UK should be deepened, using all the system mechanisms and platforms such as ongoing negotiation between UUKi and the Association of Vice-chancellors of Nigerian Universities,” he stated.
“I am very optimistic that the ongoing negotiation… will greatly improve our relations,” he added.
“We would like to see UK universities supporting Nigerian universities through educational exchanges and entering into other collaborative ventures in their areas of research, capacity building and digital technology. These will enhance the quality of education in Nigeria.”
Deputy pro vice chancellor (International) at University of Sussex and chair of UUKi Sub-Saharan Africa Network, Richard Follett, said that academics in both countries co-authored more than 5,000 publications between 2015 and 2020.
Additionally, more than 13,000 Nigerian students were studying at UK universities in 2019/20, he said.
Of the 4,368 TNE students studying UK degrees in Nigeria in 2019/20, 3,655 were undertaking UK degrees through distance learning and 80% of Nigeria-based UK TNE students were at the postgraduate level.
“There is potential for growth in onsite collaborative provision, working with our Nigerian partners, delivering in country and through blended forms, of course, particularly at the undergraduate level, but I think there is also growth in the postgraduate space too,” Follett said.
While attempts look to enhance quality, there is also the need to boost capacity – where TNE can play a role, stakeholders suggested.
“Nigeria has a higher education sector that is facing enormous challenges, with far too many applicants chasing far too few university places”
The University of London caters to some 4,000 TNE students across 48 of Africa’s 54 countries, Mike Winter OBE, director of Global Engagement at the University of London Worldwide highlighted, with Nigeria accounting for around 14% of students.
“Nigeria has a higher education sector that is facing enormous challenges, with far too many applicants chasing far too few university places, and there is a risk that that gap will continue to widen. Since Nigeria’s population of 213 million is growing at a rate of more than 3% and if that is sustained, it means that it will pretty much double in just a few decades now,” he said.
With the foundation of the University of Ibadan in 1948 marking the first university in the country, Nigeria established more in the 1960s after independence and currently has 45 federal, 48 state and 79 private universities, the ambassador to the UK noted.
“Despite the obvious growth in the number of universities and institutions in Nigeria, higher education has been bedevilled by all manners of challenges,” Sarafa Tunji Isola explained, with greatest being the issue of funding.
“Whereas private universities and colleges have been better funded, the government institutions all require adequate funding to address the myriad of challenges facing the institutions.
While budget allocations to education have usually been close to 5 trillion Naira, in 2021 N742.5bn was allocated to education. N875.93bn is earmarked for the ministry of education in 2022.
“In other words, government funding of the universities have been great impaired,” he said.
“This year’s low allocation can be attributed to dwindling government revenue impacted by the low price of crude oil which is the mainstay of the Nigerian economy on the global market and the coronavirus pandemic,” the ambassador added.
“It is in this vain that the NUC colleagues… are beginning to outline their government’s guidelines on liberalising transnational education”
Follett also pointed to the pivotal role of the National Universities Commission.
“It’s stated mission is to ensure an orderly development of a well-coordinated and productive university system. It is in this vain that the NUC colleagues… are beginning to outline their government’s guidelines on liberalising transnational education, and we eagerly look forward to those guidelines being widely disseminated once they’ve been formally approved.”
Over five years, Sussex has partnered with the NUC on capacity building projects, he added, to work on staff development initiatives in the field of pedagogy.
“It’s about cultivating and supporting locally-rooted, locally-based innovation systems, ecosystems that allow and encourage both transnational collaboration, but also add to the strength and capacity of the Nigerian higher education system.
“Developing this kind of innovation ecosystem or the system to system collaboration, I think, is absolutely pivotal,” he said.
The University of London embarked on a multi-year engagement in the development of open and distance learning in 2017, Winter added.
“The NUC believes that Online and Distance Learning is vital for Nigeria for one fundamental and very obvious reason; it is the most feasible and affordable way in which the country can meet current and future needs for higher education,” he said.
“Nigeria’s plans for increasing the scale of university teaching through the accelerated use of ODL are therefore enormously ambitious. They have to be. But despite strong foundations on which to build in some institutions, the rate at which ODL can be scaled up nationally is inevitably limited by the availability of skilled practitioners on the one hand, and institutional experience on the other.
“Our work, therefore has been aimed at accelerating this process by focusing on capacity building through staff and institutional development and support has been very deliberately focussed on senior and middle management level.”