Minister proposes extra year for university students

In a bid to address the country’s graduate unemployment crisis, students in Nigeria may have to spend an extra year at university to obtain the necessary skills required for the labour market.

The proposal, made by Minister of State for Education, Professor Anthony Onwuka on 8 May at a recent retreat for the Governing Council of Federal Universities, marks the first time in recent years that a high-ranking federal government official has openly admitted that Nigeria’s university system is in crisis.

“Many university graduates are not good enough to be employed by the industries”, Onwuka said. The Students’ Industrial Work Experience Scheme had also failed universities, he said, while the Nigerian university system had failed in producing quality graduates who should be employed in industry.

“This is a big challenge and it remains a major problem in the Nigerian university system. At what point do we find the synergy in addressing this problem of graduate unemployment?” he asked.

The minister said details of the proposed extra year for other courses would soon be finalised and sent to the National Assembly with a view to it becoming law.

“Law students attend law school one year before going for National Youth Service Corps, and medical students go for one year of housemanship before they are allowed to practice fully. Therefore, it will be necessary for other courses to go through this process,” he told delegates at the retreat.

While most observers agree there is a problem to address, the specific proposal has divided opinion on campuses and wider society.

Against the backdrop of graduate unemployment, the runaway success of Nigeria’s film and music industry, driven by university graduates who have acquired skills outside of the traditional university system, stands in stark relief. For some, this phenomenon has highlighted the need for a different skills set among the country’s university students who are still, in large part, receiving a traditional university education with little emphasis on IT and other vocationally-oriented training.

“The private acquisition of computer knowledge and vocational training by these graduates in Nigeria’s music and video film industries shows that Nigeria needs to transform its university programmes in compliance with the demands of the 21st century. Anything short of this imperative transformation would simply lead to the continuous production of unemployable graduates by our universities,” according to Dr Adewale Suenu, a lecturer in international relations at Lagos State University.

The proposal attracted an immediate editorial opinion from The Guardian, an influential Nigerian tabloid which described the idea as “misguided”, and suggested it might be another way to exclude the millions of qualified youth from gaining access to university education. It questioned the link between quality education and the duration of courses.

The editorial argued that all three stages of education have steadily declined in the last 30 years. “Gradually, Nigerians have witnessed a fatal erosion of the high and excellent standards which were set and maintained in the early years of nationhood. Morale among teachers dropped significantly such that teaching became a last resort, only for graduates who could not get jobs elsewhere,” it said.

The editorial proposed that skills acquisition be injected into the school programme, teachers be retrained, and that the budgetary provisions for higher education be increased.

Suenu agreed that finances for education were inadequate. “In the 1960s, South Korea and Nigeria were at the same level of under-development. While Nigeria stagnated in her funding of education, South Korea gradually increased her funding to about 55% annually in the areas of education and vocational training. Today, South Korea has the sixth biggest economy in the world and she is an industrialised nation, while Nigeria is still an exporting nation of raw materials because her funding of education and vocational training is abysmally low”, he said.

Asked to comment on Onwuka’s proposal, Dr Dele Adegboku, based in the department of foreign European languages at the University of Port Harcourt, said destroying any nation does not require the use of an atomic bomb or the use of long range missiles.

“It only requires lowering the quality of education and allowing cheating in the examination by the students…The collapse of education is the collapse of the nation.”