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The Cost of Nigeria's Cheap Education

Much of Nigeria’s educational institutions are low-cost, commonly referred to as public or government schools. They are affordable to the over 80 million people who live below the poverty line, on less than $1 per day. The need for education is not lost on the populace. And so competition to get into schools is high, with many resorting to corrupt practices to earn their place in these schools. This is from as low as primary schools to the prestigious universities.

Close-to-free education is the reason for the rush. And even the universities are far above capacity. Consistent national and state policies on education in decades have offered the opportunity of subsidised education to Nigerians, with the country being one of the cheapest education providers in Africa and the rest of the world.

Nigeria’s top universities charge an average $120 per annum. In Ghana, university tuition is five times as much, and it is an average 20 times as much in South Africa. The Nigerian government continues to be the largest sponsor of public education.

But there are side-effects that have become rather manifest in the last few decades. The education sector has witnessed a steady decline. There is always a cost to education, and it is best couched in this popular saying: ‘If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.’ It would appear that those who choose cheap, public education in Nigeria are giving ignorance a test drive.

It would appear that those who choose cheap, public education in Nigeria are giving ignorance a test drive.

The very concept of free education is noble, considering the understanding that learning improves the mind, and an improved mind is a great asset to society. But there are costs to training the mind. And the problem with Nigeria’s ‘free’ education is that it maintains a consistently poor quality.

With education, someone has to bear the cost. But, apparently, successive governments have not been able to provide the financial support that academic advancement requires. UNESCO recommends that 26% of a nation’s budget be allocated to education. Nigeria’s last 6 budgets for education have not exceeded 10% on the average. It not only represents failed campaign promises, but an extremely low premium on education.

As such, we have seen an unsurprising stagnation in the quality of products of Nigerian schools. Funding shortage means there is no expansion of the curriculum, and there is little to no room for academic research. Infrastructural decay is the norm, and that also means there cannot be an expansion of the structural capacity required to help students reach their potential, and harness the advancements of a new, digital age.

To survive, schools have to levy extra charges to raise revenue. Free education no longer is free, but cheap. Yet it solves next to nothing.

Employers continue to rate Nigerian educational products as unemployable, and many graduates have to find a way to either leave Nigeria for better education, or focus on acquiring short-term professional upskilling before being considered employable.

Gone are the days when a job would be waiting for Nigeria’s students before concluding their final year exams. Today, a Nigerian public school degree is almost as good as the paper it is printed on.

Free education should not have translated to non-funded education. It is impossible for that to survive or do anyone any good. The cost is now heavy, as Nigerian public schools continue to slip down the rankings.

What must be understood is that there is a price to pay for top-drawer education. The next decision is who pays for it.


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