University Education Has Failed Us: Perhaps It’s Time To Focus On Learning A Skill

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Many Nigerian Institutions of higher learning impart no skill, zero-knowledge, and are graduating large numbers of uncouth illiterates. Some might want to argue, but this is the sad reality that we have found ourselves. Apologies for the harsh words. They say “the first step to change is accepting your reality” right? Right! So, let’s be honest and tell it like it is.

Do you feel that your degree was value for money?

That was the question put to recent graduates by the British Broadcasting Corporation, not in Nigeria, but the United Kingdom.

The question arose as a result of the concerns expressed by members of the British Parliamentary Committee on Education about the value both government and graduates are getting from their expenditure on tertiary education.

The Chairperson of the Committee, Mr. Robert Halfon, made the following observations, among others;

  1. Too many universities are not offering value for money, and students are not getting good results from the degrees that so many of them are paying off their debts.
  2. In 2017, 49 percent of recent graduates did not work in graduate positions across the United Kingdom.

If the United Kingdom, an advanced economy, is frustrated by the return on its investment in tertiary education, what should anyone say about the situation in Nigeria?

Now, let’s paraphrase the question above as it relates to Nigeria.

Do you feel that your Nigerian University degree was worth the money and time?

While pondering over the decay in Nigerian institutions of higher learning, I recall this professor in my UG classes. He was the most senior professor in the department, a visiting lecturer though. But here is the funny part of the story. Mr. Senior professor traveled hundreds of miles every Monday morning to read to us (students) a book he coauthored in the late 1980s (approx 20 years out of date). So, every Monday, we all sat down in the old engineering hall and listened tentatively to a book being read to us for four good hours. It was boring as hell, and I bet you I don’t recall anything I learned from that class.

We were made to memorize outdated theorems and complex mathematical formulas. Only to graduate and realize that we lacked the skills to fit into the modern-day economy.

Many if not most Nigerian university graduates can barely speak or write good sentences. So, what’s the point? What’s the gain of going through a system for 20 years and not perfecting in any skill at all? Why should anyone waste so many years of schooling when they cannot apply the knowledge to solve practical problems?

Check out how many Nigerian graduates end up in non-graduate roles. How many Nigerian graduates are taking jobs and salaries far below their qualifications, just to get through? Is the situation going to get better or worse as more students study courses that are not their preferences in a shrinking economy where work is hard to find? What would be the value of money as academic degrees continue to overwhelm professional degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM)?

It is from STEM that the country derives the most value from the funds spent on education. STEM affects every sector and provides the greatest momentum for any society to move forward.

Nigeria is currently not in charge of any of the dominant heights of its economy. For example, the oil and power sector is largely in the hands of foreigners. This is a consequence of the lack of a coordinated STEM policy and plan.

I had expected that since the Federal Government is finding it difficult to fund STEM, it would have made it mandatory for those who have the resources to set up private universities to specialize in these areas.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. These private institutions run academic degrees just like government-funded academic institutions.

The Academic Staff Union of Nigeria (ASUU) has held the stance that the Government should suspend the establishment of more universities and concentrate on the funding of existing ones. This does not, in any way, fix the bulk of the issue that we have with university education. Increasing funding from existing universities will not correct the tilt in favor of academic degrees that do not address our industrialization challenge.

Even those in the STEM field, how skilled are they? Many are walking the streets with certificates jostling for nonexistent jobs. A good number of STEM professionals “who are lucky’ may end up finding jobs as artisans.

This brings us to this question that begs to be answered. Does every post-18 education have to be in a university, given that most of those who receive such education simply waste their time and money? A trip to many of our colleges will convince you that many of our students are not pleased to be there. They’re just there to obtain a degree whose value in the future, they don’t know. Many lecturers are only interested in their monthly paycheque. Perhaps, that’s the highest paying job they could find. No motivation, no zeal, no passion!

It is further saddening to know that the problem doesn’t necessarily begin and end with the poor quality of our universities. Secondary school education is also on the verge of collapse. Private primary schools in some parts of the country are doing averagely well (Emphasis: Not all).

However, if not university education, what else is on offer, would the follow-up question be?

Learn a skill! Start learning a skill before going for higher learning. And I am no talking about the so-called skills everyone is learning. Learn something different. Here is a list of IT skills that currently pay a fortune and will pay even more in the near future.

For starters, you can begin with a basic programming language like Python or Scratch. Basic education is a necessity, that’s true. But, we are in an era of perfection where specific skills matter more than general knowledge. Focus on the things you have developed a passion for. Read books, learn the art of writing and public speaking as well. Start an experimental blog.

For those who have already passed through the system; you have wasted many years, yes. But you’ve still got a lot of time to grow. It’s never too late to learn. Find a niche, zero in and focus solely on it. It’s gonna take a while, no doubt. Just remain resolute and you can get perfect at anything.

My opinion though.

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