In spite of this, how Nigeria still dreams of joining the big league remains the biggest mystery. In what must now be seen by some as a joke, especially in view of its attitude to education, Nigeria has been saying it wants to be among the world’s top 20 economies by 2020.
But after laughing at this joke, we should remind policymakers that those nations that are in, or truly wish and look poised to join, the ranks of those top economies have a particular attitude to education that Nigeria doesn’t seem to share.
While Nigerians are always very good at mimicking educated global discourse as if they were the ones who invented it— corporate governance, information and communication technology, ICT, globalisation, climate change, the ozone layer, and the knowledge economy—their government has in fact been busy laying solid foundations for an ignorance economy.
And a comparison with China and India, the two countries of the BRIC whose rank Nigeria wishes to join, will quickly put Nigeria in its place. The Nigerian university system is, indeed, paralysed by a strike caused by government refusal to make the kind of investment the BRIC’s have been making.
Within a decade and a half, for instance, China invested in a massive expansion of its education sector, nearly tripling the share of GDP devoted to it, such that the number of higher- education institutions grew and more than doubled from 1,022 to 2,263 within a single decade; and within the same period, it was able to increase the population of its bachelor’s degree students from 3 million to 12 million.
At the moment, it has more than 20 million students studying in those institutions of higher learning. This is typically representative of what was happening in almost all of the BRIC’s, in which the total population of undergraduate students increased from about 19 million in 2000 to more than 40 million students in 2010.
And because China really means to develop its society and economy, the total number of its computer science and engineering graduates from its elite universities is more than the total number of such graduates from the United States.
That is why in the race where it matters, China has over 1,200,000 IT professionals and is adding 400,000 technical graduates each year. China ranks first in the world, followed by India and the US. IT professionals are so pitifully few in Nigeria; and, what’s more, the country is so inefficient, it doesn’t keep this kind of record.
The effect of China’s investment in education is already paying off. According to a report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which has tested high- school students since 2000, students from Shanghai’s schools outperformed those from 65 countries. They were followed by students from Korea, Finland, Hong Kong and Canada in that order. In the same test, students from the US ranked number 24.
And at the lower end, India has 373 universities with 16,000 affiliated degree-awarding colleges functioning under them; and. Like China, the emphasis in the tertiary level of education is on science and technology.
India has some 3495 degree- granting colleges with an annual student intake capacity of over 1.76 million with actual enrolment crossing 1.2 million in engineering alone. Total enrolment in science, medicine, agriculture and engineering crossed the 6.5 million limits in 2010, as expenditure on education grosses 4.1 per cent of GDP and surpasses the 12.7 per cent mark of total government expenditure.
In essence, the struggle by ASUU is to force the Nigerian government makes this type of investment. Obviously, it takes concern to understand the nature of what is going on, and it takes real public spiritedness to want to do something about it; and it takes uncommon patriotism to then go ahead and do it, especially for lecturers who face a barrage of insults, the prospects of possible job loss or pay withheld.