By Ayodeji Abiola
VENTURES AFRICA – In my previous two articles here and here, I discussed funding issues for higher educational institutions (HEIs) in Nigeria. The aim of those articles was to encourage corporate organizations and employers to put money into higher education, which is in their best interest. Another money related trouble with higher education in Nigeria is students’ finance and students’ poverty.
Recently, I heard a case of a student in a Nigerian university who lost a full year of his studies because of the N11,000 ($68) tuition which he couldn’t afford to pay. His case is just one of many. The tuition fee in many Nigerian publicly owned universities which is unaffordable to many students in many cases are less than N100,000 ($600) for the most expensive ones. As a student in a Nigerian public institution, the total amount I paid for tuition in combined 5 years of study was N12,200 ($75). As cheap as it sounds, many colleagues from low-income households struggled to pay this amount. The grave economic lack is better understood considering that the average Nigerian is said to live on less that $2 (N300) a day. Actually considering what N300 means in a Nigerian economy, a student who has up to N300 each day could be considered, “rich”.
So, why is there such poverty amongst students of publicly owned educational institutes? This is a demography, which spans the ages 16 to 30 and should be considered agile and productive. However, the situation we have is such that this demography remains largely dependent on their parent’s largesse. A largesse, which is usually inadequate, since it is typical for a Nigerian family to have up to five or more children.
The solution to the students’ poverty is not far fetched. In many European and North American countries, students usually pay or contribute financially to their education. Young students working for a specified number of hours each week in addition to full time study is common. Government in these countries also facilitates student loans, which are repayable when employed after graduation. Although the student loan systems in some of these countries do have challenges of their own, however, the challenges therein are comparatively simpler compared to the endemic student poverty of Nigerian students.
Among other possibilities, the cure of emphasis to the acute student poverty in Nigeria is part-time jobs. Do Nigerian students refuse to work because they are lazy? I wouldn’t say so. Many students, perhaps the one reading this article right now, actually work. However, working on a job that does not pay reasonable compensation should rather be called slaving rather than working. Though, a harsh choice of verb, but slaving, is what most of the students in Nigeria working full-time students do. There are few or no student-targeted jobs, while available menial jobs appear filthy and unattractive. This is one common reason why schooling and working had never appealed to Nigerian students in Higher Education. The Higher Institutions need to take a proactive step to correct this situation. How?
By creating sustainable, on-campus, part-time jobs for registered students.
Higher Education is not simply created to teach students within the walls of a classroom. It is for all-round development of the student. There are several ways campus jobs can be created and packaged to appeal to students. The capacity to create jobs for students by Nigerian HEIs are possible through Teaching and Research Assistantship for Upper class undergraduates and postgraduate students, Facilities and Maintenance staff positions, Library Services Assistants, Transportation personnel, Security personnel, Cleaning and Gardening workers, Organizing staff, Accommodation and Hospitality workers, ad-hoc medical officers etc.
While job openings will usually be limited to a few of the thousands of registered students, it should be competitively offered. Criteria may include academic performance, financial need and references. In many Nigerian campuses, the need for these positions actually exists, but they are usually not filled. I must add that it is not enough to create jobs; it must be accompanied by commensurate compensation system. Else, a new system of slaving would have been created.
The creation of sustainable student jobs on campus should be a major concern for advocacy by student unions, parent associations, academic staff unions and other educational stakeholders. This is because it will not only help reduce students’ poverty; it is also a great way to foster students’ personal and professional development. Students who are able to work and earn on campus while studying will also develop time management capacities, budgetary skills in addition to the job-specific skills. In fact, on graduation, such students would have built enviable Curriculum Vitae that prospective employers will cherish. This is also a great way to create entrepreneurs out of fresh school graduates rather than 100% job seekers. Institutions of higher learning are one of the great places to build and nurture entrepreneurship, but these institutions are not doing enough at present.
Do you work on campus as a student in any Higher Educational Institution, please leave a comment below on how your part-time job has affected your personal and professional development.