On Tuesday 14th July 2015, the body responsible for coordinating entry examinations to higher institutions in Nigeria announced its decision to lower the minimum score for university entry to 180 marks. This is arguably the lowest it has been for decades, and the announcement has been met with strong criticisms by Nigerians on social media, many lamenting falling standards and lack of adequate attention and commitment from government.
In spite of the increasing level of graduate turn out in Nigeria, unemployment and poverty have remained very high, and graduate unemployment in particular has worsened in recent years. According to official statistics, unemployment rate increased from 11% in 2006, to 24% in 2011, and a great number of those employed are under-employed (World Bank 2013). The group mostly affected by the unemployment crisis is the youth, with one report estimating that the unemployment rate among the Nigerian youth is at least three times the national composite average, and three times the average rate for other sub-Saharan African countries. Moreover, it has been estimated that about 71% of the Nigerian population are living in relative poverty .
Graduate unemployment constitute a significant part of overall youth unemployment in Nigeria, and it is an especially disturbing statistics considering one of the key objectives of universities is to produce graduates with requisite knowledge and skills to fill the manpower needs of the national economy (Federal Ministry of Education 2008). A recent assessment of the quality assurance process in Nigerian universities has revealed significant, sometimes drastic, reduction in quality of student recruitment processes, examinations, and staff appointment and promotion, among others. These were especially noticeable from the 1990s, and some have attributed the trend to governments’ reduced attention and investment on education, and the associated phenomenon of “brain drain”, with many academics leaving Nigeria for greener pastures overseas. Increasingly in recent years, employers have complained about troubling un-employability of Nigerian graduates. Investigators have reported that a growing number of the Nigerian university graduates are weak in analytical and communication skills, and are especially deficient in entrepreneurial skills standards of higher education in the country. Already, many stakeholders in the higher education sector and industry have expressed concerns about the quality and relevance of higher education to requirements and needs of the national economy.
Since the start of the fourth republic in 1999, the number of higher institutions, and the number of students enrolled in them, has increased significantly. This is partly due to government’s liberalisation of the higher education sector, and the attendant licensing of private universities. This report for example indicates that, between 2003 and 2007 alone, the number of universities in Nigeria grew from 53 in 2003 to 128 in 2013 accordingly, student enrolment and graduate turnout have grown considerably over the years, with university enrolment increasing from 780,001 in 2005 to 1,013,337 in 2009.
It may be a little simplistic to attribute the problem of graduate unemployment mainly or solely to lower quality of higher education and turnout, in terms of analytical and communication skills. The current structure of the Nigerian economy is such that there exists limited opportunities for graduate jobs. The national economy is dominated by heavy reliance on crude oil, and successive governments have given very little attention to other sectors of the economy. In recent years there have been some growth in the services sector, but the manufacturing sector is severely under-developed, and there has been no progress in Agriculture, among others. As such, even highly academically gifted graduates are often faced with the challenge of very limited opportunities for employment.
In the light of the foregoing, a key part of on-going debate and recent policy intervention is the renewed emphasis on entrepreneurship education. It is suggested that stakeholders in the higher education sector need to embrace a paradigm shift that reflects the peculiarity of the Nigerian experience. There is, it is said, need to put greater emphasis on prospects for new small-scale business start-ups across the whole spectrum of the nation’s economy. Instead of waiting for employment opportunities, graduates can actively explore opportunities to be employers of labour.
In order to achieve this paradigm shift, there is the need to revamp the structure and content of curricula in the universities. Specifically, there is a critical need to invest resources and personnel in to integrate entrepreneurship content into university courses, among other strategies to emphasize entrepreneurship in the curricula.