The recent Unemployment and underemployment report (Q4 2017- Q3 2018) released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) once again showed alarming figures for the unemployment rate in Nigeria, reporting a national unemployment rate of 23%. Worrying, but that’s not the gist in this article. The report contained some stat that caught my attention.
First is the large population of Nigerian labour force with a PhD. The report showed that there are 70,739 PhD holders in the last quarter of 2017 and 72,146 in the third quarter of 2018. This population is large compared to the 146,941 estimated for China, 67,449 reported for the United States and 25,020 for India in 2014, considering that China and India each have a population that is over a billion each, and the United States has a larger population than Nigeria with 24 times the number of universities in Nigeria.
Second is the high number of unemployed PhD holders especially in a country with a worrying shortage of qualified lecturers – PhD holders – in the country’s universities. There were 9,832 unemployed PhD holders in the third quarter of 2018, a figure that increased from 7,817 reported for the last quarter of 2017. The unemployment rate for PhD holders was 13.6 % and triple the international rate of 5.6%.
Tertiary education is important to economic development and advance education, particularly PhD research has produced innovations such as such as MP3 and GPS technology. The production of PhD has been found to generate benefits for wider society – both because the production process itself generates basic knowledge from which all can take advantage. However, the case is different in Nigeria.
Despite having over 70,000 Ph.D., knowledge, innovation and productivity in Nigeria is low, so is the quality of the country’s Universities and the PhD they produce. There is no Nigerian University among the top 10 universities in Africa while South Africa with fewer PhD – 2,060 – has seven universities in the top ten ranking. According to a report describing the distribution of research in Africa, in the decade to 2008, South Africa produced the biggest volume of research in Africa, with nearly 47,000 papers compared to over 10,000 papers for Nigeria.
Nigeria was also found to be behind South Africa and even Egypt when publication output was compared with the gross domestic product (GDP) for each country. As reported, “It is clear, however, that despite Nigeria’s high volume output it is not returning as much research as would be expected given the size of its economy. The value of its resources is not yet being felt in its knowledge base.”
With the PhD unemployment rate in Nigeria at 13.6% and the international rate at 5.6%, one can be quick to think the high level of PhD level unemployment in Nigeria is due to the poor quality of the degrees, but the reported on the Needs Assessment of Nigerian Education Sector published by International Organization for Migration (IOM) in 2014, suggests a different reason.
IOM reported a high shortage of qualified lecturers (i.e lecturers with PhD) in Nigerian universities. In the report, it was written that Needs Assessment of Nigerian Public Universities carried out in 2012 by the Nigerian government showed that instead of having 100% of University lecturers with Ph.D., only about 43% had a PhD while the remaining 57% have qualifications below PhD. It was reported that only seven Universities have up to 60% of their teaching staff with PhD qualifications and that the few qualified lecturers work in many universities at the same time as Visiting, Adjunct, Sabbatical and Contract lecturers.
Globally, tertiary institutions and research institutes are the major employers of Ph.D. so it can be said that the sharing of PhD holders among universities instead of employing from the thousands of those who are unemployed is not only contributing to the high unemployment level among PhD holders in the country, It is affecting the education sector negatively.
The country’s university academic staff union (ASUU) which just resumed academic activities in February after a long academic staff strike that has almost become an annual event in the country, has repeatedly blamed the government as the cause of this situation, claiming poor funding by the government as the reason universities use more master’s degree holders and share Professors and lecturers with PhD among themselves to cut cost.
It is an unusual situation to see the government of a country directly creating unemployment, but that seems to be the case here. Compared to other sectors in the country, such as the health sector, where the shortage of Medical Doctors is due to market factor – high demand and low supply of medical doctors, the shortage of lecturers with Ph.D. in Nigerian universities is directly due to the lack of political will by the government to ensure adequate funding of universities thereby reducing their quality and creating unemployment in the country.