Nigeria is a country full of potential, yet poor. The potential ranges from our many natural resources, and our strategic location (close to the equator and meridian, where we can be an aviation hub for the world); to our abundant human capital. Tertiary institutions have a significant role to play in developing ‘human capital’ because poverty stems from an uneducated populace. This usually occurs when labour (skilled and semi-skilled) and entrepreneurs that should manage the factors of production are not produced. The needed capital for the Nigerian dream is largely dependent on entrepreneurs’ ability to attract and generate wealth; so it is human-related.

Despite great institutions like the University of Ibadan, Covenant University, Lagos State University, National Open University of Nigeria and 266 other universities as well as other institutions in Nigeria, tertiary education is still in crisis. In a staggering reality that demands our immediate attention, only 26 per cent of the 2.1 million applicants to tertiary institutions in the country secure admission, says a report. The implications of not educating our youth are dire. If 10 per cent of 1.5 million applicants (74 per cent) who did not secure admission eventually engage in crime, it means we are indirectly grooming 150,000 criminals annually. In 10 years, we would have groomed 1.5 million criminals. That’s an alarming figure. And note that this figure doesn’t take into account those who didn’t attend any school, dropouts, and higher education graduates who eventually venture into crimes. This kind of situation strains the budget as resources supposed to be invested in education, health, technology, agriculture, and manufacturing will be channelled to fight insecurity.

Some argue that higher education is not necessary, but basic education is. Both are vital. We still have a high number of out-of-school children. My argument is that tertiary education influences basic education. Getting higher education right adds billions of dollars to the economy, which can then fund basic education. The more people that get into higher education, the higher the enrollment rate in basic education. Increasing access to higher education by another 10 per cent means increasing graduates annually by 150,000. If we assume that one per cent of these will be billionaires (having a minimum of N1bn), that means N150bn will be added to the economy. That is the capital needed to generate wealth.

Inadequate funding, lack of motivation, infrastructure decay, corruption, neglect by the government and businesses, lack of vision, and so on are some of the problems affecting access to education. In the last three decades, the government has tried to tackle the problem by inviting private sector players. There are over 110 private universities but collectively, they enrol less than 150,000 students each year. This is good progress, however there’s still room for improvement. But take a look at this, the National Open University of Nigeria enrols over 20,000 students a year. The reason for the large number is its use of technology. The National Universities Commission, in solving the enrollment issue, has instituted blended and distance learning programmes and granted some universities dual-mode licences. This, without a doubt, is another step in the right direction.

The Federal Government has set up a lofty target, a trillion-dollar economy by 2026. They backed this up by giving universities autonomy, paying salary arrears of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, and initiating student loans which will soon take off after the National Assembly has passed the reworked version of the bill.

Two steps are needed to facilitate digital transformation in our tertiary institutions. The first step is patriotism. Nigerians spent over £2 billion to study in the United Kingdom in 2022. That is over N4 trillion that could have been invested in our university system. Patriotism motivates academic staff and non-academic staff in the universities. Also, it makes staff members realise that life is a cycle and that competent graduates mean a competent economy that can finance the economy. Patriotism stops or mitigates corruption, as we know we are harming ourselves. No one wins.

The second step is to invest in technology. The Nigerian government does not have the money to establish additional universities, build the physical infrastructure required to increase admission quotas, or fund research to increase university standards. Technology has the potential to reduce the cost of education while increasing admission quotas. The caveat is that technology needs a lot of training and coaching to aid adoption and competency.

Our digital transformation must be hinged on inclusiveness as an e-learning platform that facilitates all university-related activities from end to end. It must be taken into consideration that courses must boost students’ preparedness for employment and employability. With the high number of illiterates, Nigeria is on the edge of the precipice. That is why we need to take the digital transformation route to ensure the massive education of the citizens. It can be done.