With approximately 11 million people between the ages of 15 and 34 out of work in Nigeria, it is becoming more important than ever to tackle the country’s youth unemployment challenge with practical and effective solutions. Without a doubt, higher education plays a key role in reversing unemployment trends in Nigeria, and in helping young people to establish meaningful careers. The Nigerian Government and other education stakeholders across the country have recognised this, opening over 70 new universities since 2005.
However, as the international experience demonstrates, higher education in itself is no panacea to curbing youth unemployment. Whilst creating additional university places is essential, what also needs to be considered is the quality and relevance of the tertiary education students are receiving. Frank Edwards, Education Expert and Workforce Development Director at Pearson, believes that giving students an education that sets them up for success in work and life is what will have the greatest impact on improving Nigeria’s unemployment statistics.
Mr. Edwards continues that in spending a lot of time assessing how to better equip learners in all parts of the world for success in the workplace, “Indeed, the mismatch between education and employment is a global challenge, as employers the world over complain that despite high youth unemployment rates, finding school leavers and graduates with the skills demanded by modern workplaces is increasingly difficult. Nigeria, like many other countries, has an oversupply of tertiary graduates that fail to possess the 21st Century skills and competencies employers so often require – teamwork, innovation, communication skills and initiative, to name just a few”. Whilst graduates may be gaining essential theoretical knowledge, they too often lack the skills to apply this knowledge in a way that is useful to those who employ them.
Providing graduates of all disciplines with 21st Century skills therefore needs to become a priority for policy makers and educators alike. Embedding these skills in curricula will help create a workforce that has the attributes necessary to meet the demands of a global and increasingly connected labour market. Employees who have learnt how to learn, how to adapt to new and challenging situations, and how to direct their knowledge in practical ways, will be those that flourish in a future workforce. Teaching educators how to give their learners these skills should therefore be pivotal to Nigeria’s efforts to reform its higher education system.
The economic and social cost of youth unemployment is high, not only to individuals but to the communities in which they live. Nigeria as a country has so much potential, but fulfilling this potential will depend on harnessing the country’s human capital. Providing talented young Nigerians with access to quality tertiary education is of course fundamental to achieving this goal. With many of the country’s top students choosing to study abroad (30,000 Nigerians are currently enrolled in universities in the United Kingdom alone) we need to provide young people with access to education that not only provides superior academic learning, but also prepares them for the workplace. A solution to Nigeria’s youth unemployment challenge must therefore prioritise 21st Century skills uptake in the country’s universities.