Nigeria targets private investment in its education sector

With a population of more than 200m across 250 ethnic groups, a fast-growing youth cohort, and high levels of poverty and unemployment, Nigeria has prioritised delivering quality education – although this also remains one of the government’s biggest challenges. A pressing concern for the sector is underfunding, with the authorities unable to meet investment targets related to public education. The Covid-19 pandemic has further highlighted inadequacies in teaching facilities and infrastructure, with enrolment rates suffering as a result. In order to address these issues, the government has been advocating for greater collaboration between education institutions and the private sector, which is creating opportunities for investors across all levels and modes of learning.


Education provision in Nigeria is orchestrated across federal, state and local governments. The Federal Ministry of Education (FME) is the main body responsible for overseeing public education, with a mandate that includes coordinating national education policy; collecting and analysing data for planning and financing; prescribing and maintaining uniform standards; monitoring the quality of education; cooperating with international educational organisations; and developing curricula and syllabuses for all levels. The FME oversees more than a dozen departments that have specific responsibilities, including the departments of tertiary education; basic and secondary education; educational support services; technology and science education; educational planning, research and development; federal scholarships; ICT; and human resource management.

The FME manages 17 other education agencies as well. Among those are the National Universities Commission (NUC); the National Commission for Colleges of Education; the Teachers Registration Council of Nigeria; the National Teachers Institute; the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB); the National Examinations Council (NECO); the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE); and the Universal Basic Education (UBE) Commission.

Primary & Junior Secondary

The country’s education system has a 1-6-3-3-4 model: one year of pre-primary school; six years of primary school; three years of junior secondary school; three years of senior secondary school; and four years of tertiary education. The UBE programme, launched in 1999 as a reform initiative, aims to provide “free, universal and compulsory basic education for every Nigerian child aged six to fifteen years”. Under the system, primary and junior secondary education is free and compulsory for all students, although participation rates remain low. There are three, three-month sessions during the year for students in primary and secondary school, with a break for approximately one month between each period. Students at these levels study a number of subjects including mathematics, English, a Nigerian language (depending on the region but most commonly Hausa, Ibo or Yoruba), science and technology, cultural and creative arts, and religious and national values.

According to the most recent “National Personnel Audit Report” by the UBE Commission for 2018, published in October 2019, 22.4m children were enrolled in public primary schools and 5.5m children were enrolled in private primary schools. There were some 63,400 public primary schools for public students, with the north-west region registering the most facilities – at 20,200 for 8.8m students – and the south-east region the least, at 5500 for around 2m students.

Meanwhile, 6.85m students were enrolled in junior secondary schools, of which 5.2m attended public institutions. Nigeria had 13,029 public junior secondary schools in 2018, with the north-west region again having the highest concentration of both schools and students, at 3065 and 1.4m, respectively.

Senior Secondary

Following nine years of mandatory schooling, students are awarded the basic education certificate (BEC) based on their performance in exams that are administered by the government in June of each year. Students then have a range of options that include enrolling in three years of senior secondary education, embarking on vocational training and apprenticeships, or enrolling in technical colleges. Senior secondary covers grades 10 to 12, with students studying a mix of compulsory subjects such as English, mathematics and civic education, as well as elective classes under the umbrella of the humanities, science and mathematics, technology and business. Due to the high incidence of youth underemployment in the country – at almost 29% in 2020, according to the Nigeria Bureau of Statistics (NBS) – the current curriculum places a larger focus on vocational training, and classes in trade and entrepreneurship have been made compulsory to increase the employability of students when they graduate.

Students are awarded the senior secondary certificate for successful completion of examinations, which are administered by the West African Examination Council and NECO. Admission to public universities is based on this certificate and performance on the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examinations that are overseen by JAMB. The highest completed level of education for approximately 80% of the country’s labour force is senior secondary.

According to the latest statistics from the NBS that highlight senior secondary enrolment, there were 4.5m students at this level in the 2015/16 academic year, down from 5.2m in 2012/13. Of this total, 54% were male and 46% female. The NBS recorded the number of senior secondary schools at 21,688 in 2015/16, with 12,758 private schools and 8930 public schools. More recent figures, for 2019/20, which do not distinguish between junior and senior secondary enrolment, show a total of 7m students at the secondary level.

Tertiary Level

The tertiary level consists of university and non-university institutions, such as technical and vocational education and training (TVET) facilities, and colleges. The NUC, established in 1962, supervises the development of university education in Nigeria. According to the NUC’s March 2021 bulletin, there were a total of 173 universities operating in the country, up from 16 in 1980. These span 45 federal universities, 49 state universities and 79 private universities. At almost 50% of the total, private institutions have seen dramatic growth since 2000 due to the government’s support for the private sector to fill the gap in higher education. Bachelor’s degree programmes are typically four years in length, and postgraduate master’s degrees are usually one or two years.

There were 1.85m full-time undergraduate students and 197,105 full-time postgraduate students enrolled in universities in 2019, per data published by the NUC. Of the undergraduate population, 1.04m were male (57% of the total) and 806,000 were female (44%). At the master’s level, women accounted for around 39% of the total. The largest university by total enrolment that year was the National Open University of Nigeria – an open and distance-learning institution – with over 565,000 students, followed by the University of Maiduguri, with close to 75,000 students, and the University of Ilorin, with around 54,000 students.

The NBTE, established in 1977, oversees and promotes TVET in Nigeria, with the government emphasising the importance of such schools and apprenticeships through the body. The NBTE website as of mid-2021 listed 37 federal polytechnics, which includes six earmarked to open in 2021; 51 state polytechnics; 64 private polytechnics, which include four established in the first half of 2021; and hundreds of colleges and specialised vocational institutions. Admission to these establishments is based on the Monotechnics, Polytechnics and Colleges of Education exam administered by JAMB, and students typically study for two-year diplomas. Programmes cover teacher education, agricultural sciences, and health care disciplines, among others.

Enrolment Challenges

Despite mandatory schooling for children up to the age of 15, Nigeria had the highest number of out-of-school children (OOSC) in the world in 2018, at about 12.7m, or 30% of all children in the country, according to the FME. UNICEF put the figure at 10.5m that year, noting that Nigeria represented 20% of all OOSC in the world. Roughly 61% of six- to 11-year-old children attend primary school regularly, while 35.6% of three- to five-year-old children receive early-childhood education. However, it is hard to pin down exact numbers. According to Mallam Adamu Adamu, the minister of education, the government is addressing the high number of OOSC through the $611m World Bank-backed Better Education Service Delivery for All initiative that is being implemented across 17 states, 13 of which are in the north-west and north-east zones of the country.

Attendance and enrolment disparities are accentuated along gender, socio-economic and geographic lines. According to the “Global Gender Gap Report 2021” by the World Economic Forum, 69.9% of boys and 58.1% of girls are enrolled in primary school in Nigeria. UNICEF estimates that the net attendance rate is 53% in the northern states of the country, with female net attendance at around 47%. The situation in northern Nigeria is driven by a combination of cultural practices, economic barriers and conflict.

The Covid-19 pandemic has also presented substantial challenges for the country’s education system, putting marginalised groups at greater risk of dropping out of school. The strain of the pandemic has also highlighted inadequacies in teaching facilities and infrastructure. For example, public facilities have struggled to establish virtual classrooms for remote learning amid social distancing and other health guidelines due to a lack of resources – specifically, poor internet connections and the high cost of mobile data. While the FME has introduced education programmes for home schooling that are disseminated via radio and TV, many Nigerian children still miss out due to unstable electricity supply or not owning a radio or TV.

Policy & Programmes

The country’s education policy is guided by a number of separate strategies and programmes. The National Policy on Education, first published in 1977 and subsequently updated in 1981, 1998, 2004 and 2013, lays out the government’s broader philosophical objectives for the sector, in addition to establishing the foundations for the various levels of education. The UBE programme, for its part, was designed to provide equal learning opportunities for all children, with the ultimate aim to eradicate illiteracy and poverty more broadly.

Most recently, the UBE Commission and the FME, in conjunction with state governments and international stakeholders, devised the Ministerial Strategic Plan 2018-22, known as Education for Change. The plan lays out key challenges for the sector and how to address them, focusing on 10 areas: OOSC; youth and adult literacy; science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), and TVET; basic education; teacher education, capacity-building and professional development; curriculum and policy matters; tertiary education; education data and planning; ICT in education; and library services. Each pillar of Education for Change has its own set of objectives and strategies, including reducing the number of OOSC by enrolling 2.9m pupils every year of the programme; constructing 75,875 modern classrooms; deploying up to 500,000 teachers for mass literacy programmes and establishing 167,000 literacy centres annually; building six federal universities that focus on science and technology; increasing the enrolment of girls in STEM and TVET by 30%; recruiting more than 70,000 qualified teachers annually; fostering 150 relationships between Nigerian tertiary institutions and international counterparts; and promoting e-learning facilities through the creation of online libraries.

Sector Funding

In order to achieve these targets, the federal government allocated 5.8% of the 2021 budget to education, or approximately N1.2trn ($3.2bn). Of the total, N771.7bn ($2.1bn) was allocated to the FME and its agencies for recurrent and capital expenditure; N70.1bn ($187.2m) to the UBE Commission; and N323.3bn ($863.2m) in transfers to the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETF und) for infrastructure projects at tertiary institutions. The 2021 budget also earmarked N500m ($1.3m) for infrastructure at 104 colleges and N1.2bn ($3.2m) for classroom rehabilitation, as well as N2.2bn ($5.9m) for various scholarship allowances. The 2021 education budget share was below the 7% average allocated between 2016 and 2020 due to constrained government funds as a result of economic response efforts and lower oil prices arising from the Covid-19 pandemic.

According to TETF und, which was established in 1993, its role is to “arrest the rot and deterioration in the education infrastructure occasioned by long periods of neglect and very poor resource allocation” and is charged with “the responsibility to manage, disburse and monitor the education tax to public tertiary institutions”. TETF und also grants money to research projects and sponsors academic conferences.

Indeed, funding remains one of the education sector’s greatest challenges, and neglect of government primary and secondary schools and universities has led to worse educational outcomes. Under Education for Change, the private sector has been highlighted as a major source of potential funding to bridge the gap (see analysis). Public-private partnerships for education infrastructure, for example, are strongly recommended, in addition to direct private sector funding for research and STEM fields.


As the government works to meet education financing needs, new opportunities are present throughout the sector, including improving infrastructure and providing modern teaching materials. Getting young children in school and ensuring graduating students are equipped with the right skills to find employment will require a multi-pronged approach by the public and private sectors in the coming years. It will become increasingly important for stakeholders to identify future industries for students to be trained in, which should help address the country’s high underemployment rates, in turn, transforming the Nigerian economy through sustainable progress.

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The Report: Nigeria 2022

Health and Education chapter from The Report: Nigeria 2022

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