Online degrees are “unacceptable” in Nigeria even though they could plug an education gap

High schools students in Nigeria have fewer university options
High schools students in Nigeria have fewer university options
Image: Reuters/Afolabi Sotunde
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Every year, more than half of Nigeria’s 1.5 million high school graduates fail to gain admission into local universities and other institutions of learning. The result of being underfunded, the local university system can only cater for around 40% of them.

For those who can afford it, schooling abroad is a well-serviced option despite high costs. But for others, the reality is grim and options thin quickly.

Another option might have been online degree programs to help ease the higher education needs of Nigeria’s teeming youth population but that path has been narrowed considerably by government’s higher learning regulator.  Nigeria’s National University Commission has now said online degrees from foreign universities are “unacceptable” in the country.

The commission’s policy means employers and universities are not obliged to recognize these degrees as qualifications for applicants seeking jobs for further education. Getting online degrees from local universities are not much of an option for students either—only four federal universities have approved online degree programs.

The NUC’s policy ignores prevailing conditions which seem tailor-made for young Nigerians to gain degrees online. Smartphone penetration has steadily shot up and despite a dip, mobile internet user numbers remain above 90 million. In the past, internet access was hindered by the price of data but even that hurdle no longer exists. Last year, the Nigerian Communications Commission announced a removal of a data floor price, thus allowing phone networks to set data prices as low as possible. The result: price of data is now cheaper than ever before.

Private entrepreneurs have also tried to develop online tertiary education in Nigeria. In 2013 the Beni American University online launched, but in order to get a license from NUC it had to purchase over 100 hectares of land and build a physical location.

Ivan Dougan, a radio presenter currently enrolled in an online degree program is one of those affected by the NUC’s policy.  ”The ban on online degrees is a bad idea,” he says. “Online degrees have become popular globally because not everyone has the opportunity to attend physical schools.” Many like Dougan currently enrolled in programs now have to rethink their options. For his part, Dougan says he will have to seek admission in a local university to “remain competitive in the job market.”