Because there are only enough openings annually for about 20 percent of the qualified applicants, competition for places in higher education is severe. In 1996-1997, for example, 475,923 applied for university places but only 79,904 received offers. Almost 50 percent of those enrolled in higher education go to universities to work on bachelor level degrees. The annual dropout rate for all university students is about 18 percent. For the 1996 academic year, teacher educational institutions of higher education enrolled 89,247 students. Those enrolled in technical education at the postsecondary level numbered 148,666. Most of the college fees for government universities are paid by the federal government. Whether this includes meals and other extras depends on the individual university and on the availability of funds.
There are several types of tertiary institutions, but the four most common are: those that offer university degrees; those that offer national diplomas; those that offer teacher training; and those that offer a variety of professional and skill certificates. In 1998, Nigeria had 37 arts and sciences universities, 3 agriculture universities, 1 military university, 4 polytechnics, and 63 colleges of education. In 1999 the National Universities Commission (NUC), which oversees the university system, approved the creation of private universities. In addition, there are 24 federal and 12 state government universities.
The technical colleges, polytechnics, and colleges of education offer the ND for two years of study, and the HND for four years of study. University programs in the arts, social sciences, and pure sciences usually take four years for the bachelor's degree. Engineering and technology degrees typically take five years. Medicine and dentistry are six-year programs. For a master's degree, one or two years is normal. Doctoral degrees take two or three years after finishing a master's degree.
In late 2000, President Obasanjo initiated the Nigerian University Systems Innovation Project (NUSIP), which began the process of making universities independent, so they would not rely on federal funds for survival. They would be run more like private businesses. The opposition to this plan was immediate, with students and teachers believing the plan required much higher fees and put higher education beyond the reach of most students, and the outcome is still in doubt.
In general, to gain admittance to a postsecondary institution, candidates need the SSC. Those with high enough scores on five major SSCE subjects, in no more than two attempts, qualify to take the Universities Matriculation Examination (UME). The major subjects on the SSCE include biology, chemistry, English language, geography, history, mathematics, and physics.
Begun in 1978 by the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB), the UME is more difficult than the SSCE. Students must register for English language and three more subjects in their major field. Candidates have traditionally scored low in mathematics and sciences. For the 2001 academic year, the average score in mathematics was 38.90 percent; in biology, 48.33 percent; and in chemistry, 45.51 percent.
For students who finished secondary school and took the West African GCE A Level or GCE O Level before 1989, high scores on these exams qualify candidates for university admission. There are several other possible options, including high scores on the NCE and ND. In addition, there might be other requirements depending on a student's major field.
In the spring of 2000, President Obasanjo introduced a new plan that required all primary and secondary schools to teach courses in African culture. In order to enter a university, students will have to provide proof that they have passed cultural knowledge courses. The courses focus on African and Nigerian history, mythology, and proverbs.
Higher educational institutions must also follow federal guidelines that attempt to balance the differences among ethnic groups receiving a higher education. They must weigh test scores, residency of the candidate, and whether the candidate is from an educationally less developed state in determining who is admitted.
The polytechnic colleges have different requirements for admission. Normally they require the SSC, but other requirements are generally set by the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE) and vary with programs. Most candidates must take an entry exam called the Polytechnics and Colleges of Education Exam (PCE). About 120,000 candidates took the exam for the 2001 academic year. A few polytechnics are beginning to offer bachelor's degrees in technical fields, but most offer programs leading to the ND and HND.
One striking feature of university education is the lack of majors in the sciences. Only 10.3 percent graduated in 1992 with degrees in pure science, engineering, agriculture, and technology. The government's goal is to shift the admission ratio of majors for incoming freshmen away from the humanities to 60 percent science and technology. In 2000, though, only 20 percent committed to science while 80 percent went into the humanities. The enrollment at technical training institutions, colleges of agriculture, and polytechnics remained disappointingly low as well.
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