A Preliminary Investigation Of Educational Change Management In Nigeria

By Uche Nworah

After 45 years of achieving colonial independence, it can not be argued that Nigeria has attained her optimum level of development, in relation to her huge potentials and in comparism to other countries that are less endowed with human and material resources. The Nigerian government though seems to have woken up to the reality that the country needs to break away from the vicious cycle of poverty, infrastructural neglect, corruption and other social problems that had dogged her every footsteps, the government has therefore initiated several reform programmes in different sectors of the economy, of particular interest to this researcher is the educational sector which the Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission (NUC), Prof. Peter Okebukola said “would be at the heart of efforts at realising the presidential vision that by the year 2020, Nigeria should be one of the world’s top 20 economies”. According to him, “it is necessary and possible to position Nigerian universities to stimulate economic growth through a deliberate agenda of Production of Entrepreneurial Graduates, Focus on high-value programmes for rapidly growing the economy, increased emphasis on research and development and, Focus on Centres of Excellence”. This paper will be focusing on some of the reform programmes in the sector with a view to analysing their impact.

Research Methodology

The case study methodology will be adopted for this research; this method of qualitative research is suitable because it enables the researcher to explore complex issues and objects from multiple sources of information including personal experience, case studies, observations, interviews, documents and records. According to Soy (1996), ‘It can extend experience or add strength to what is already known through previous research’. I will be adopting a combination of the narrative and evaluative case study methods identified by Yin (1984) and Merriam (1988).

Although the Nigerian government is currently implementing reforms in the three key educational sectors comprising primary, secondary and tertiary, this research will however be limited to university reforms, which is part of the tertiary educational sector which also comprises universities, polytechnics, colleges of education and other sundry institutions of higher learning in Nigeria. The focus will be on the new Post-UME (University Matriculation Examinations) policy directives of the Nigerian government, and the Nigerian Experts and Academics in the Diaspora Scheme (NEADS) of the National Universities Commission (NUC).

The data for this paper comes mostly from secondary sources, i.e. from published newspaper and journal articles, and official government policy documents. Original data was also gathered from interviews conducted with three samples; a Nigerian-born UK based student, a Nigerian-born UK based lecturer and finally from a director of the newly established Teachers Registration Council of Nigeria.

The samples were selected based on convenience; the student and lecturer are based in the London area and within easy reach of the researcher. While the sample may seem small, as their opinions may not necessarily represent those of the entire population of study, I still consider them very relevant in this preliminary investigation. I could not secure a telephone interview with any official of the National University Commission (NUC) official, the agency also did not respond to my email enquiries. I conducted the telephone interview with the TRC director because as stakeholders and also one of the agencies involved in educational reforms in Nigeria, it was necessary to also sample their views.

Research Question

What is the impact of current educational reforms in Nigeria on key stakeholders (teachers and students)?

Ideological and Philosophical Framework

Critical theory seems an ideal framework to use in trying to understand the complexities of educational systems and infrastructures in a developing country such as Nigeria with a view to recommending best practice. This is because the purpose of critical educational research is intensely practical; it is aimed at bringing about a more just, egalitarian society where individual and collective freedoms are practised, and to eradicate the exercise and effects of illegitimate power (Cohen et al. 2003). Illegitimate power in this regard will include the bureaucrats and politicians in government in Nigeria, whose decade-long neglect of the educational and other key sectors, as well as policies and practices have continued to retard her progress and development.

There is also a need to explore some theories, which will form the theoretical framework for this paper, one of which is the social development theory of Garry Jacobs and Harlan Cleveland (1999), the premise of the theory is that development is a process and not a program, that the development of individuals and societies will ultimately result in increasing freedom of choice and increasing capacity for all stakeholders, and also that society develops by organizing all the knowledge, human energies and material resources at its disposal to fulfil its aspirations. Compared to the modernization and development theories, the social development theory is preferable in the Nigerian context because the process of development and change will supposedly be driven from the inside, by Nigerian people through their educational systems, as remarked by the Prof. Peter Okebola, the National Universities Commission NUC secretary. Unlike the modernization and development theories of Walt Rostov (1960), David McClelland (1967) and Alex Inkeles (1974), which are one-sided, focussing more on the western world and culture, with emphases on the role the developed world can play in modernizing and facilitating sustainable development in developing nations.

While there are different models and theories of change, the Kurt Lewin theory of change (1951) will however be adopted as a model to be used in analysing the change management process in the Nigerian educational sector.

This researcher considers his theory to be simple, ideal and easily applicable in a developing country such as Nigeria. Kurt Lewin describes change as a three-stage process. The first stage (Unfreezing) Involves overcoming inertia and apathy and tackling the existing ‘mind set’, the second stage (moving to the new level) is when change actually occurs. At the third stage (Refreezing), the new mind set is stabilised to prevent regression to the old ways.

The Educational Sector in Nigerian

The educational sector in Nigeria is tiered into three distinct sections as follows: Primary, Secondary and Tertiary education sectors. There is also the non-formal education sector which consists of functional literary, remedial, continuing, aesthetic, cultural, political ad environmental education for children, youth and adults outside the formal education system; this includes pre-primary education for children aged three to five years provided by privately owned day care centres and nurseries.

Going by the current 6-3-3-4 educational system, primary education in both publicly funded and privately owned schools lasts for a 6 –year period. Secondary education in both publicly and privately owned schools is divided into 2 stages of junior secondary and senior secondary stages, each stage lasting 3 years. Gidado Tahir, executive secretary of the Universal Basic Education (UBE) Commission says that the UBE scheme makes education at the primary and junior secondary school stages compulsory for children between the school ages of 6 and 15. According to him, "one major difference between UBE and the former UPE (Universal Primary Education) is that in the former UPE, there was no compulsion, but now if a parent or guardian fails to take a child to school there are certain sanctions to be applied,"

Tahir also said that by the end of 2005, about eight million children in Nigeria, Africa's most populous country with some 130 million people, are out of school. About 4.3 million, representing 62 percent of the yet to be enrolled children, are girls.

The Nigerian government provided the legal framework for the implementation of the UBE scheme through the enactment of the UBE Act in 2004; this is part of the government’s efforts at achieving the UN Millennium Development goals of Education. Olugbemiro (2003) however suggests improvement in teacher education and working conditions for the goals of the UBE to be achieved. According to him, “since the formal approval of the UBE programme in 1999, there are now over 17 million pupils in over 41,000 schools with 420,000 teachers. This gives a ratio of 1 teacher to 45 pupils”. He argues that the introduction of the UBE has created additional work load for teachers.

Tertiary or higher education in Nigeria is not the main thrust of the UBE programme, included in the sector are post-secondary education provided in Universities, Polytechnics, Colleges of Technology, Colleges of Education, Advanced training Colleges, Correspondence colleges and other allied institutions. University education is for a period of 4 years for most courses except medicine, architecture, engineering and other allied courses. Polytechnic education is for a period of 4 years broken down into stages – 2 years for the Ordinary national diploma (OND) and 2 years for the Higher National Diploma (HND), there is a compulsory one year work placement and industrial attachment scheme in-between the two stages. Another qualification obtainable in the sector is the National Certificate of Education (NCE), which lasts for a period of 3 years and is awarded by universities and colleges of education.

Nigeria has more than 180 higher institutions made up of universities, polytechnics, and colleges of education with student enrolment of over 1.4 million (Nwogbo 2005). A further breakdown show that “we have 75 universities: 26 federal, 33 state universities and 23 private…the total number of students enrolled in our university system increased from 2000 in 1962 to over 500,000 in 2002” (Shettima 2005).

The tertiary education sector in Nigeria, particularly the universities have suffered from long periods of neglect, this has led to what the minister of education (Chinwe Nora Obaji) described in her remarks in 2005 at a meeting with the members of the Committee of Vice Chancellors (CVC) of Nigerian universities as managerial inadequacies and indiscipline, according to her, these have now caused other problems including over population caused by over- enrolment, poor maintenance culture, poor sanitary situations, low quality teaching, examination malpractices, late admissions, ‘sorting’ (students bribing lecturers to pass the course), cultism and other social vices. During the meeting, Professor Nimi Briggs, the Vice Chancellor of the University of Port Harcourt and the chairman of the CVC had listed problems facing universities as poor funding, accreditation of courses, university autonomy and non-release of the reports of university visitation panels.

Eleweke (2006) on the other hand argues that “some of the problems in our education system are the poor funding of education, lack of access to education by the deserving ones as a result of high level of poverty among citizens and low discipline among stakeholders”. According to him, less than 11 percent of national budget was allocated to education in 2006, which is far less than the 26 percent recommendation by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

State universities appear to be the worst hit by poor funding, the report of a national study carried out in 2005 using the University System Annual Review Meetings (USARM) by the National Universities Commission (NUC) concluded that “Over 30 percent of state-owned universities were starved of funds by their proprietors…grants for payment of staff salaries were acutely short in some cases, compelling the authorities to augment through revenue sources that were unhealthy for the academic life of the institutions…all the state universities had a total proprietor grant of about N35 billion ($140 million). This compares unfavourably with N50 billion ($200 million) received by the 29 federal universities within the same period”.

While there may seem to be no general consensus on what has led to the sad state of affairs in Nigeria’s educational system, all concerned stakeholders however seem to agree that an interventionist strategy needs to be introduced because according to Levi Obijiofor (2005) “Time is long overdue for university vice-chancellors, rectors of polytechnics, federal education ministry officials and the Nigerian public to engage in serious discussion about the pedagogy of university and polytechnic education in Nigeria”.

Managing Educational Change in Nigeria

Shettima (ibid) argued that physical resources are being replaced by knowledge as the most important national resource, according to him “research is demonstrating that countries that devote significant investment in universities and research and development are leading the way in terms of economic and social development”. He cites America as an example, which is one of the strongest economies in the world with 17 of American universities featuring in the list of world’s top 20 universities in a recent survey.

None of the higher institutions in Nigeria was included in the 2005 ranking of the world’s best 200 institutions. The National Universities Commission (NUC) assessed locally published journals in 2005 using international set of journal evaluation criteria, its results showed that 97.2% of Nigerian local journals do not measure up to international standard. According to the report, only four (2.8%) of the 138 locally published journals qualified for inclusion in group ‘A’ (international standard), the four were from Health Sciences and Medicine.

Hartnett et al (2003) also wrote that “knowledge has become the most important factor for economic development in the 21st century… it increasingly constitutes the foundation of a country’s competitive advantage”. They listed the knowledge base of a country to include research and development, higher education, computer software and patents. They however concluded that “many developing countries including Nigeria have neither articulated a development strategy linking knowledge to economic growth nor built up their capacity to do so”.

The United Kingdom and other developed countries understand the huge potentials of the education sector as a major revenue earner, the UK government actively markets the UK education brand globally through www.ukuniversities.ac.uk, The British Council, The Department For International Development (DFID), UK Embassies and through education fairs organised by the universities in the UK and overseas, according to a publication by the ukuniversites.ac.uk, “In 2003/04 there were 213,000 international students and 104,000 students from other EU countries in UK higher education institutions (HEIs). There are also many more international and EU students on exchange or study-abroad programmes at UK universities. International student numbers in UK higher education institutions have increased by over 60% in the last five years. The international activities of UK universities make an important and growing contribution to their income and to export earnings for the UK economy. A recent study of the global value of education and training exports calculated that higher education contributed around £4billion annually to the UK’s export earnings through research activities, transnational activities and international students. Similarly, the UK benefits significantly from international research collaborations and partnerships. For example; the UK enjoys strong success in the European Framework Programme, with funding coming to UK universities accounting for 25% of the total for that sector”.

Nigeria on the other hand attracted a total of $35 billion in Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) between June 1999 and July 2005, an average of about $5.8 billion a year and almost the total of UK’s yearly earnings from foreign students. According to Mustapha Bello, the Chief executive of the Nigerian Investment Promotion Commission (NIPC), the FDI inflows were not only in the oil and gas sector but also in the telecoms, ICT, manufacturing and services sectors.

UK remains the primary destination of choice for Nigerian students wishing to study abroad. Mr. Richard Gozney (the British High Commissioner to Nigeria) says that the near comatose educational system at home and its perennial unpredictability are some of the factors responsible for the increasing exodus f Nigerians who long to acquire education abroad. According to him, “The British High Commission received no fewer than 8000 students visa applications in 2003, by 2004, the number had risen to 12,000, the latest figure on hand in 2005 is 20,000 applications”.

It may be in realisation of the importance of a knowledge-based economy, as well as the need to reverse the downward trend of the educational sector in Nigeria that has prompted the Nigerian government to embark on its reform programme in the sector. President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria has said that the cardinal objectives of his government’s educational policy are targeted at “building a free and democratic society”. According to him, the policy would bring about “a just and egalitarian society, a united, strong and self-reliant nation, a great and dynamic economy, as well as a land full of bright opportunities for all citizens”.

The manifestations of his government’s intentions can at least be seen in its various policies which have been introduced recently. Some of these policies are:

1. Re-launching the Heart of Africa Project in 2005 (formerly the Nigeria Image Project), an informational and orientational project primarily designed to promote Nigeria's national brand assets. The project will also tackle many of the negative issues confronting the nation and will promote businesses, products, people, services, sports, culture and cities in Nigeria to the world. (See Appendix 1 and 2.)

2. Making education a key part of the government’s “empowering people’ section in the National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy (NEEDS) document.

According to the NEEDS document, “the government recognizes the critical importance of tertiary institutions for developing high-quality human resources, especially in an increasingly technology-driven world economy. The government also recognizes the challenges facing these institutions, challenges that include inadequate funding and facilities, curricula that are inadequate to meet the challenges of nation building, inadequate and inappropriate staffing (especially among the lecturers), cultism, and low moral and academic standards among students. Higher institutions in Nigeria currently depend almost exclusively on government subsidies. The bulk of federal government spending on education goes to tertiary institutions; state governments spend at least 20 percent of their budgets on education, mostly primary and secondary education. Almost total dependence on the government for funding higher education is neither practical nor sustainable. There is therefore a need for fundamental reforms of the higher education system”.

Some of the strategies listed for reforming the tertiary educational sector include the following:

• Strictly adhere to the provisions of the University Autonomy Act.

• Diversify funding by attracting private sector funding and considering more appropriate pricing of facilities and services (including hostel accommodation).

• Ensure that 80 percent of teachers in tertiary institutions acquire pedagogical skills.

• Ensure that 80 percent of teachers at all levels are professionals.

• Ensure that 60 percent of all tertiary institutions have conducive teaching and learning environments.

• Establish an efficient institutional framework for monitoring learning and teaching process at all levels.

• Ensure that 50 percent of tertiary education graduates acquire sufficient technical skills,

entrepreneurial skills, and knowledge to be self-employed and wealth creators.

The National Universities Commission (NUC) appears to be the main driver of some of these reforms in the universities. Some of the reforms it has introduced in the sector as guided by the NEEDS framework include the following:

1. The registration and licensing of more privately owned and funded universities.
2. The setting up of the Nigerian University System Merit Award (NUSAMA)
3. The assessment of locally published journals which serve as publication outlets for Nigerian academics.
4. Organising the Nigerian Universities Research and Development Fair (NURESDEF).
5. Roll out of the National Open University.
6. The introduction of a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) as the minimal qualifications for all university lecturers with 2009 as the compliance deadline.
7. The setting up of the Nigerian Universities Network (NUNet) e-project.
8. The setting up of the National Virtual (Digital) Library
9. Plans to establish a national database of all projects, theses and dissertations to serve as a source for checking plagiarised academic works.
10. The introduction of the University System Annual Review Meetings (USARM)
11. The introduction of the post-UME (University Matriculation Examination) examinations.
12. The introduction of the Nigerian Experts and Academics in the Diaspora Scheme (NEADS).

Interview Analysis

I used semi-structured interview method to try to gain answers to the research questions from the three subjects.

Subject A: Main interview themes

A. Access to university admission
B. Quality of teaching and learning
C. State of infrastructure and facilities
D. Access to funding
E. Plans on graduation
F. Family’s economic status

Subject A is a 20 year old first year law student at a London university. He studied law for two semesters at a University in Nigeria before coming to the UK to study. He didn’t have problems of access and gained admission to the University of Abuja after passing the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board University Matriculation Examination (UME) test. This means that he didn’t have to take the newly introduced university post-UME tests set by the universities. However, this does not reflect the university access situation of other Nigerian students. NUC figures show that rising student numbers have generated an enrolment ration of 340 per 100,000 students, compared to South Africa which has an enrolment ration of 2,500 per 100,000 students. This obviously shows that demand for university education in Nigeria far outstrips the supply. This imbalance may have prompted President Obasanjo to remark that “The Federal Government would continue to encourage the establishment of both private and state universities in the country...despite the existing 75 federal, state and private universities in the country, the nation needed additional 70 universities to take care of the growing number of students from secondary schools”. While this is easier said than done, there is also a concern amongst other stakeholders concerning the lack of adequate funding of existing universities by the government. Shettima (ibid) captured succinctly the problem of university access in Nigeria when he remarked that “over a million students sat for the University Matriculation Examinations in 2002 and of that number the entire 52 universities at that time could only take about 150,000 or 10 percent”. He predicts that the trend will get worse as many of the products of the UBE graduate and begin to seek university admission.

On a scale of 1 to10 (1 being the lowest possible score and 10 being the highest possible score), the subject rated his old university 3 for teaching and 3 for infrastructure and facilities. His reasons being that the university’s law department has not yet been accredited, also lecturers cancelled lectures indiscriminately. According to him, the university has no student hostels and students have to commute long distances from neighbouring villages. He says that there are no professors in the law faculty and didn’t remember if any of the lecturers had PhDs.

He was not aware of any scholarship or funding available for indigent students. Maybe if there was, he wouldn’t have required any since his family could afford to sponsor him to the UK to study at an average cost of about £10,000 annually. While he would not confirm his family’s economic status, I would guess that they are upper middle class to be able to afford his UK education. This sadly may not be the case with millions of other students who would have to make do with prevailing conditions in the universities in Nigeria. The subject says that he has no immediate plans yet regarding his future, and does not know if he would be returning back to Nigeria on graduation. If he does stay back, he would be one of the many Nigerians who are increasingly staying back in the developed countries after graduating, thereby contributing to the brain drain syndrome, rather than take the skills they have acquired back to Nigeria and contribute to her socio-economic development. While subject A’s opinions may not be indicative of those of all Nigerian students, however, placed in context with daily media reports on the state of university education in Nigeria, I can conclude that indeed the current educational reforms are not yet having any impact on Nigerian students who are major stakeholders in the sector.

Subject B: Main interview themes

A. Working conditions
B. Availability of resources
C. Research funding and grants
D. Awareness of specific government initiatives and schemes
E. Relocation plans

Interview subject B is a female lecturer at one of the universities in London. She had previously taught in two other universities in Nigeria before migrating to the UK. According to her she left because of the frustrations inherent in the Nigerian university system and mentioned issues such as non-availability of research grants, the tough conditions of completing her PhD research which she abandoned after 5 years because of the antics of her supervisors. She also mentioned poor working conditions as one of her reasons for leaving. She says that she still keeps in touch with her colleagues in Nigeria and follows governments several initiatives aimed at reforming the university sector. However, she thinks that what is reported in the media does not genuinely reflect the current state of affairs according to the information she gets from her ex-colleagues. She is not aware of the NUC NEADS initiative and said that she only heard about it from me. This may therefore be a lesson for NUC concerning the way they manage and disseminate information. Particularly concerning the NEADS scheme which is targeted at Nigerian academics in the diaspora, the NUC should also consider other channels including inter-personal channels in reaching their target audiences. She says that she feels motivated in her current university to contribute her best because her university is funding her PhD research, and also she has access to research grants and gets sponsored to conferences around the world. Regarding her relocation plans, she says that she misses Nigeria but has no such plans of relocating at the moment, being that her professional and personal needs are being met where she lives and works at the moment. I can also safely conclude here that the current education reforms are not yet having the desired impact on teachers by reversing the brain drain situation.

Subject C: Interview themes

I tried to get a balanced view in this research and attempted to contact the National Universities Commission (NUC) but my efforts proved unsuccessful. It is my view that the NUC would have been the appropriate government agency to speak on matters concerning university education in Nigeria. However, I was able to secure a telephone interview with a director at the newly established Teachers Registration Council (TRC).

1. The role of the TRC in university education in Nigeria

2. The problems of education in Nigeria

3. What the TRC has been able to do till date

4. The way forward

The subject mentioned that the TRC was set up by decree No. 31 of 1993 to register and regulate teachers in all the key education sectors (Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary) in Nigeria, the decree makes it an offence punishable with 2 years imprisonment, or a fine of 5,000 Naira or both for any practitioner engaged in teaching in Nigeria without being registered by the council. He however said that the disparity in esteem between primary and secondary on one hand and university teachers on the other hand has meant that university teachers do not yet wish to associate and identify with the lofty goals of the council as is expected. This he said is because university teachers see themselves as lecturers and not teachers. To solve this problem, there should be parity of esteem across all the sectors, this should also be reflected in teachers working conditions and salaries, this is the trend in the developed countries especially in the United Kingdom.

The subject identified the following as some of the problems facing education in Nigeria; large scale teacher migration, poor working conditions, lack of professional recognition of teachers by other professions and the wider society. On the way forward, he wishes for continued cooperation and sharing of best practices amongst Nigerian teachers and their counterparts in the developed countries including teacher exchange programmes and increased sponsorship from donor agencies. The brain drain situation was also mentioned by the NUC whose 2002 figures show that between 1997 and 1999, the numbers of academic declined by 12%, while only 48% of estimated staffing needs in the federal university system are filled. According to the report staffing shortfalls are worse in engineering (73%); medicine has 62%, administration 58% and sciences 53%.

Planned Modifications For Future Research

As a researcher, the strongest benefit to me of the case study methodology is that I am able to explore the issue of educational change management in Nigeria using a wide range of sources including personal experience, interviews, published data etc.

This however meant that I had to sieve through lots of data and information, this was time consuming, because I had so much data available, therefore focusing on specific aspects of educational change management in Nigeria became somewhat problematic.

In my proposed future research on this topic area, I will be focusing only on particular aspects of educational change management in Nigeria. My area of interest would be Nigeria’s university sector.

I would also localize and contextualize my study within two universities namely The University of Lagos and The University of Abuja. My aim would be to analyse educational change management in the two universities. In this preliminary investigation, I had relied mainly on secondary data, and had also interviewed two subjects living in the United Kingdom. The sample size is small and their opinion may not be fairly representative of those of the entire population. My decisions were mainly influenced by cost and time constraints as I couldn’t travel to Nigeria within the short period to gather additional and original data.

However, in subsequent researches in this area, I’m hoping to spend sometime in Nigeria doing filed work and gathering primary data. I also intend to increase the sample size. This may then mean that I may no longer use interviews as the main instrument, and may have to consider using questionnaires as well because it is more suitable in research involving large samples.

Also rather than focus on all aspects of educational change management, I would focus only on an aspect, my choice will be between the recently introduced Post – UME examinations and the recently introduced Nigerian Experts and Academics in the Diaspora Scheme (NEADS) by the National Universities Commission (NUC).


This is only a preliminary investigation; there are still many areas and themes to be explored in depth in subsequent investigations. Findings from the secondary sources analysed and from the subjects interviewed suggest that there are clear policy shifts by the Nigerian government and its educational agencies aimed at reforming the university and other educational sectors, the desired effects of some of these reforms have not yet started manifesting. It may be early days yet to draw any conclusions but surely all the stakeholders would need to collaborate with each other for the successful implementation of the reforms.

Nigerian universities should explore other models being adopted in the developed countries and seek alternative sources of funding i.e. through endowment from alumni, private individuals and corporations. The passing of the University Autonomy Act by the government is a welcome development and should help solve some of the funding problems which obviously is the foundation of all the other problems.

Uche Nworah has a Master's from University of Nigeria. He's currently pursuing his Doctorate at the University of Greenwich in London. Mr. Nworah has extensive management and marketing experience having worked as an independent investment adviser in Germany and for Leading Edge Consulting Ltd, Lagos as a management consultant. He also worked for Sunrise D'Arcy Lagos, as Head of Events and Public Relations. He currently teaches Business and Marketing at NewVic, London. His articles have appeared in leading African newspapers, journals and websites. Uche Nworah can be reached at uchenworah@yahoo.com