1 Sooter Tombowua

2 Joseph Eev

1 Department of Early Childhood Care and Education

College of Education, Katsina-Ala


2 Department of General Studies Education

College of Education, Katsina-Ala


Nigeria, like other countries of the world, recognizes education as the major instrument for effecting sustainable development. Tertiary education is critical for social, economic and political development of Nigeria. The goals of education can only be fully attained if quality delivery is rendered in tertiary education in Nigeria. Tertiary education of good quality is critical for Nigeria to become globally competitive and achieve sustainable development. This paper identifies and discusses the challenges of quality in tertiary education in Nigeria. The paper recommends that the Nigerian government should spend up to 26 percent of her budgetary allocation on education as recommended by UNESCO. Beside reform in existing tertiary education, institutions of higher learning in Nigeria should employ more lecturers to match the students’ population.

 Keywords: Quality, Tertiary Education, University and Sustainable Development.


Sustainable development in Nigeria requires the availability of competent and committed human resources. Using education as a tool, the government, hopes to produce manpower that will serve in different capacities and contribute positively to the nation’s socio-economic and political development. Specifically, the government intends to gear tertiary education towards high level relevant manpower training, self-reliance, national utility and international understanding (Federal Republic of Nigeria [FRCN], 2004). In pursuit of these objectives, institutions of higher learning such as universities, Polytechnics, Colleges of Education and Monotechnics are established in different parts of the country by the government, private organizations and individuals. These institutions admit, train and graduate students in different fields. The expectation is that, the graduates will work in different sectors of the economy and contribute their quotas towards making Nigeria a developed nation (Adeniran, 2012).

Tertiary education also referred to as post-secondary or higher education is the education given after secondary education in College of Education, Monotechnics, Polytechnics and Universities and those institutions offering correspondence courses (FME, 2004). The quality of knowledge which is generated in institutions of higher learning is critical to national competitiveness. It is only quality education that can sharpen the minds of the individual and help transform the society economically, socially and politically. Countries can achieve sustainable development by improving through training at higher levels, the skills of their human capital. From a global perspective, higher level manpower training has been recognized as a primary tool for national development. Such higher level educational provision enables the citizens to acquire skills and techniques which are ploughed into human productivity, creativity, competence, initiative, innovation and inventiveness (Aisyai, 2013).

Nigeria has a teaming population of about 154 million people (Aisyai, 2013). A growing population necessitates some growth in higher education to accommodate the increasing number of students seeking higher education, yet the potential of Nigerian higher education system to fulfill this responsibility is frequently thwarted by problems of:

  1. Inadequate funding
  2. Inadequate teaching staff/poor quality of teaching
  3. Lack of resources
  4. Lack of information communication technology facilities
  5. Frequent labour disputes and closures of institutions
  6. Lack of vibrant staff development programmes
  7. Cultism and other vices
  8. Brain drain
  9. Poor leadership

This article is focused on the following subheadings: –

  • The concept of quality and quality assurance
  • Tertiary educational institutions and their curricula
  • Sustainable development
  • Reasons for quality assurance in tertiary education
  • The challenges of quality university education in Nigeria
  • Suggest strategies for handling these challenges

Conceptual Clarification


The concept of quality which has attracted many definitions from several scholars Kalusi (2001) in Asiyai (2013) is a complex concept and there is hardly any consensus. According to Dubrin (1997) quality is a desirable attribute of a product or services that distinguish it for the person seeking the attribute. Viewed from this definition, quality could be said to have the attribute of worth and acceptance. Nevertheless, Dubrin maintains that good quality should possess the characteristics of conformance to expectations, conformance to requirements, excellence and value and loss of avoidance. Asiyai and Oghurbu (2009) define quality as a measure of how good or bad the products of higher educational institutions in Nigeria are in terms of their academic performance and meeting established standards. World Organization Standardization (1994) defines quality as the totality of features and characteristics of a product or services that bear on its ability to satisfy stated needs. Article II of the World Declaration on Education (2003) sees quality as a multi-dimensional concept which should encompass all the functions and activities in school. Such activities of higher educational institutions have been highlighted as teaching, research and scholarship, community services, staffing, students, infrastructures and educational, facilities, equipment and the academic environment (World Conference on Higher Education, 1998). High quality delivery is a prerequisite for effective productivity in the education industry and hence quality education is an instrument for effecting national stability and sustainable development. According to Ekong (2006), quality builds knowledge, live skills, perspectives, attitude and values. When high quality education is delivered higher enough to meet set standards, the products of education should be able to perform well in the world of work in real life situation. When quality is low, performance cannot meet the set standards. Hence, one can say that the quality of education has declined below set standard.

Quality Assurance

Quality assurance is the process of maintaining standards in products and services through inspection or testing of samples. Okebukolo (2010) noted that quality assurance is an umbrella concept for a host of activities that are designed to improve the quality of inputs, process and outputs of higher education system. In line with this, Adeogun (2007) contends that quality assurance entails the quality of available instructional materials for teaching, equipment, facilities, school environment, pupils, curriculum, quality of instructional delivery and quality of teachers. Quality assurance is designed to prove and improve the quality of an institution methods, educational products and outcomes (Oyebode, Oladipo and Adetora, 2007). Everyone has a role to play in ensuring quality assurance in education. One of the key building blocks of quality assurance in education is the development of minimum standards as a qualification of teachers, the quality of teaching in institutions, expected educational achievement of students and the development of a more rigorous management process for education so that the entire sector develop stronger operating policies, procedures which are well documented and adhered to. With time, this will develop into a total management system for higher education, in line with what is practiced internationally.

Quality Education

Quality education is that education that is relevant and adapted to the needs of the society (Ndiomu, 1989). Ndiomu argues that such needs must meet the standards in health, growth, and physical survival in a complex and globalized world. It implies education that is worthwhile and which empowers the recipient with relevant skills, knowledge, ideas, values and attitudes needed for him/her to make informed decisions and live a self-sustaining life. Qualitative tertiary education refers to the worth of the inputs into higher education systems, lectures, instructional facilities, and evaluation procedures which translate to the output. If a society expects quality non-power for rapid development and transformation, quality education is a must to do affair (Majasan, 1998). This education is expected to address critical issues like the dignity of labour, quality leadership and committed citizenship, industrial harmony, political stability, religious tolerance, self-reliance and security. Qualitative tertiary education entails that the products of institutions of higher education should be able to perform according to expected standard and compete favourably with their peers in other countries of the world. Qualitative education is the education that produces a complete person. Complete in the sense that, the person is intellectually, morally, physically, emotionally and socially developed. Hence, Akinpelu (2000) argues that education without quality can even be more dangerous than no education, stressing that without quality education has no value.

Tertiary Educational Institutions and their Curricula

Tertiary education is the education given after secondary education in Universities, Colleges of Education, Polytechnics, Monotechnics including those institutions offering correspondence courses (FRN, 2004). Curriculum for any level goes in line with the goals of education for that level. In Nigeria, the goals of tertiary education, as indicated by the Nigeria Policy on Education (FRN, 2004) are as follows:

  1. To contribute to national development through high level relevant manpower training.
  2. To develop and inculcate proper values for the survival of the individual and society.
  3. To develop the intellectual capability of the individuals to understand and appreciate their local and external environments.
  4. To acquire both physical and intellectual skills which will enable individuals to be self-reliant and useful members of the society
  5. To promote and encourage scholarship and community service.
  6. To forge and cement National unity; and international understanding and interaction (p.36).

According to the National policy on Education (2004), the Nigerian tertiary educational institutions shall pursue the stated goals through:

  1. Teaching
  2. Research and development
  3. Virile staff development programmes
  4. Generation and dissemination of knowledge
  5. A variety of modes of programmes including full time, part time, block release, day release, sandwich etc.
  6. Access to training such as those provided by the Industrial Training Fund (ITF);
  7. Students Industrial Work Experience Scheme (SIWES)
  8. Maintenance of minimum educational standard through appropriate agencies.
  9. Inter-institution co-operation
  10. Dedicated services of the community through extra mural and extension services Tertiary education curricula are highly diversified to encompass almost everything that could be studied. Nigerian higher educational institutions include (i) universities (ii) Colleges of Education, Institutes of technology which include Polytechnics and Monotechnics (Ogar and Meremikin, 2013).

Sustainable Development

Sustainable development, according to Fasokun (2010) came to prominence in 1887, when the World Commission on Environment and Development produced a report for the United Nation Called “Our Common Future”. It is from that report that sustainable development is derived. Thus, sustainable development centered on “development” which is to meet the needs of the present generation, without compromising meeting the needs of future generations. This implies therefore that sustainable development is the ability to meet in order to live happily in the society as well as plan for the future hence, sustainable development is to improve the quality of life, to satisfy the basic life needs and enjoy a better quality of life without compromising the quality of life of future generations (Fasokun, 2010).

Sustainable development therefore seeks to ensure a better quality of life for everyone from and for the generation to come. This, sustainable development, according to Thingan (2002), means development that should keep on going, that everything should be done to support it, and which must encompass the creation of reliable improvements in the quality of life in real income per capital, and improvement in the quality of natural environmental resources even ford. This means that, sustainable development should be continuous and persist, as it does not need to decrease or stop. This is because if it stops, society will be in disarray. This explains why it is relevant to understand natural stability before appreciating the way forward. Sustainable national development is the development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Thus, the concept of sustainable national development is based on improving the quality of life for all, without increasing the use of our natural resources beyond the capacity of the environment to supply them indefinitely.

Variables Acting as Challenges of Quality in University Institutions in Nigeria

Several factors pose as challenges of quality in tertiary education in Nigerian in the 21st century. These are highlighted and discussed below:

Inadequate Funding

Inadequate funding is the most critical challenge that has threatened the attainment of good quality higher education for sustainable development. The problem of inadequate funding of education has been a bane to educational development in the country. Onokerrhoraye, (1995) maintains that, a major constraint to attaining academic excellence in Nigerian tertiary institution   is financial constraint which makes many academics and non-academics to be working under difficult circumstances. Many institutions of higher learning in Nigeria are unable to build lecture halls, students’ hostels, equip laboratories and workshops and pay staff salaries, research grants, allowances and medical bills among others (Asiyai, 2005).

This poor funding is a major factor that militates against qualitative tertiary education. According to Dada (2004), rather than a progressive movement upward, the minimum UNESCO recommended standard of 26% governmental budgetary allocation for education has been on the decline, which has affected qualitative tertiary education. For instance, in 1999, 11.2 percent of the annual budget was allocated to education and this reduced drastically to 5.9% in 2002, 1.83 percent in 2003 and in 2009 (Oluyemi and Opeyemi, 2014). A research carried out by the World Bank on higher education (1994) shows that in the 80s, about 37 developing countries spent less than 26% of their budgets on education than the previous decades. The Nigerian government is far from the ideal.

Table 1: Level of funding in the Nigerian Universities System from 1990 – 2001

Year Total amount requested by universities (in naira) Total amount received by universities Amount received as % of amount requested
1990 1,216,601,329.90 734,770,950.00 60.40
1991 1,453,291,051.00 783,816,895.00 53.93
1992 3,663,212,945.00 2,985,237,346.00 81.49
1993 5,075,859,925.00 3,801,529,278.00 74.89
1994 7,342,861,713.00 4,370,880,770.00 59.53
1995 11,328,861,713.00 6,056,784,806.00 59.53
1996 12,442,699,358.00 7,535,594,529.00 53.46
1997 15,820,155,501.00 5,348,173,942.00 60.56
1998 22,767,530,158.00 8,974,631,294.00 39.42
1999 40,884,109,125.00 11,831,930,271.93 28.94
2000 65,579,997,692.00 30,143,004,497.91 45.96
2001 68,911,759,219.11 31,270,080,668.17 45.23
Total 256,486,598,921.11 113,736,435,248.68 44.34

Source: National Universities Commission 2006 Report.

As indicated in Table 1, only 44.34 percent which is much less than what was requested was released for 11 years (1990 – 2001). The subvention which was released for both recurrent and capital expenditure was not up to 50 percent and it was inadequate for the needs of the universities. For universities to achieve qualitative and standard education for sustainable development, prudent financial management should be maintained.

Inadequate Teaching Staff/Poor Quality of Teaching Staff

A big challenge to the attainment of quality tertiary education in Nigeria is the lack of academic staff. According to Coombs (1970), teachers are the hub of any educational system. Teachers determine the quality of education because they translate to educational policies into practice and action. As rightly pointed out by Ukeji, (1996) without adequate number of inspiring, well-informed teachers, fully prepared to meet their responsibilities in our schools, we cannot have good education and without good education, we cannot hope for long to meet successfully, the challenges of a changing world to enhance national stability and sustainable development. Ajayi (2007) seems to concur with the above when he notes that good teachers are needed for good education which in turn is indispensable for social change, social transformation, national stability and sustainable development. The importance of teachers cannot be overemphasized. Despite the importance of teachers in the attainment of good education in Nigeria, institutions of higher learning are short of lecturers to adequately handle teaching activities. The institutions, because of inadequate funding, are not able to employ additional lecturers. The few available lecturers are seriously overworked. Even in some institutions of higher learning in the country, because of shortage of lecturers, their programmes are not accredited by supervising agencies. Attainment of good quality higher education requires adequate quantity and quality of teaching staff (Ekeng, 2006; Adeogun, 2007).

The academic staff situation poses serious challenges to the quality of programme delivery. According to Bamiro (2012), enrolment for the different programmes and levels in the university system during the 2006 – 2007 session was 1,096,312 with the Federal universities accounting for 56% of the enrolment, State universities 37% and Private universities 3% only. The total staff strength of 27,934 translated to students’/academic staff ratio of 40:1 globally. Private universities had the lowest ratio of 59:1. These figures show the rather poor staffing levels of universities. The Executive Secretary NUC captured the situation as follows:

A key challenge at present towards actualizing the desired quality university education remains the paucity of high quality academic staff. There were a total of 27,394 academic staff within the university system as at 2006 comprising Federal – 17,836(65%), State – 7,586(28%), and Private – 1,972 (7%). Of these, Professor/Reader cadre constituted just 5,483(56.4%). Computation using current approved students/teacher ratio however indicates that the Nigerian University system requires a total of 34,712 academic staff for effective course delivery across the disciplines.

From the above, the system recorded a shortfall of 7,318 academic staff to adequately take care of the programme being run as at 2007. With the establishment of close to 42 additional universities since, 2007, the staff situation must have worsened due to the fact that most of the new universities have basically been poaching staff mainly from 1st – 2nd generation universities (Bamiro, 2012), and this has a negative impact on qualitative education for sustainable development.

Poor Policy Implementation

Poor policy implementation is a challenge to quality delivery in education. The poor quality delivery is responsible for the abysmally low performance of graduates of institutions of higher learning in Nigeria in their world of work and the alarming incidence of examination malpractice.  In addition to the above, there are factors like government underfunding of education and injudicious utilization of available funds by implementation agencies. Vice Chancellors, Rectors, Provosts, Deans of Faculties, Heads of Departments etc. when funds meant to deliver quality education are misappropriated or embezzled, the education which learners receive becomes worthless and hinders sustainable development (Okoroma, 2004).

Lack of Resources

Quality higher education is dependent on the quality and quantity of human and material resources put in place in institutions of higher learning. The lack of infrastructure such as science laboratories, workshops, student hotels, libraries and electricity will affect the quality of education. For good quality delivery, these facilities must meet the minimum standard specified by the National Universities Commission (NUC), the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE) and National Commision for Colleges of Education (NCCE). For quality teaching and learning, the class size must be small for effective student-teacher interaction. Unfortunately, in most institutions of higher learning in Nigeria, the lecture halls are overcrowded, with majority of the students standing on the corridor during lectures (Odetunde, 2004). Besides, the libraries in most institutions of higher learning in the country are stocked with obsolete textbooks, with current journals and textbooks lacking. This acute shortage of educational facilities in institutions of higher learning in Nigeria has led to a decline in the quality of higher education in the Country.

Worried about the poor quality of graduates of higher education institutions in Nigeria, the National Universities Commission carried out a need assessment survey which was reported by Okebukola (2005) and highlighted the following:

  • Only about 30% of Nigerian students’ population has adequate access to classrooms, workshops, lecture halls, laboratories and libraries.
  • Deficient libraries in terms of currency and number of books, journals and electronic support facilities.
  • Inadequate academic calendar resulting from staff union, industrial action, premised on low salary, wages/welfare and students’ strike often times related to inadequate facilities.
  • Lack of practical experience, often time resulting to deficient facilities.

These factors above are all threats to quality attainment in higher education in Nigeria.

The source of these problems can be traced largely to insufficient funding of the higher education system. In fact, funding shortfalls have been the norm for many years as enrolments have increased more quickly than the government’s capacity to maintain its proportional financial support. Simply put, the system has not had the financial resources necessary to maintain educational quality in the midst of significant enrolment expansion. These funding constraints have been mainly the result of the governments’ insistence that it remains virtually the sole source of financial support for institutions of higher learning. During the 1990s, for example, up to 93% of university funding was provided by the Federal government (Saint, Hartnett, & Strassner, 2003). In current value terms, the government’s recurrent grants to federal universities would appear to have increased dramatically from 530 million naira in 1988 to 9.6 billion naira in 1990. Thus, increased budgetary allocations have been muted by the effect of rising enrolments. When government funding becomes insufficient to maintain institutional performance in teaching and research, universities elsewhere in the world have had to supplement their public funding with locally generated income (fees, cost-recovery, business income, investment income, gifts, and so on). This is also true in Nigeria. Locally generated income has contributed a relatively constant share of around 15% of universities recurrent budgets in recent years, varying among institutions from a low of 4% to a high of 37% (Hartnett, 2000). In spite of active verbal encouragement from government to increase local income generation, it appears that the universities’ capacity to generate revenues in this way may have been reached. This shortfall in financing has risks of declining educational quality, resource use efficiency and learning effectiveness to achieve sustainable development.

Lack of Information Communication Technology Facilities

Another challenge to quality attainment in tertiary education in Nigeria is lack of information technology facilities in institutions of higher learning. As part of her education   reform effort, the Nigerian government adopted information communication technology integration in educational practices meant to improve teaching and learning, enhance higher education research, enhance collaboration among peers and improve quality of education. Unfortunately, in most institutions of higher learning in the country, there is acute shortage of computers, multi-media projectors, electronic white boards, and automatic lecture halls and lecturers offices. Even, majority of the institutions are not linked with functional internet connectively (Resnick, 1998; Asiyai, 2010).

Frequent Labour Disputes and Closures of Institutions

A big challenge to quality higher education in Nigeria is the incessant staff union disputes and subsequent closures of the institutions. Closures of institution affect staff productivity and the realization of educational aim and objectives. Asiyai (2005) provide a catalogue of strikes by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) within fourteen years. She reveals that there were too many strikes, some of which lasted up to six months. Asiyai (2005) identifies the variables including the frequent trade union disputes occasioned by poor conditions of service of staff, non-implementation of ASUU/FGN SSANU/FGN agreements, lack of autonomy and academic programmes of institutions of higher learning. These problems affect students learning outcomes, since lecturers find it difficult to complete the course work. Adeboye (2003) in his study notes that the higher the level of crisis, disputes and hostility, the lower the level of productivity standard and quality of the products of the system.

The frequent disputes and strike galore by University Staff and students leaves them with little or no time to complete both their theoretical and practical work. In most cases, a semester’s course work is sandwiched to few weeks during which lectures are rushed to accommodate the time lost to strike. This type of academic rush is a big threat to attainment of quality in higher education in Nigeria (Asiyai, 2005; Asiyai, 2006; and Asiyai, 2010). Adeboye (2003) in his study notes that the higher the level of crisis, disruptions and hostility, the lower the level of productivity, standard and quality of the products of the system which hinders sustainable development.

Lack of Vibrant staff Development Programme

Most institutions of higher learning in Nigeria lack staff development programme for training and re-training of staff. Vibrant development on a continuous basis will help academics and non-academics to clarify and modify their behaviour, attitudes, values, skills and competencies. In this way, they grow and develop in their knowledge and thus become more effective and efficient in the performance of tasks. Asiyai (2005) reports that lack of staff development programmes accounts for the decline in quality of tertiary education in the performance of tasks that will enhance sustainable development and improve quality in our tertiary education level.

Cultism and other Vices

A big challenge to quality in education in Nigeria is the increasing activities of secret cult groups, kidnappers and other vices. The higher education institutions in Nigeria are under siege barded and almost ruined by secret cults. As a result of the activities of cult groups and kidnappers, majority of students lecturers and their families live in perpetual fear. Some of these cult groups indulge in armed robbery, rape, assassination and infrastructure destruction. The tension induced on members of the higher institutions community as a result of the activities of these secret cult groups and kidnappers tends to generate negative impact on the quality of higher learning in Nigeria and thereby affects sustainable development (Asiyai, 2013).

Brain Drain

A big challenge to the quality of higher education in Nigeria is the problem of brain drain. Over the past decades, there has been a mass exodus of brilliant and talented lecturers to other sectors of the economy. Some of the lecturers left Nigerian tertiary institutions to join the business world, some to join politics, while others left Nigeria for better services. As succinctly put by Asiyai (2013), many experienced and young lecturers are fleeing Nigeria from the frustration of University life into more rewarding and more challenging sectors of the economy and even to oversea countries. However, when there is exodus of brilliant and seasoned academics from institutions of higher learning, the quality of education delivery is threatened and sustainable development is thwarted.

Poor Leadership

Poor leadership both at the governmental level and at the institution level has been a big challenge to quality in tertiary education in Nigeria. Since the nineties, the government of the country has not shown enough commitment to higher education development in Nigeria. One of the several indices for properly evaluating government commitment to educational development in any country is budgetary allocation and disbursement to education. UNESCO recommends 26% of budgetary allocation to education based on GNP but the amount allocated to education by the Nigerian government has continued to be smaller when compared to other African countries. It is clear that the government of the country is not committed to quality education. Additionally, poor leadership of some Nigerian tertiary education administrators has been a hinderance to the attainment of quality in higher education in Nigeria. Institutions of higher learning in Nigeria exist because they have goals to be attained. These goals can be effectively attained when the human resources within the institutions are properly managed for their positive impacts on productivity. But research has shown that most staff disputes are attributed to the high-handedness and training of some administrators who refuse to involve staff members in decision making. This unhealthy situation could lead to strained relations between staff unions and management, increased hostility and aggression and increased mutual suspicions which are all threats to mutual co-existence for the attainment of good quality and sustainable development in institutions of higher learning (Asiyai, 2013).

Conclusion and Suggestions

It can be concluded that, reforms are necessary for tertiary education to be able to address the challenges of quality in tertiary education in Nigeria, therefore, the following recommendations are worthy of note:

  1. The government of Nigeria should place higher premium on education by meeting up the recommended 26% educational spending prescribed by UNESCO, to help revitalize the tertiary education system.
  2. Institutions of higher learning in Nigeria should employ more lectures to match the students’ population.
  3. Institutions of higher learning in Nigeria should improve conditions of service, provision of basic infrastructure; such as large classroom, halls, workshops, laboratories and libraries.
  4. Tertiary institutions should increase and improve the availability of information communication technology facilities such as computers, functional internet connectivity, multi-media projectors, electronic white-boards among others.
  5. The government and management of higher educational institutions should motivate lecturers through prompt payment of their salaries, allowances, and other entitlements, to make them dedicated, devoted, committed and effective in their jobs.
  6. The management of tertiary institutions should provide adequate staff development programmes and funds for staff training. This can improve their knowledge and competencies. This could be achieved through scholarship programmes, research grants, workshops trainings, seminars and so on.
  7. Institutions of higher learning in Nigeria should set up internal quality assurance and monitoring of lecturers unit to enhance good quality delivery.
  8. Reforms in existing higher educational institutions in Nigeria can be promoted by management of tertiary institutions through deliberate collaborative efforts by government, business sectors, civil society and the academia. This could help to reinvent Nigerian higher education system for better quality delivery in research, teaching and community services.
  9. Institutions of higher learning in Nigeria should develop a healthy and friendly relationship between the management and staff unions, as well as students. By so doing, hostility, aggression, and increased mutual suspicion will be avoided.


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