Every year about 1 million Nigerian students pass college entrance exams, but the country’s universities can admit only 300,000.
The shortage of university places leaves most of Nigeria’s best students frustrated and uneducated, according to Kabir Mato, director of the Institute for Anti-Corruption Studies at the University of Abuja.
“There is a tremendous national crisis that is at hand,” Mato told. “At the end of the day, most of those boys and girls that have passed very well will not be accommodated and so they will grow hopeless.”
Mato said the inability of Nigeria’s 122 universities to take on most of their qualified applicants is a national security concern because it drives unemployed young people onto the streets and possibly into extremist groups like Boko Haram, which has killed 450 people so far this year with their protest bombings.
Many would-be students, however, say they are not interested in joining militias; they just want to get a good job. Mato said since many of Nigeria’s young people are unable to go to college, the economy also suffers from a lack of local innovation and educated employees.
Prospective university students say the fact that there are not enough university places is not nearly as frustrating as the corruption and nepotism of the application process.
Ismaila Babatunde graduated from secondary school in 2005. That year, he passed the university qualifying exams, but was not admitted to a public university. Private universities cost more than $3,000 a year, so he didn’t bother to apply.
Babatunde said he passed the qualifying exams again in 2007 and in 2012, each time studying full time for months.
Like many potential students, Babatunde said his efforts to get into college were frustrated by the fact that he has no high-level connections and not enough money. He said admissions officials work with student agents to demand cash for admissions. University officials will also consider letters from ministers or other top government offices.
“It’s only on the very, very rare occasion that there is admission on merit,” he told. “Sometimes you see someone that didn’t even apply to the school getting into the school.”
Corruption watchdog group Transparency International ranks Nigeria the world’s 40th most corrupt country out of 183. The group says Nigeria’s education system is perceived to be one the most corrupt in the public sector, after police, political parties and the legislature.