Education in Nigeria

Education in NigeriaNigeria is the most populous country in Africa, with approximately double the population of both Ethiopia and Egypt, the next biggest African countries by population size. Demographically the country is young and growing quickly, with 63 percent of the population under the age of 24 and a high average relative annual growth rate of 3.24 percent, a full half a percentage point higher than the African average.



For the Nigerian education system this means incredible new demands that the government is currently hard pressed to meet. At the tertiary level alone, the number of students has grown from under 15,000 in 1970 to approximately 1.2 million today. As a result of the huge surge in demand, hundreds of thousands of aspiring tertiary students are annually missing out on places as there are simply not enough seats to meet demand.

Not Enough University Seats

This year, 1.7 million students registered for Nigeria’s centralized tertiary admissions examinations, all competing for the half million places available; potentially leaving over a million qualified college-age Nigerians without a postsecondary place. This despite the fact that the number of available places has grown significantly in recent years as the government establishes new institutions in its efforts to meet demand. Since 2005, the number of universities alone has grown from 51 to 128, while capacity at existing universities has been stretched to its limits.

These expansion efforts, while generally positive for access in absolute terms, have created issues related to instructional quality. Nigeria’s institutions and lecture halls are severely overcrowded, student to teacher ratios have skyrocketed and faculty shortages have become a major problem, with an estimated 40 percent of university positions and 60 percent of polytechic positions currently unstaffed. High unemployment among university graduates is also a major problem, but does not appear to be a deterrent to those seeking admission into institutions of higher learning.

The growth in demand for university places is largely a function of Nigeria’s rapidly growing youth population, and comes despite a school system that is failing to educate a large percentage of its youth. The literacy rate for 15-24 year olds stands at 72.1 percent, just 11 percentage points higher than an adult literacy rate of 61.3 percent. At the secondary level, the gross enrollment ratio (the percentage of all enrollments at that level as a percentage of the total secondary-age population) is just 44 percent, or 21 percentage points below the global average (but four higher than the African Sub-Saharan average), while the lower secondary ratio is just 47 percent (versus a global average of 82 percent). This means that significantly
less than half of Nigeria’s youth are currently making it through basic education, which helps explain the stubbornly low youth literacy rate. At the tertiary level, the GER is just 10 percent, which is on par with the Sub-Saharan average but well below the global average.

At the primary level, access issues appear to be even more troubling. According to UNESCO’s most recent Education for All Global Monitoring Report (2012) one in five Nigerian children is out of school, giving it the largest population of out-of-school children in the world at 10.5 million in 2010, a figure that has risen almost three million since 1999. Indeed, the net enrollment ratio at the primary level (number of primary age children enrolled in school as a percentage of the total primary-age population) has fallen since 1999 from 61 percent to 58 percent (2010). Over the same period, the regional average increased from 58 percent to 76 percent.

International Mobility

After Morocco, Nigeria sends the most students overseas of any country on the African continent, according to data from the UNESCO Institute of Statistics (UIS). The UIS pegged the total number of Nigerian students abroad in 2010 at just under 39,000, although anecdotal evidence from education watchers in Nigeria would suggest that the number is considerably higher, with many students taking up places at private institutions in neighboring countries, with Ghana reportedly being particularly attractive.


The failure of Nigeria’s education system to meet booming demand, in combination with the generally poor quality of its universities and the rapid growth in the number of families that can afford to send their children overseas are the primary drivers of academic mobility out of Nigeria. According to data from the UIS, the number of Nigerian students at overseas institutions of education grew 71 percent between 2007 and 2010.

With graduate unemployment currently thought to be as high as 60 percent, students looking for a leg up in the domestic or international job markets that can afford to study abroad are likely to continue doing so in the coming years, according to several recent studies, including one from the British Council that (perhaps ambitiously) predicts there will be 30,000 Nigerians studying in the UK by 2015.

Thanks to colonial ties and a shared language, the United Kingdom has long been a favorite destination for Nigerian students overseas, with numbers booming in recent years from 11,785 in 2008 to 17,620 in 2012, according to recent data from Britain’s Higher
Education Statistics Agency. Currently, 42 percent of Nigerians overseas are at a British institution of higher education, many enrolling from popular private secondary schools.

The United States is the second-most popular destination, with enrollments increasing slowly but steadily over the past 10 years from 3,820 in 2000/01 to just over 7,000 in 2011/12. Engineering, business and health-related fields continually rank as the most popular among Nigerian students in the United States.




More recently, Malaysia has emerged as a popular destination for Nigerians, especially among those from the Muslim north. Aside from the appeal of Malaysia as a majority Islamic country, low tuition and living costs are attractive, as is the opportunity to earn a prestigious Western degree from one of the five foreign branch campuses that operate in the country.


Education in Nigeria is the shared responsibility of the federal, state and local governments. The Federal Ministry of Education plays a dominant role in regulating the education sector, engaging in policy formation and ensuring quality control. However, the federal government is more directly involved with tertiary education than it is with school education, which is largely the responsibility of state (secondary) and local (primary) governments.

The education sector is divided into three sub-sectors: basic (nine years), post-basic/senior secondary (three years), and tertiary (four to seven years, depending on the major or course of study).

According to the National Policy on Education (2004), basic education covers nine years of formal (compulsory) schooling consisting of six years of primary and three years of junior secondary. Just one-third of children who begin basic education currently proceed to senior secondary school.

Post-basic education includes three years of senior secondary education in either an academic or technical stream. Continuing education options are provided through vocational and technical schools.

At the tertiary level, the system consists of a university sector and a non-university sector. The latter is composed of polytechnics, monotechnics and colleges of education. The tertiary sector as a whole offers opportunities for undergraduate, graduate, vocational and technical education. There are currently (2013) 128 federal, state and private universities accredited in Nigeria as degree-granting institutions, in addition to 78 polytechnics, 27 monotechnics, and 281 colleges in various specific disciplines.

Information on all accredited universities is available on the National University Commission’s website. Information on recognized technical school is available through the website of the National Board for Technical Education.

The academic year typically runs from September to July. Most universities use a semester system of 18 – 20 weeks. Others run from January to December, divided into 3 terms of 10 -12 weeks.

There are currently various government reforms and initiatives aimed at improving the Nigerian educational system. These include the upgrade of some polytechnics and colleges of education to the status of degree-awarding institutions, the approval and accreditation of more private universities, and the dissemination of better education-related data.

Basic Education

Primary education covers grades one through six, and the curriculum includes: agriculture, art, civic education, computer studies, English, French, home economics, mathematics, native language, science and social studies.

The language of instruction for the first three years is one of the main native languages (Hausa, Ibo, Yoruba). English is increasingly being adopted as the language of instruction for the last three years of primary school. Students are awarded the Primary School Leaving Certificate on completion of Grade 6, based on continuous assessment.

Progression to junior secondary is automatic and compulsory. It lasts three years and covers grades seven through nine, completing the basic stage of education. Students follow either an academic stream or a pre-vocational stream that includes electives such as agriculture, business studies, crafts and computer education. Core curriculum subjects include English, French, integrated science, technology, a native language, mathematics and social studies. With elective subjects, students take a total of 10-13 different classes.

Students are awarded the Junior Secondary School Certificate (JSSC) at the end of grade nine, based on their performance on end of year examinations and continuous assessment. The JSSC provides access to Senior Secondary studies. Students are expected to take a minimum of ten subjects and a maximum of thirteen for their Junior School Certificate Examination (JSCE). Students must achieve passes in six subjects, including English and mathematics, to pass the JSCE.

Senior Secondary

Senior Secondary Education lasts three years and covers grades 10 through 12. Students are streamed into either academic or technical/scientific concentrations, depending on their results in the JSSC examination. A majority of students follow the academic steam. The curriculum consists of six core subjects, with two to three additional electives. Core subjects are: English, mathematics, a native language, at least one science subject and one social science subject, agricultural science or a vocational subject.

While private and public schools offer the same curriculum, most private schools include the Cambridge International Examination curriculum, which allows students to take the IGSCE examinations during their final year in high school.

At the end of the 12th grade in May/June students sit the Senior School Certificate Examination (SSCE). They are examined in eight or nine subjects, depending on the number of courses pursued in grade 12 (students can drop one of their three electives), including mathematics and English. Successful candidates are awarded the Senior Secondary Certificate (SSC), which lists all subjects successfully taken. The General Certificate of Education A-Level Examinations were replaced by the SSCE in 1989; however, students can still sit these exams in November, if interested or needed because of poor SSCE results.

The West African Examination Council and the National Examination Council (NECO) issue the SSC, depending on the examination board used. The SSCE grading scale is as follows for both WAEC and NECO administered examinations:


Students must score an average grade of ‘credit’ level (C6) or better to be considered for admission to public universities; some institutions may require higher grades.

It is possible to access student results through the West African Examinations Council (WAEC)/or National Examination Council (NECO) websites. The student must provide the PIN number that they purchase for the equivalent of $3 (available at any post office, bank or WAEC regional office). With the PIN number it is possible to retrieve a printable copy of their WAEC results. This is the fastest and most reliable way of verifying a student’s results from Nigeria.

Technical and vocational education is available for graduates of junior secondary school. A two-tier system of nationally certified programs is offered at science technical schools, leading to the award of National Technical/Commercial Certificates (NTC/NCC) and Advanced National Technical/Business Certificates. The lower-level program lasts three years after Junior Secondary School and is considered by the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board as equivalent to the SSC.

The Advanced program requires two years of pre-entry industrial work experience and one year of full-time study in addition to the NTT/NCC. The advanced degrees are typically considered equivalent to an undergraduate degree. All certificates are awarded by the National Business and Technical Examinations Board (NABTEB).

University Admissions

Those students who achieve credit level or better in English and four other subjects relevant to their major are eligible to take the University Tertiary Matriculation Examination, the centralized university admissions test administered by the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB). The cut-off mark for most universities is between 180 and 200 out of 400. For high-demand universities or programs, the cut-off mark is higher. Many universities also conduct additional screening, post-UTME examinations, before a final admission decision is made.

For the UTME, students must take exams in English and three subjects related to their proposed major. A total of 24 different UTME subjects are offered, with six considered science subjects, 14 arts and humanities, and four commercial. Over the last three years, the five most popular UTME subjects have been mathematics, chemistry, government, economics, and physics.

Each student can choose up to six institutions: two universities, two polytechnics and two colleges of education, with first and second choice programs for each institution, when registering with JAMB for the UTME. The JAMB administers all admissions to bachelor degree programs at all Nigerian universities.

The most popular universities in 2011 among JAMB applicants were the University of Lagos (99,195 applicants for 6,106 places), followed by Ahmadu Bello University (89,760), the University of Nigeria Nsukka (88,177), Nnamdi Azikiwe University (84,719) and the University of Benin (80,976).

In 2012, 68.5 percent of university applications were made to federal universities, 30 percent to state universities, and just 1.5 percent to private universities.

A recent government announcement proposed that JAMB, and by extension the UTME, be scrapped in favor of universities conducting their own entrance examinations as a cost-cutting measure. The proposal has been the cause of much opposition, but currently remains open to discussion with a final decision pending.


As the figures in the table above reveal, the number of available tertiary places far outweighs demand, as represented by UTME test takers. Currently just one in three applicants finds a place at an institution of higher education, although this is a significant improvement versus 10 years ago when the ratio was closer to one in 10 for university entry.

While capacity has been increased at Nigeria’s universities with the establishment of new institutions and the upgrade of colleges and polytechnics, subsequent quality issues have arisen related to overcrowding and inadequate lecturer qualifications. According to a 2012 report from the National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy (NEEDS) Committee, established by the federal government to look into the problems of universities, just 43 percent of Nigeria’s 37,504 university lecturers have PhDs. The report also notes that Nigeria has one of the worst lecturer to student ratios in the world, with the National Open University, University of Abuja and Lagos State University having a ratios of 1:363; 1:122; 1:114 respectively.


Presently there are 128 universities (40 federal, 38 state and 51 private) recognized by the National Universities Commission (NUC), the government umbrella organization that oversees the administration of higher education in Nigeria. The 40 federal universities and dozens of teaching hospitals and colleges are under its direct purview. State governments have responsibility for the administration and financing of the 38 state universities. The NUC approves and accredits all university programs.

In recent years there has been steady growth in the number of universities approved to award degrees as the government attempts to respond to rapidly increasing demand. Nonetheless, there is currently still way more demand than there is supply of places.

According to recent announcements from the federal government, six ‘mega-universities’ will be created in the coming years with the capacity to admit up to 150,000 students each. The government believes that through the creation of these universities, it will be able to supply places for the approximately one million students who are annually meeting the university admissions standard on the UTME and SSCE. Only about 600,000 are currently admitted. Funding, infrastructure and staffing for the plan currently exist as major hurdles to be addressed.


In addition to universities, there are 59 federal and state polytechnic colleges and 19 privately owned polytechnics. These were established to train technical, mid-level manpower and teachers. Currently, there are plans to upgrade some of these colleges to allow them to award degrees. The colleges are evaluated and accredited by the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE). A list of approved polytechnics and other technical colleges is available here and approved teaching colleges here.

Undergraduate Programs

The standard duration of undergraduate programs in Nigeria is four years in the social sciences, pure sciences and humanities; five years in law, engineering- and technology-related programs; and six years in architecture, medicine and veterinary science.

Students may take either a single-subject honors degree or combined honors. For single-subject honors, students study three subjects in the first year, two in the second year and one in the third. In the combined honors program students take three subjects in the first year and two subjects in both the second and third years. In the fourth year, single subject honors students take one subject and combined-honors students take at least two subjects.

Graduate Programs

Postgraduate degrees are awarded upon completion of one year of full-time study after the bachelor degree. These programs are generally offered in education and public administration.

Master’s degrees are typically open to holders of a First or Second Class bachelor degree and usually require one year of full-time study (see grading equivalent below). A research thesis may be required and, if so, the program is typically two years in duration.

Doctoral degrees are open to holders of a master’s degree in a related field and usually require two to three additional years of study beyond the master’s.

University Grading System

  • First Class (4.50- 5.00)
  • Second Class Upper Division (3.50 – 4.49)
  • Second Class Lower Division (2.40 – 3.49)
  • Third Class (1.50 – 2.39)
  • Pass (1.00 – 1.49)

Technical and Vocational Higher Education

Higher technical education is provided at technical colleges, polytechnics and colleges of education. Entry to colleges and polytechnics is based on JAMB-administered entrance examinations combined with results from secondary and vocational schools.

The National Diplomais a two-year program and grants access to Higher National Diploma programs.

The Higher National Diploma (HND) is a two-year program that typically requires one year of work experience after the National Diploma, which is required for admission. The HND is the equivalent to a university degree and offers access to university graduate studies. HND graduates may also decide to take a one-year postgraduate diploma certificate before applying for a master’s degree.

Colleges and specialized training institutes offer various certificates and diplomas that may be obtained after one, two or three years. The Nursing & Midwifery Council of Nigeria awards the Diploma of Midwifery after one year of theoretic and clinical postsecondary studies and the Registered Nurse Certificate after three years of postsecondary study. The Institute of Medical Laboratory Technology awards the Associate Diploma of Medical Laboratory Technology and the Fellowship Diploma on a 4+1 basis of postsecondary education.




A typical transcript from a Nigerian university should have the student’s name, registration number, year of entry, year of graduation, GPAs, & CGPA, and semester-by-semester entry of all the completed courses and scores. Transcripts also include the signature of the Registrar or Deputy Registrar and an official stamp (some universities may attach student photographs and a university seal to strengthen the document.) Students are not given copies of their transcript. Universities send all transcripts directly to requesting institutions.

To verify a Nigerian university transcript, schools are advised to contact Nigerian universities directly through regular mail or email with addresses that can be found on their websites or on the NUC website.

WES Required Documents

In order to complete a credential evaluation at the secondary level, WES requires that external examination results for the Senior School Certificate be sent directly by the West African Examinations Council, unless one or more years of postsecondary study has been completed; in which case no secondary documents are required.

For higher education, the applicant must submit clear, legible photocopies of all degree certificates issued by the institutions attended. In addition, academic transcripts showing all subjects completed and all grades awarded for all years of postsecondary study must be sent directly by the institutions attended. For completed doctoral programs, a letter confirming the awarding of the degree must be sent directly by the institutions attended.

Sample Documents

This file of Sample Documents (pdf) shows a set of annotated credentials from the Nigerian education system, beginning with public high school documents, and followed by a National and Higher National Diploma, public undergraduate, master’s and doctoral credentials.

Tagged with:
Posted in Africa, Education System Profiles