Al-Tarzi: Deregulating Education Sector will Ensure Quality

An erudite educationist and manager of men and resources, Dr. Fadl Al-Tarzi is the Chief Executive Officer of Nexford University, a next generation online institution based in Washington DC and recently turned out its third set of graduates in Nigeria. He explains to Funmi Ogundare, why governments need to deregulate the education sector and allow market forces to-regulate it as such will ensure quality institutions that will survive the times. Excerpts

What is your view about the rush out of this country called ‘Japa’ syndrome?

Clearly Japa is top of mind for many Nigerians, it is something I hear about almost on a daily basis while in Nigeria. Brain drain is a real challenge many markets are grappling with and in 2022 Nigeria recorded the largest number of passport applications in the last seven years, likely driven by the desire to Japa. It presents a real challenge to employers evidenced by our conversations with many of the country’s leading employers. Unfortunately, while the total number of migrants is small relative to the overall population, those who are leaving are among the most qualified, creating a real challenge for employers to find and retain good talent.

Having said that, the number of remote jobs across the world is on the rise and Nigeria is poised to benefit from this growing trend. Japa is becoming a choice rather than a necessity; Nigerians can now build the skills to qualify for a wide range of remote jobs rendering giving them the choice to stay or leave. Our role is to help equip learners with those skills and help them realise that the range of local challenges also present opportunities. Alongside our graduation recently, we had a demo day for founder alumni to pitch to experienced VCs, one of the pitches was from a healthcare startup named Hospyta addressing the patient to doctor ratio problem through a telemedicine app which has the potential to radically address this challenge. Technology will continue to enable innovation to address the nation’s most pressing challenges and we hope some of our alumni will capture those opportunities.

How have you been able to steer the ship of Nexford University to impact Nigerian students yearrning for quality education?

Definitely, Nexford University was designed from scratch for a global audience with Nigeria being among our largest markets. Nigerians have a real thirst for quality affordable education and we have found them to be among the most resilient learners across our global community.

In the last three years, how have students who passed through Nexford fared?

Ninety-two per cent of our graduates said Nexford prepared them for the current or future career, 88 per cent now feel more qualified than their peers. 98 per cent would recommend Nexford to others, post-graduation, while 75 per cent have achieved or are on track to achieving a positive return on their education investment within just 12 months of graduation. We’re thrilled with these results and the positive impact we are creating across the world.

How has your university been able to deepen partnerships with local and regional organisations?

We have been able to achieve that by actively searching for like-minded organisations committed to investing in upskilling or reskilling their own team members. Research shows that 76 per cent of job seekers find a company more appealing if it offers additional skills training and companies experience 24 per cent higher profit margins when they invest in training. We’re thrilled to count organisations such as Sterling Bank, AFEX, Nestle and LSETF among our local partners.

What is your view about Artificial Intelligence and how has its introduction in your university helped African learners bolster their career?

Simply put, those who leverage AI are going to replace those who don’t, in the workplace. So, we are actively encouraging and teaching our learners how and when to use AI, ethically. AI will open up a range of opportunities including increasing productivity and those who understand the practical implications of AI will become extremely valuable employees to local and global organisations as they prioritise digital transformation. In fact ,we recently launched a Masters in Digital Transformation which includes a strong focus on AI applications.

How effectively do you think third world countries can fix their education and human capital deficiencies?

Frankly speaking, I think the most effective measure is deregulation. Governments need to deregulate the sector, let market forces of supply and demand self-regulate. High quality institutions that offer real value will survive while lower quality ones will not. 

Let learners decide based where they want to learn based on the outcomes and based on employer feedback. Many of the regulations that continue to exist both in Africa and in other nations are outdated and no longer fit for purpose. Education has changed, it is now lifelong, and learners need to continue learning throughout their careers plus given the rate of change in technology, it is less likely that students will be able to take years out of their lives to earn a degree. Students will need to learn while they earn; balancing the two.

How do you see the progress of Nexford University in Africa in the future?

We see Nexford becoming the largest university platform creating and supplying qualified talent from the continent; and because the majority of the workforce of the future will be from Africa, we will remain heavily focused on this continent.

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