Open To All, Accessible by Few
: Examining Individual, Community, and State Inequalities in Secondary and Higher Education in Nigeria Using Multilevel Modelling of Survey Data.

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Post-primary (secondary and higher) education participation in many low- and middle-income countries is low including in Nigeria. Despite global advocacy for continued education and the recognition of its crucial role in economic growth and societal development, significant barriers persist. In particular, the evidence shows that post-primary education is still unobtainable to a large proportion of the population in Nigeria, with around 20 million out-of-school children and youth in 2022. This study critically examines the challenges hindering post-primary education in Nigeria, particularly concerning access to school, attainment of foundational skills essential for economic growth and Higher education transition. With current global advocacy in favour of continuing education beyond the basic level up to higher education and the realisation of the importance of a skilled workforce for economic growth, national competitiveness, better health outcomes, and poverty reduction, amongst other reasons, countries like Nigeria are a long way from universal higher education access.
Additionally, limited research exists on the multilevel factors influencing educational opportunities within Nigeria, with scant attention given to variations across different states and communities and their association with the educational opportunities for children. In order to address this gap, this study investigates individual, community, and state-level inequalities in post-primary education within the Nigerian context. Methodologically, this research employs three-level multilevel logistic regression modelling of large-scale quantitative household datasets: the 2015 Nigerian Education Survey and the 2021 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey datasets. Multilevel modelling is the appropriate methodology to use in this study because the data are hierarchically clustered, as children are nested within households within communities and within states in Nigeria.
The investigations in this study centre on three main issues: secondary school enrolment, learning outcomes in literacy and numeracy at secondary education, and higher education access in Nigeria. These investigations are situated within a conceptual framework of multilevel determinants of educational opportunities from primary to higher education. This framework is interrelated and describes a situation where an individual sets out on the education journey, from enrolling in primary education with the goal of ending up in higher education. Multilevel factors (at the individual, household, school and geographical levels) determine access to education at all stages, and where access to education and skills development (learning) is blocked, access to higher levels of education is automatically denied. This framework acknowledges that inequalities on the route to higher education start long before students reach the enrolment age for higher education.
This research is based on two main theories: the household production function and social capital theories. The household production function theory focuses on factors such as socioeconomic status, which influence access to educational opportunities at the individual-household level. This theory helps us understand how households make decisions to maximize their utility. On the other hand, the social capital theory looks at factors like the availability of nearby schools and public education provision at the community and state levels, shedding light on how individuals’ access and strengthen their social capital through educational opportunities provided by the state and through social interactions within communities.
The findings reveal substantial regional and state inequalities in educational opportunities in Nigeria, revealing a stark North-South divide in access to education and learning outcomes. There are also significant sociodemographic gaps in educational opportunities, with student gender and household socioeconomic status being significantly associated with who is accessing school and developing foundational literacy and numeracy skills in Nigeria. Furthermore, this research highlights nuanced disparities tied to variations in educational access and opportunities across specific states in Nigeria. It also points to a greater relevance of state vs. individual level factors for access to secondary vs. access to higher education in Nigeria.
This thesis contributes to the empirical literature on educational opportunities in Nigeria, contextualising the role of communities and states in reducing educational inequalities for individuals. Furthermore, it highlights the importance of the state where a child resides as not just an administrative unit for data collection or mere demographic entities but as an important division that is significantly associated with the educational opportunities and future of a child.
Date of Award7 May 2024
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bristol
SponsorsESRC South West Doctoral Training Partnership, University of the West of England
SupervisorWilliam J Browne (Supervisor) & George B Leckie (Supervisor)

Cite this