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36 percent of biochemists in Nigeria unemployed, survey finds

Abdullahi Tsanni

Monday, 21 December 2020

A new online survey finds that graduates of biochemistry in Nigeria are unemployed with many saying they regret studying the course in university.

However, the African Science Literacy Network survey also found that large number of people who studied biochemistry are employed in universities and polytechnics as lecturers. Out of the 350 people surveyed, for example, 21 percent said they were working in universities and polytechnics across Nigeria, while 36 percent said they are unemployed.

The survey found that 10 percent teach in secondary and primary schools, 5 percent work in non-governmental organisations (NGOs), 4 percent in science and medical laboratories, while just 3 percent work in research institutes, and less than 2 percent in pharmaceutical companies. Biochemistry is a research-based course, but it is quite disheartening that the number of biochemists working in research institutes is abysmally low; they should have been the major employer of biochemistry graduates in Nigeria, says Mohammed Auwal Ibrahim, a senior lecturer of biochemistry in Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria-Nigeria, and lead researcher of the survey at African Science Literacy Network.

Ibrahim said most of the graduates surveyed bemoaned about lack of job opportunities and employment prospects for biochemists in Nigeria. The level of unemployment is not unexpected, but the survey revealed that a large proportion of the unemployed are graduates from between 2016 and 2020. “That a high number of recent biochemistry graduates are unemployed suggests that we are sitting on a biochemical time bomb,” says Ibrahim, now at the National Institute for Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST), in Tsukuba, Japan.

When asked what they wish they had known before studying biochemistry in university, over 100 respondents say they regret reading the course. They listed various reasons principally, lack of employment opportunities in research institutes and laboratories, lack of paid fellowship opportunities, and lack of functional professional bodies., among others. “There is no future for biochemists in Nigeria – and no job opportunities. The only place biochemistry is known and recognized is lecturing in universities,” writes one of the survey respondents.

The issue becomes increasingly important as millions of young Nigerians, including science graduates, face tensions around career advancements. One respondent, for example, worked in the bank for 10 years, as opposed to a scientific field, with a degree in biochemistry. “In Nigeria, biochemistry is not practicable…I regret wasting my time studying biochemistry [in university],” writes the respondent.

Professor Abubakar Gidado, Director Centre for Biotechnology Research and Training, at University of Maiduguri, Nigeria, said he is accustomed to seeing a lot of unemployed biochemistry graduates in Nigeria. And as he noted, the findings are unsurprising but make clear the level of joblessness among Nigerian biochemists.

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It is a worrisome situation, says Gidado, who was not part of the survey. Many biochemistry graduates did not choose biochemistry when applying for admission in the universities – they just study the course – and there is no blueprint for students coming into the university to study biochemistry. So, it is unsurprising that the graduates find no jobs in the labour market. “The most worrisome aspect is that we do not train them to be innovative,” he says.

Gidado said there is a need to overhaul biochemistry curriculums in Nigerian universities, and train graduates to be both innovative and entrepreneurial. The labour market today is highly competitive and we did not envisage these changes long ago. That’s why it’s essential to redesign our curriculums with a focus on skills acquisition and biochemical entrepreneurship, Gidado said.

“Before 2011 a biochemistry graduate could spend 2 years as an intern in a Medical Laboratory Science school and become a certified laboratory scientist,” he explained. “But now that is closed because universities offer degrees in Medical Laboratory Sciences, so the opportunity to become a lab scientist is no longer there.”

Ibrahim noted that there has been no study or data to show the employment rate of biochemistry graduates in Nigeria. “Our findings are important, at least, for planning at all levels. Biochemists must push for a paradigm shift in training and practice of the course towards increasing its impact and employment rate.”

The survey, which was part of an assessment of biochemistry graduates in Nigeria, was conducted between September and October 2020. Over 70 percent of the survey respondents obtained their degrees from federal universities in Nigeria between 2011 and 2020.

It is time to look into biochemistry curriculums in the country, Gidado said. With recent advancements in digital technology, biochemistry is growing and new fields such as bioinformatics, genomics, and molecular biology have emerged. Going forward, we must have a blueprint for training biochemists in Nigeria. “If you don’t need biochemistry graduates, don’t train them. And if you want to train them, you must know where they are going to work, and on what,” says Gidado.

Editor’s Note: This reporter and Mohammed Auwal Ibrahim, PhD, are fellows of the African Science Literacy Network.

Photo Credit: African Center of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases (ACEGID).

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