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Food Insecurity in Higher Education Institutions and The Role of Philanthropy in Enabling Quality Education

In 2019, a Trellis Research Series on Collegiate Financial Security & Academic Performance titled “Studying on Empty: A Qualitative Study of Low Food Security Among College Students” evidenced that when students became food secure, they became physically and emotionally ready to study. However, not enough attention has been paid to the problem of Food insecurity (FI) among students in higher institutions in Africa. According to survey results, FI has the potential to affect university students’ academic performance, physical health, and mental well-being. Yet and still, the underperformance or failure to attain optimal academic excellence by undergraduates is often times erroneously blamed on other factors.

As Africa tackles low enrollment in higher education and its hindrance of growth and development on the continent, we ought to consider the way food insecurity plays a major role in the quality of student’s lives in higher educational institutions. Higher enrollment of higher education and better performance often contributes to stronger potential for employability, greater pay, and an overall higher standard of living. It can broaden one’s perspective and provide possibility they would otherwise not be privy to. But how can students focus on these when they are still battling with basic needs such as hunger and food insecurity?

In Nigeria in particular, research on FI among students in higher education institutions is often neglected. In fact, the first study to record FI and associated factors among university students in Nigeria was published in 2019. This neglect does not only have implications for achieving the SDGs 1 and 2 of ending poverty, hunger, and malnutrition, respectively, but it dims the hope of students in vulnerable circumstances who see higher education as their passport to economic security and a stable future.

More than 70% of Nigerian households experience food insecurity (FI), and in a research conducted at Nigerian institutions, titled Food and Nutrition Bulletin (2019) more than 80% of students reported experiencing FI in some way. The cause is not implausible given that Nigeria has been dubbed the poverty capital of the world coupled with the negative influence of climate change on food security. It’s particularly clear how dire the situation is when you compare the FI prevalence in Nigerian institutions, with that of South African university students in the Free State and Kwazulu-Natal provinces that is 65% and 65.3%, respectively. The fact that South African students attending the these universities received government financial aid as opposed to the study’s participants, who did not, as is the case with most Nigerian students, may account for the disparity in FI rates between South African and Nigerian university students.

Food insecurity has a detrimental influence on the socio-psychological status of the student and can impair their self-esteem, which in turn impacts their academic performance. The findings of a study on Perceived Hunger in College Students Related to Academic and Athletic Performance showed that students believed hunger had an impact on their academic performance. In the same study, when asked if hunger had prevented them from performing as well in class as they otherwise might have, 34.6% of students strongly agreed or somewhat agreed. Based on a more impartial metric of academic performance (GPA), GPAs were submitted voluntarily by the students and those who self-reported hunger had worse GPAs than those who did not.

Differences in demography and sample characteristics may account for the increased prevalence rate in Nigeria compared to high-income nations. Studies from developed nations also indicate that young women are more prone than youth men to experience FI. Young men spend a lot more time outside of their homes, which makes it more likely to be able to get meals elsewhere. Young women do not have the same chances. Consequently, FI further widens the gender inequality gap.

As a student at the University of Ibadan, there have been countless times when students would approach me at the hostel for food and I would have to give them out of the little I have, even with the fact that I myself was facing food insecurity. I began to do my research into food insecurity and hunger among University (college) students and to my surprise it was not only an issue in Nigeria or Africa but also in developed countries like America where one would have expected less. However, to help support students, numerous NGOs and higher institutions throughout the world have had to start food aid programs in the last decade.

One such program is the “Our Common Pot,” a student-led food scholarship program aimed at addressing food insecurity among students in Nigerian higher institutions. The program attempts to address FI through drawing on proven worldwide models like that of the Swipe Out Hunger Program while adopting local methods and approaches for increased efficacy. The local approach draws on the original idea of “common pot”, a social activity in several halls of residences here at the University of Ibadan where students give of their food stuff or money and these donations are gathered together and cooked right in the hall, where all is free to come eat. The scholarship program works at adopting this model of getting donations among others, however, rather than cook the food, donations are redistributed to students facing hunger and food insecurity.

Presently, Our Common Pot has been able to raise awareness about the problem of food insecurity and also provided for more than 5 students of the University of Ibadan, Nigeria, with free breakfast. Unfortunately, African governments and NGOs have not given this problem substantial attention; thus, there are still no effective and widespread solutions in place to address FI in Nigeria’s higher educational institutions.

By Philip Hope Ifeoluwa


[1] Fernandez, C., Webster, J., & Cornett, A. (2019). Studying on Empty. Trellis Company. Retrieved from: https://www.trelliscompany.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/Studying-on-Empty.pdf

[2]Cady CL. Food insecurity as a student issue. J Coll Char. 2014;15(4):265-272.

[3] Food Insecurity and Associated Factors Among University Students, Food and Nutrition Bulletin 2019, Vol. 40(2) 271-281 sagepub.com/journals-permissions DOI: 10.1177/0379572119826464 journals.sagepub.com/home/fnb

[4] Ukegbu P,Nwofia B, NdudiriU, Uwakwe N, Uwaegbute A. Food Insecurity and Associated Factors Among University Students. Food and Nutrition Bulletin 2019; 40(2):271-281 doi:10.1177/0379572119826464  

[5]Job N. Food Security Status and Related Factors of Undergraduate Students Receiving Financial aid at the University of Kwazulu-natal, Pietermaritzburg Campus. Pietermaritzburg: University of Kwazulu-natal; 2014.

[6] Amanda Hickey, Dena Shields and Margaret Henning, Perceived Hunger in College Students Related to Academic and Athletic Performance, Public Health Department, Keene State College, Keene, NH 03435, USA.

[7]Mains D. “We are only sitting and waiting”: Aspirations, Unemployment, and Status Among Young Men in Jimma, Ethiopia. Atlanta, GA: Emory University; 2007.

[8] Swipe Out Hunger https://www.swipehunger.org

2 Replies to “Food Insecurity in Higher Education Institutions and The Role of Philanthropy in Enabling Quality Education”

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    1. I’m glad you found it insightful.

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