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Why more Nigerians emigrate for varsity education

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It has come to light that about 5,500 Nigerians were living as students in crisis-ridden Sudan. This calls to question why Nigerians are desperately looking outside the country to get an education. LAOLU HAROLDS and TUNBOSUN OGUNDARE find the answers in this piece.

The ongoing Sudan crisis has further exposed the underbelly of the Nigerian situation, particularly as it affects its education sector.

It appears more and more Nigerians are either growing dissatisfied with its education offering or are losing faith in its promise.

Recent reports said that at least 5,500 students were to be evacuated from the now crisis-ridden North African country, Sudan.

A few months ago, many Nigerian students were thrown into misery when the Russian-Ukraine war broke out.

Several studies say that Nigerians account for a large portion of the population of international students in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Ireland, Norway, and many other countries in Europe, including Czech Republic, Lithuania, or Poland.

A 2021 report by the Campus France’s ChiffresCles, said that about 76,338 young Nigerian students went abroad to study in 2018.

About 90 per cent which translates to nine out of every 10 Nigerian students are seeking opportunities to study abroad, states the Nigeria Market Sentiments and Study Motivations Report 2022 research project.

The research was produced by a consortium including the University of Sussex, a public research university in Brighton, England; Culture Intelligence from RED, a Nigeria-based think tank; and Vive Africa, a media and communications consultancy firm.

The research was conducted among 4,008 respondents. Of these, about 23 per cent were students under 18 years of age, 49.8 per cent were between 18 and 25 years old, 20 per cent between 26 and 35 years old, 6.19 per cent  between 36 and 45 years old and 1.42 per cent above 45 years old.

About two-thirds of surveyed students were interested in undergraduate studies, while the remaining third were looking for graduate programmes.

Moreover, Nigerians spent a huge $1.38 billion on foreign education expenses between January and September 2022, data from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has shown.

In addition, CBN also disclosed that foreign education has cost Nigeria a whopping sum of $28.65 billion between 2010 and 2020 (10 years).

According to CBN’s available Balance of Payments Statistics, this amount was not sent abroad but was part of the apex bank’s Foreign Exchange reserves that could have helped the Naira to be much stronger today.

The bank’s document seen by Nigerian Tribune also frowned at the sum of $1 billion that Nigerians spend annually on medical treatment abroad, adding that Nigerians have spent $11.01 billion on healthcare related services over the past 10 years.

“Over the last 10 years, therefore, foreign exchange demand specifically for education and healthcare has cost the country almost $40 billion.

“As you may know, this amount is equivalent to the total current foreign exchange reserves of the CBN. If we were able to avoid a significant portion of this demand, the Naira would be much stronger today,” it stated.

According to the apex bank, in the 1980s and 1990s, “You would search hard before you can find parents who sent their children to primary and secondary schools abroad. Today, a sizeable amount of the foreign exchange request Nigerian banks receive for school fees are for primary and secondary school education, some of which are for neighbouring African countries,”  it lamented

All these, according to the apex bank, add pressure on the Nigerian Naira and cause the Dollar exchange rate to increase.

But countries in Europe, America and even Asia are by no means the only destinations, as these young Nigerians appear to prefer just any other place but Nigeria, irrespective of the cost – including Ghana, South Africa and even Republic of Benin!

What could be responsible for this development?


Limited carrying capacity

Every year, an average of 1.7 million candidates register for the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) conducted by the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (1.8 million in 2022; 1.6 million in 2023) for placement into the nation’s tertiary institutions.

Unfortunately, with Nigeria’s 221 universities (50 federal, 60 state, 111 private); 173 polytechnics (40 federal, 49 state, 84 private), and 236 colleges of education, the total number of spaces available to absorb these admission seekers is less than 700,000.

So, every year, the new army of admission seekers graduating from secondary schools, plus those who had failed to secure placements in the previous admission cycles clog up the admission channel, leading to frustration.


‘Outdated curriculum’

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) on Tuesday May 2, 2023 faulted the curriculum of Nigerian schools, saying it is out of tune with present-day realities.

Its Director of the International Bureau of Education (IBE), Ydo Yao, made the remarks in Abuja at a capacity development training workshop for officials of the Federal Ministry of Education.

Yao said the curriculum, being an irreplaceable component of any educational policy, needs to be made relevant to ensure quality in education and for values, knowledge and skills to thrive.

“You know, we used to say that curriculum is for education, while a constitution is for a democracy. It means the curriculum is the heart of education. So, when you talk about education, you are talking about content, programmes and learning.

“So, if you want to transform education, and you don’t transform what is at the core of it, which is the learning, content and the programmes, your transformation has no meaning,” he noted.

There had been claims before now that graduates of Nigerian universities are largely ‘unemployable’ – or better put, are increasingly finding it difficult to fit into the world of work.

Could this be why foreign certificates seem to be preferred by many employers of labour and why increasing number of young Nigerians migrate abroad for higher education?


Cumbersome admission process

There are those who have observed that the centralised admission process favoured by Nigeria’s education authorities itself is problematic. JAMB’s Central Admission Processing System (CAPS) is an innovation designed to, among other things, automate and streamline the admissions process, as well as address the challenges associated with the manual approach to examination conduct.

According to the examination body, CAPS is meant to expandadmission opportunities. In practice, however, it appears to restrict candidates’ opportunities and choices of institutions, as the channel has been centralised and narrowed to a single choice.

What obtains in reality is that institutions prioritise candidates who picked them as their ‘First Choice’ in admission consideration.

Thus, a candidate who fails to secure admission in their preferred institution of choice is compelled to fill their next preferred institution as the new ‘First Choice’; and that is even if such ‘next choice’ institution has not closed its admission by the time such a candidate realise she has not been offered admission by her first preferred institution.

Worse still, because of the great number of candidates seeking admission every year, there is almost always more than enough qualified candidates that have picked each institution as ‘First Choice’; so, the possibility of candidates ‘rejected’ by their preferred first choice institutions getting a favourable look-in is near zero.

A combination of these factors has often led to many otherwise brilliant candidates losing many years chasing elusive university admission.

But these are bottlenecks that are not placed in the way of admission seekers in other climes, as it is possible for a candidate to be offered admission in multiple institutions at the same time once they meet the requirements – and which explains part of why hordes of admission seekers move out of the country, even when they can ill afford it.


Instability of academic calendar, fallen standards

Perhaps the single most significant reason is the unpredictability of Nigeria’s tertiary academic calendar. It takes an average of six years to get a university degree in Nigeria (this is by far the most volatile sector in the system), owing to the never-ending industrial disputes between the unions and the Federal Government.

The current administration has the unenviable reputation of having allegedly induced arguably the longest industrial disputes in the sector, as the entire university system was totally paralysed for eight months by the strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) last year.

Unfortunately, no stakeholder in the sector, except maybe the government itself, is convinced that the problems that led to that debilitating disruption of the academic calendar have been solved. This naturally leads to loss of faith in the system and heightens the desire to seek ‘salvation’ elsewhere by those who can afford it.

A cross section of stakeholders alsobelieve that the disturbing emigration of Nigerian students for higher educationshould be blamed on government’s failure to invest adequately in public education, especially at the tertiary level, which they say has led to fall in standards below global benchmarks.

Other factors implicated include rising insecurity,evident in incidence of banditry, kidnapping and terrorism across the country.

Others blame the inexplicable preference for foreign certificates by employers as a motivation for those craving foreign education. They cited cases of expatriates, especially Asians and Lebanese, who occupy higher positions in some companies locally over their Nigerian counterparts with higher educational qualifications.

There is also the factor of availability of post-study work options or even permanent residency in some countries such as the UK, Canada, USA, and even Ghana which appeals to Nigerian students.

The president of ASUU, Professor Emmanuel Osodeke, for example, believes that seeking foreign education is not bad in itself, but he particularly deplores Nigerians going to certain countries, especiallyin Africa, including Sudan, to study.

He particularly expressed pains that most youths go abroad to study without minding the conditions of those countries.

When reminded that most people believe ASUU is part of the problem due to its unending strikes, Osodeke insisted that ASUU’s agitation is the one that certainly makes Nigerian public universities to get a little attention from the government.

According to him, to effectively solve this problem, government should enact a law that would prevent those on the corridors of power from sending their children to high profile institutions abroad.

“If such law could be made and becomes a policy, things will definitely turn around for the better in our public universities,” Osodeke said.

Similarly, the secretary-general of Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT), Dr Mike Ene, as well as the National President of Parent-Teacher Association of Nigeria (PTAN), Haruna Danjuma, also took a swipe at government on the matter.

NUT’s Ene, for example, said government ought to give education a deserved priority and not pay lip service as successive governments have been doing.

According to him, if things are working well in public institutions, parents would not think about or consider sending their children abroad to study.

Ene cites Singapore which prioritises education over every other sector of its economy.

In Singapore, he said, government trains citizens from secondary education to PhD level and also gives them jobs upon graduation.

“The only thing is that you will begin to pay back the money that government spent on you in piecemeal till you finish the payment,” he noted.

PTAN boss, Danjuma, also shared this thought. In addition to this, Danjuma also believes that the difficulty that most Nigerian youths face in gaining admission into some public universities and for their preferred courses of study despite their high marks in entrance examinations, particularly the UTME, can easily be addressed if government has the political will.

According to him, the effective solution to the problem is not in the establishment of new schools as successive political officeholders have been doing over the years, but in the expansion of the existing schools.

He also called for better remuneration for lecturers and other support staff.

“If government should do all these and also consistently fund institutions well, those schools will be able to accommodate many more students and compete favourably in global rankings,” he stressed.

He decried the situation whereby some candidates score as high as 270 or more out of 400 marks in UTME, with good O’Level results and still fail to secure admission into their preferred schools and for preferred courses of study.

Osodeke, Haruna and Ene all believe that all hope is not lost; but the incoming administration at both federal and state levels would have to demonstrate the political will and courage to declare a state of emergency in education.

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