By Iyabo Lawal and Ujunwa Atueyi
Thousands of Nigerian students abroad are currently faced with serious challenges on account of the coronavirus pandemic and the growing possibility that the disease could be around for much longer.
Burdened already by exorbitant fees, the global health challenge has dislocated their study, leaving them stranded in host nations. But resorting to Nigeria’s ailing educational sector is a grim choice they may not want to make.
According to a report by Nairametrics, a financial resource company based in Nigeria, international undergraduate students pay a yearly £13,394 for classroom taught courses, and £15,034 and £24,169 respectively for laboratory and clinical courses. Postgraduate students pay £13,442, £15,638, and £20,956, respectively for the classroom, laboratory, and clinical-based courses. For MBA students, the tuition is £18,226 on the average.
In addition to the tuition, the UK’s National Union of Students (NUS) noted that the average yearly cost of living outside of London for students is £12,056. To study in London, Nigerian students part with about £16,000 per year. For visa purposes, international students pay at least £1,265 for each month of stay while those outside London pay at least £1,000 per month to prove that they can cover the cost of living in the UK.
Study in-uk.com notes that undergraduate fees for international students from outside the EU begin at around £10,000 per year. At the postgraduate level, they start at around £12,000, and if you wish to study medicine or MBA, you may have to pay about £32,000 per year.
The average living cost for international students is £12,180 per year. This can be much lower or higher, depending on where in the UK you wish to study. For example, in London, living expenses are considerably higher than the equivalent cost in a different city such as Liverpool or Birmingham.
As of 2015, a student in the UK paid $35,710 on the average yearly (tuition and living expenses). According to one estimate, Nigerian parents spend above the Federal Government’s yearly budget of $750 million to educate their children in the UK.
Another estimate puts the total average cost of studying in the UK at £22,200 or $31,380 per year. Going by the 2017 estimates, Nigerian parents spent $423 million in the UK or N152 billion!
But with the global economic decline occasioned by the pandemic, many Nigerian students may have a hard time paying their way through schools abroad.
The Federal Government and many states in the country have since reviewed their 2020 budgets. Worse still, the naira’s value has depreciated. As at Sunday, a dollar exchanged officially for N385.3777 and N440 at the black market. The pound was officially N478.5179 and N553 at the black market.
Should 11,000 Nigerian students in the UK pay the tuition of £10,000 each (at £1/N478.5179), about N52 billion would have been spent on tertiary education overseas, excluding other expenses like accommodation.
AGAIN, returning to enrol in Nigerian universities, especially public ones, seems nightmarish on account of worsening standards. The government has also slashed the 2020 budget by N318 billion, from N10.594 trillion to N10.276 trillion. There is consequently a reduced focus on education. The United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) had recommended that 15-20 per cent of the total budget should go to the education sector. At a glance, 6.48 per cent of the 2020 budget was allocated to education; 7.11 per cent in 2019; 7.14 per cent in 2018; 7.27 per cent in 2017; and 9.20 per cent in 2016.
And while foreign universities are coming up with ingenious means to start a new session by deploying educational technology, their Nigerian counterparts appear stuck in a ‘medieval’ system, making a homecoming most unlikely.
MOJISOLA Aluko, a law student at Middlesex University, London, pays £12,500 as tuition, £6,000 for accommodation and has a monthly feeding allowance of £300. She told The Guardian: “Education is very expensive here. After paying tuition, my parents paid for my accommodation fees in three tranches. Even though the school is not in session now, I still have to pay because the house does not belong to the school.”
She, however, ruled out the thought of falling back on Nigerian institutions. “Where do I start? Do Nigerian institutions have requisite facilities? Schools have been shut down since the coronavirus outbreak. How many universities have switched to online learning? We read of strikes by the various staff unions, and the institutions don’t even have a stable academic calendar,” she said.
Olufemi Adesegun, a 21-year-old engineering student of Coventry University, London, said his parents have been unable to keep up with his fees because of the high exchange rate. He has, therefore, had to defer his studies and take up a job to support them, rather than return home.
Like Aluko, he viewed schooling in Nigeria a no-no because graduates there, according to him, are poorly rated and their certificates are not respected in foreign countries. Besides, he viewed incessant labour disputes by academic workers as a distraction.
Mr. Fola Adelani, a parent, who has two children in university in the UK, said paying fees has been extremely difficult since the exchange jumped from N365 to N460 per dollar.
“Even when you have the naira, access to forex is another problem. You have to be looking for people who are ready to give naira to their families here in Nigeria, so that they can, in turn, give you dollars or pounds over there.”
Adelani thinks he may have to sell off some property to meet the huge financial demands. He decried the “worrisome” way academic unions strike often, adding: “As we speak, my children have completed their second semester in their various universities in London. Can we say the same here? We still have a long way to go in Nigeria concerning our educational system.”
BUT Dr. Wale Adeagbo, Chief Operating Officer, Academy Halogen, said he does not see Nigerians “spending huge amount of money on foreign education as we used to before COVID-19.”
He explained: “I see a depletion of some sort in what is being spent, considering the increase in dollar. You must have a good bulk of money but sustainability will be a big issue. I can see that number reducing; there will be no flow of people taking children abroad. Those that are there, about 7-9 per cent of them will withdraw or change schools.
“And this will be a downward trend, moving forward. Also, now that the education sector has changed the paradigm, some foreign programmes have reduced about 10-15 per cent of what they used to charge, and many of these are going to be online. So, the question is: what are you travelling for? You can sit in your house in Lagos and get that degree from Cambridge University. So, the online education paradigm will make it much more accessible and cheaper.”
Also, a professor of English at Mountain Top University, Emmanuel Adedun, said it is not wise to study abroad at this time, not in terms of quality but rather economic implications.
He said: “The high estimation of what Nigerian parents spend on foreign education has been the pattern of things pre-COVID-19. But what is likely to happen is that a lot of things will be redefined by this pandemic. The economy of the world has really gone down, and when we narrow it down to Nigeria, you discover that the money is not even there at any level.
“And it is money that is available that you can throw around, either as a government or as a private individual. The people that had the plan to send their wards to foreign universities will have to make the inevitable decision of making do with what they can find around here in Nigeria. No matter the education that is available, they will have to make do with it, based on what the economy of the individual is realistically saying. So, that estimate may not be correct at the end of the day. COVID would definitely affect it.”
THE UK government, meanwhile, thinks all hope is not lost. UK Universities Minister Michelle Donelan in a recent statement said: “I want to make a promise to our students from Nigeria that this (pandemic) will not put a stop to your education. We stand by you and are doing everything we can to support you. Our universities are going above and beyond to keep students and staff safe.”
The UK government also recently announced a new, streamlined immigration policy called the ‘Graduate Route’, which will be available from summer 2021. It means students starting this year will be able to stay and work or look for work in the UK at any skill level for two years without being harassed by the authorities.
This was as a new report from Moody’s Investors Services highlighted the financial impact of the pandemic on higher educational institutions around the world.
“We expect rated universities in all of our current jurisdictions – US, Canada, UK, Australia, Singapore, and Mexico – to enrol fewer students for the next academic year than planned, due to the outbreak,” said Jeanne Harrison, Vice President, and Senior Analyst at Moody’s.
“In addition, if campuses remain closed for a greater part of the year, income from residence halls, catering, conferences, and sporting events will be lower than budgeted. Endowment and gift income may also decline.”
Moody’s analysis in April highlighted that the scale of the impact on higher education will depend largely on the duration of the outbreak. “If university campuses can reopen in time for the next academic year, the effect on demand and budgets will be more manageable,” the report notes, adding: “International student flows will depend on how the outbreak and policy response evolve in individual countries.”