Education stakeholders believe the recent announcement by Rishi Sunak, the United Kingdom (UK) prime minister to put restrictions on the number of foreign students can benefit the country with a sound economic policy in place.
Starting in 2024, Sunak’s government intends to ban international students other than those on postgraduate courses from bringing their families to the UK.
Suella Braverman, the UK’s home secretary, informing the policy changes last month said that only international students on postgraduate courses designated as research programs will be allowed to bring their family members, such as children and elderly parents, as dependents.
Besides, the new law removes the ability for international students to switch to work visas before finishing their courses.
She also pledged steps to clamp down on unscrupulous education agents “who may be supporting inappropriate applications to sell immigration not education”.
The measure was put in place to preempt figures released which show that in the year to December 2022, net migration in the UK rose to a record level of 606,000.
Michael Ukonu, a senior lecturer at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka describes the development as a good omen that can help the country retain its best brains and conserve foreign exchange if the government takes the right step.
“It is a positive development to the country because it will help Nigeria conserve the best brains and foreign exchange,” he said.
Ukonu, however, disclosed that it is a shame that many Nigerians are leaving the country; which according to him depicts a failed system and not just the drive for education achievement but a development triggered worsening economic condition which has given rise to unemployment surge.
He frowned at the learning environment and welfare conditions of the stakeholders which is the reason why quality education seems elusive to Nigerians. The poor learning environment according to the university don is one of the reasons the country hardly could attract foreign students to its public universities.
The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has gone on strike over the government’s underfunding of the university system and the failure to implement an agreement it reached with the union in 2009.
Infrastructural, teaching, learning and research facilities are grossly inadequate in the country’s tertiary institutions.
Friday Erhabor, director of media and strategy at Marklenez Limited pointed out that a lot of Nigerians running to the UK and other countries for education are only using that to escape unemployment and other economic woes in Nigeria.
Erhabor stressed that the UK’s policy will definitely reduce Nigerians’ access to education in Sunak’s countries of administration.
However, he disclosed that the policy could be of immense benefit to Nigeria if the government could put a sound economic policy in place.
“Let the new administration put in place sound economic policies that will set Nigeria on an economic recovery path and you will see that a lot of people that have run away from the country will start coming back. Nigeria has a lot of opportunities and potentials if only good leadership is put in place,” he said.
According to the UK’s Higher Education Statistic Agency report, “The number of Nigerian students studying in the country rose by 64 percent from 13,020 in the 2019/2020 academic session to 21,305 by the 2020/2021 session.
In 2022, the UK issued visas to 65,929 Nigerian students to study abroad. This is more than 17,973 visas issued in 2019.”
Also, 14,438 Nigerians were enrolled at various institutions in the USA for the 2021/2022 academic session, while Canada has about 13,745 students in its universities.
The Times Higher Education in its report explained that international students contribute £42 billion to the UK economy.
Aggregating across the entire 2021/22 cohort of first-year students, it was estimated that the total economic benefits of international students to the UK economy to was approximately £41.9billion over the entire period of their studies, of which £4.3billion is generated by EU students, and £37.6billion is generated by non-EU students.
The figures further revealed that the economic benefit of international students rose from £ 31.3 billion to £ 41.9 billion between 2018/19 and 2021/22.
International students in Glasgow, London, Sheffield, Nottingham and Newcastle are among those to deliver the greatest financial contributions.
On average, each of the 650 parliamentary constituencies in the UK is £58 million per constituency better off because of international student equivalent to approximately £560 per citizen.
Even when accounting for dependants and other costs international students are a huge net contributor to the UK economy
Every 11 non-EU students generate £1m worth of net economic impact for the UK economy.
Little wonder the Department for Education in the UK is reportedly opposing the home office’s plans to reduce the number of foreign students in the country.
According to a report by Telegraph, The ministerial department argued that tuition fees paid by international students can help reduce costs for those from Britain, according to the report.
It said a drop in foreign pupil numbers would require either more taxpayers’ money going to universities or higher tuition fees for UK students, the Telegraph said.
Ikechukwu Onyekwelu, managing editor at Edugist, a tech-education media firm said that the education department opposing this policy is a signal that there are some economic benefits accrued to having foreign students in the UK.
“The UK universities won’t want to reduce the number of foreign students because of obvious reasons among which is the economic benefits and the sense of internationality,” he said.
He pointed out that private universities in Nigeria are well-positioned to take advantage of this.
“In fact, some Nigerian private universities boast exchange programmes with foreign universities. For a foreign university to partner with any local university, they would ensure best practices,” he noted.
However, Onyekwelu is worried that for the public universities it is a different kettle of fish.
“From curriculum that is out of touch with industry demands to lecturers and professors that are not updating their knowledge and skills in their respective fields.
I don’t know of any public university in Nigeria with a mechatronics engineering or robotics department. But I know of at least one private university in Nigeria with this,” he said.
He reiterated that without an alignment with global trends, the country’s foreign exchange will flow out to countries that offer these courses.
Consequently, he counseled the new government to choose a professional educator with international exposure as the minister of education.
Moreover, he urged the government to create a framework that ensures academic-industry interaction, fund research and upskill lecturers, among others.