BusinessDay

In race to attract Nigerian students, US losing ground to UK

The United States of America may be fast losing ground to the United Kingdom as the preferred study destination, BusinessDay’s analysis of new enrolment data shows.

Data sourced from the Institute of International Education (IIE) indicate that the overall Nigerian students’ enrolment from Nigeria to the United States declined year-on-year by 7.2 percent to 12,860 in the 2020/21 academic year from 13,762 in 2019/2020.

However, enrolment increased by 63.5 percent to 21,305 in the same period from 13,020 for the United Kingdom, according to data sourced from the country’s Higher Education Statistics Agency.

In Australia, the number of Nigerian students dropped by 5.6 percent to 1,928 in 2021.

Experts say that the expanded work and immigration opportunities offered in the UK have become major drivers for international student enrolment in UK higher education.

“British independent schools, especially private boarding schools, view Nigeria as an increasingly attractive market. Most of them warmly welcome Nigerian students,” Matthew Page, a non-resident scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said in a recent article titled ‘West African Elites’ Spending on UK Schools and Universities: A Closer Look’.

Page also said that they overwhelmingly see these students as better-than-average performers and net contributors.

Labour is seen as an important asset to the growth and development of any economy. But the UK, one of the top developed economies in the world, is currently facing an acute shortage of labour due to its aging population and low birth rate.

This has led to the demand for labour from countries with large youth populations and expanding middle class including India, Brazil, Nigeria, among others.

One of the measures that the developed economy took was to update its International Education Strategy, which was originally launched in 2019.

The strategy commits to previously established goals for foreign enrolment growth, which have been replaced by new immigration routes and work opportunities for foreign students. It intends to create clearer pathways to immigration.

The update reaffirms the government’s goals of increasing the value of its education exports to £35 billion ($48bn) and to hosting at least 600,000 international students per year by 2030.

Some of the ways in which this growth is to be achieved are the Graduate route, which was launched in July 2021, will allow eligible students to stay in the UK to work, or look for work, for 2 years (3 years if studying at Ph.D. level) after they have completed a degree in the UK.

“This Strategy released in a post-Brexit context in which non-European markets are ever-more important for British educators lists Nigeria as a priority recruitment market,” ICEF, an international recruitment agency said.

Additionally, Olugbenga Ogunbode, CEO at International Education Corporation Group, said the UK exit from Brexit created job vacancies at the middle and low levels.

“So, they need to fill those positions and Nigerians are usually the ones that fill those areas,” he further said.

Before the education strategy was updated, the UK saw its international student numbers grow relatively slowly as a result of more migration restrictive policies.

Read also: Nigerian students studying in UK surge by 64% in one year

For Nigeria, the number declined from 18,080 in the 2014/2015 academic year to 10,685 in 2017/2018 but it continued to rise to 21,305.

Steve Smith, UK’s first-ever International Education Champion said in the strategy update that he will work closely with overseas governments and officials to deepen government-to-government partnerships, helping to open new international opportunities for the sector and working to resolve market access barriers in priority markets.

Those markets are India, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, and Nigeria, with Brazil, Mexico, Pakistan, Europe, China, and Hong Kong also spotlighted as priorities.

The UK’s drive towards attracting labour may be good for its economy but it is bad for Africa’s biggest economy, as it is already causing a brain drain exodus.

The reasons for Nigeria’s persistent brain drain are not hard to diagnose. High poverty, unemployment, poor human capital development, insecurity, and poor education are some of the many reasons its young people are leaving the country to greener pastures.

A recent survey by the World Bank, 50 percent of Nigerian youths want to leave the country. The country placed third in West Africa among the nations polled, trailing only Liberia (70 percent) and Sierra Leone (60%).

“The country is the biggest loser here because we are losing our best brains to the UK. We need to keep our young and agile population rather than losing them to a new form of slavery,” Ogunbode said.

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