…hits 17,640 in 2022/23 academic year
Despite the scarcity of dollars, which has made tuition fees more expensive, the number of Nigerians studying in the United States surged to the highest in at least 23 years.
According to a new report by the Washington-based Institute of International Education (IIE) released on Monday, the number of Nigerian students at US colleges and universities grew by 22.2 percent to 17,640 in the 2022/23 academic year from 14,438 in the previous year.
A further analysis of the report revealed that the number of Nigerians grew at a faster pace compared to last year which rose by 12.3 percent. This year’s increase for the country is also the fifth highest out of the top 25 international students in the US.
The report said the US hosted 1.06 million international students during the academic year, a 12 percent increase compared to the previous academic year. “It is the fastest growth rate in more than 40 years.”
It includes international students enrolled at US higher education institutions, online from abroad and on Optional Practical Training.
IIE highlighted that Nigeria was the only African country among the top 10 countries with the highest number of students in America, while China (289,526), India (268,928), South Korea (43,847), Canada (27,876) and Vietnam (21,900) are the top five countries.
“This increase is surprising considering the high cost of FX. And some of the reasons that could have contributed are the uncertainty associated with the last presidential elections and the strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) that occurred last year which made a lot of parents to send their kids abroad,” Uchenna Uzo, professor of marketing and faculty director at Lagos Business School, said.
He added that with the digitalisation of education now, people are becoming more comfortable with studying online than before.
Education in Africa’s biggest economy, most especially in the tertiary sector, has multiple problems such as access, quality, funding, the incessant strikes by lecturers, cultism and instability of the academic calendar. The opportunities that the US offers also explain why Nigerian students are seeking post-secondary education abroad.
Many Nigerians are looking for alternatives to Nigeria. They are looking for various options to leave the country, said Ayodele Akinwunmi of FSDH Merchant Bank.
“One of them is to study abroad, mostly pursuing postgraduate degrees, with the objective that when they finish their postgraduate studies, they will get a job over there,” he said.
Nigeria has been grappling with a severe dollar shortage for years, which worsened following the fallout of the Russia-Ukraine war that started in February 2022.
In June this year, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) collapsed all segments of the FX market into the Investors & Exporters window and devalued the naira.
The naira depreciated from 416.52/$1 as of February 28, 2022 to 780.14/$1 on Friday at the official market. At the parallel market, popularly called black market, it weakened to 1,110/$1 from 575/$1.
The high cost of sourcing FX was one of the major factors that pushed the country’s inflation rate to an 18-year high of 26.72 percent in September from 25.80 percent in July, according to the National Bureau Statistics.
International students in US universities spend on average $25,000-$55,000 per year on tuition fees, depending on the course, type of university and location.
By estimating the amount in naira, using the official market rate, the amount ranges from N19.5 million and N42.9 million. This is many times costlier than many private universities in Nigeria whose average tuition fees are around N500,000-N5 million per session.
Federal and state government-owned universities pay less than N100,000-N200,000 per session, which partly accounts for the poor quality of education in these universities.
“The downside of this is that it is creating a huge skill gap in critical sectors of the economy. But if there is a way, we can harness it very well and build local competencies, then we can use it to bring more foreign exchange to the country,” Akinwunmi of FSDH Merchant Bank said.
Johnson Chukwu, chief executive officer at Cowry Asset Management Limited, said the preference for foreign schools will not be in Nigeria’s interest, given the cost implications.
“There will be a capital outflow from the local economy. And when there is an outflow of students to any country, you will notice the burden on foreign exchange because we have to pay for those services with our foreign reserves,’’ he said.
Higher education and work are the major principal conduits of permanent emigration. But Nigeria’s current economic challenges such as high inflation, unemployment and fragile economic growth as well as insecurity are the major reasons why many of its citizens are leaving for greener pastures, experts say.
A recent report by Phillips Consulting Limited showed that more than half of Nigerian highly skilled employees plan to quit their jobs and relocate abroad next year.
The report, which surveyed 1,054 Nigerian adults aged 18 or older between August 24 and September 3, 2022, said 22 percent plan to migrate abroad within the next two-three years, while 26 percent are still determining their plans or have no intention of relocating abroad.
“The finance and insurance, professional services, and IT sectors are expected to be hit the hardest. The migration of skilled workers could significantly impact the performance of these sectors and the overall economy,” it said.
Apart from the US, the number of Nigerians given sponsored study or student visas by the United Kingdom rose by 768.7 percent to 59,053 in 2022 from 6,798 in 2019, according to the British government.
The number of new study permits issued by Canada to Nigerians increased by 17.8 percent to 16,195 as of December 31, 2022, the highest on record, from 13,745 in the same period of 2021.
Studies show that international student mobility data is crucial to the world’s largest economy’s higher education professionals looking to make informed decisions as they work to internationalise their campuses.
They enrich the American universities and communities with unique perspectives and experiences that expand the horizons of American students and make the institutions more competitive in the global economy.
And with over 100,000 travellers to the US each year, Nigerians boost American businesses, colleges, and universities, according to the US Department of State.
“There are over 8,800 education and exchange program alumni from Nigeria and the US. Nigeria sends more students to American colleges and universities than any other country in Africa,” it said on its website.