Nigerians enrolment in US universities hits 3yr low

The number of Nigerian students seeking admission in US universities dipped by 6.5 percent in 2020/2021, the lowest in three years, a BusinessDay analysis of new admission data shows.

According to the Open Doors Report, published by the Washington-based Institute of International Education (IIE), the enrolment rate from Nigeria declined to 12,860 in the 2020/21 academic year from 13,762; 13,423, and 12,693 in 2019/20, 2018/19 and 2017/18 academic year, respectively.

Analysts attribute the decline to foreign exchange (FX) scarcity and difficulty in sourcing FX, thus making tuition fees expensive.

“It is not surprising because the difficulty in sourcing for FX, volatility in the exchange rate, and uncertainty that persists in the exchange rate environment have made it too difficult to pay school fees,” Moses Ojo, a Lagos-based economic analyst, says.

Ojo states that over the past three years, there have been quite a few parents who have withdrawn their children studying in the US and other countries, and enrolling them into Nigeria’s private universities.

Since the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, Africa’s biggest economy that depends on oil proceeds has been riddled with weak foreign inflows, resulting in a liquidity challenge in the country’s FX market.

Last year, the Central Bank of Nigeria devalued the naira twice from N306/$ to N361/$, and N379/$, weakening the value of the naira against the dollar.

More recently, the apex bank officially adopted the Nigerian Autonomous Foreign Exchange (NAFEX) rate, which further weakened the naira by 8.2 percent to N410.25/$.

With the rising cost of dollars, it has become expensive to study in the US. International students pay between $32,000 and $60,000 per year, depending on the university and the course, according to International Education Financial Aid.

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“When the FX rate is going up, it means that the ability of people to afford it reduces. So, school fees are now becoming more expensive for people to afford,” Ayodele Akinwunmi, senior relationship manager – corporate banking group, FSDH Merchant Bank, states.

The report also states that globally, Nigeria moved up by one place, ranking 10th position from its previous ranking of 11th among the countries with the highest number of students in America, while China, India, South Korea, Canada and Saudi Arabia are the top five countries.

Before the drop, the number of Nigerian students studying in the US has increased steadily since the 2011/2012 academic year from 7,028 to 13,762 in 2019/20.

Education experts say this steady increase in the outflow of Nigerian students seeking post-secondary education abroad is due to the failure of Nigeria’s public university system to adequately address multiple problems such as access, quality, funding, strikes, cultism, and stability of the academic calendar.

“The simple answer that I have is that people will go for value no matter the cost because they can afford it. Nigeria has many rich people who can afford American education for their children. If we fail to provide value at home, people will go out for it,” Akin Benjamin, a Lagos-based education consultant, says in a phone interview.

He adds, “If you can send your child to a private university in Nigeria, chances are that you can afford education abroad as well.”

Over the past few years, budgetary allocation to education has not been more than 7 percent of its total budget. It is no wonder that the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said the country has 13 million children out of school, the highest in the world.

Also, Nigeria’s performance in human capital development has not been impressive. According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the country dropped three positions, ranking 161 in 2019 from 158 in 2018 among 189 countries in Human Development.

“The education sector is facing the problem of incompetent teachers and unserious students. It is also facing the problem of dilapidated infrastructure,” Peter Okebukola, former executive secretary of the National Universities Commission, said.

International student mobility data are 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 US universities and communities with unique perspectives and experiences that expand the horizons of American students and make US institutions more competitive in the global economy.


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