The number of Nigerian students in UK universities dropped by 41 per cent in five years, a report by highbrow American foundation, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, has revealed.
However, the number of Nigerian students in Canadian institutions is rapidly rising as Nigerian middle-class families turn to the North American country due to a combination of factors.
The report authored by the foundation’s famous Nigeria expert and resident scholar on democracy, conflict and governance, Mathew Page, said Nigerian elites’ high demand for a UK education has been dampened by a prolonged economic downturn, domestic political changes, growing obstacles to making school fee payments, and worsening exchange rates.
The report said the impact of Nigeria’s 2014–2016 recession on many elite families, compounded by government restrictions on the amount of foreign exchange available to the public, led to a sharp decline in Nigerian students population in UK schools and universities.
PREMIUM TIMES’ review of data from the report shows that UK student visas issued to Nigerians declined almost consistently from 2010 to 2017.
In 2010, about 12,256 Nigerians obtained UK student visas. But the number fell to 12,103 in 2011 and 11,122 in 2012. It increased to 12,010 in 2013, but dropped again to 10,488 in 2014.
The number further fell to 9,524 in 2015 before plummeting to 6,475 in 2016 and 6,082 in 2017.
The drop was caused by fee increase and worsening exchange rates, which doubled the cost of attending a private boarding school in the United Kingdom between 2015 and 2020, according to the report.
As the number of Nigerians issued UK students visas decreased, the number at independent UK schools also declined.
The number increased from 1,328 in 2014 to 1,624 in 2015 before consistently dropping to 1,592 in 2016; 1,490 in 2017; and 1,368 in 2018.
But the number has risen again since 2019, to 1,411 that year and then 1,429 in 2020.
The total number of Nigerian students enrolled in UK universities by academic year also fell by 41 per cent between 2013 and 2018.
Records from the 2013/2014 academic year showed that 18,020 Nigerian students enrolled at UK schools for various programmes.
But the number dropped to 17,920 in 2014/2015 and then to 16,100 in 2015/2016.
The number would further drop in 2016/2017 to 12,665 and 10,540 in 2017/2018.
Despite the decline in the overall number of Nigerian students in UK universities, Carnegie said Nigeria still ranks sixth in terms of non-EU enrollments, just behind Malaysia, Hong Kong, the United States, India, and China.
The report said while repeated changes to UK visa and residency rules and sharpening of anti-immigrant rhetoric in the UK have also had an impact on university applications, the decrease may also be a sign that UK universities are no longer affordable for most middle-class Nigerian families.
Canada gains as UK loses
As these factors continue to discourage Nigerian elites from sending their children to UK independent schools, many have turned to Canadian boarding schools as a viable alternative.
Quoting one local agent, the report said Nigerian families are attracted to Canadian schools because they are less expensive.
Similarly, Canadian officials have also been more effective than their British counterparts at partnering with its education sector stakeholders to develop a more sophisticated regional-based marketing strategy keyed to helpful visa and immigration policy changes, according to one international education expert cited in the report.
Like its boarding schools, “Canada’s universities are gaining market share in Nigeria because many Nigerian families are attracted to their more affordable tuition fees as well as the country’s less onerous visa process and clearer pathways to postgraduate work and residency.
“In 2020, the Canadian government sought to make the country even more competitive by introducing the Nigeria Student Express scheme aimed at improving student visa processing times and introducing a specialised system for verifying the financial status of prospective applicants.
“Nigerian applicants also see Canada as a safer environment for people of colour — one that is less xenophobic than the United States and the United Kingdom and thus a more attractive destination,” the report said.
The number of Nigerian students attending Canadian institutions increased from 2,825 in 2009 to 11,985 in 2019.
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