Why Nigerians are saving up to $50,000 to pay for UK and US degrees

Nigerian universities have been hampered by numerous closures due to student and staff unrest in the recent past
Nigerian universities have been hampered by numerous closures due to student and staff unrest in the recent past
Image: AP Photo/Sunday Alamba
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More Nigerian families are saving up tens of thousands of dollars in order to pay for their children to study at universities in the United Kingdom, Europe and North America. Data from StudySearch, a London-based start-up that helps African students find universities outside the continent, shows Nigerian parents save up as much as $50,000 to finance their kids’ education outside Africa.

The sum is significant in a country where the minimum wage is just $90 a month and middle class starter jobs for graduates pay between $500 to $1,000 a month.

Getting a degree abroad is believed to give the degree holder an edge in a hyper-competitive Nigerian labor market with few jobs. An international degree can almost guarantee entry to Nigeria’s growing middle class.

The United Kingdom is by far the most popular destination for Nigerian students seeking international degrees, but in general, the top destinations for Nigerian students abroad are spread across Europe, North America and even Australia.

Given the volume of students going abroad, concerns have been raised over the outward flow of capital to these countries. Study Search estimates Nigerian parents spend well above the federal government’s $750 million annual budget for national universities on getting their children educated outside the continent.

StudySearch was founded last year by Frederik Obasi and Taofeeq Alabi, two Nigerians who studied in the UK. It matches prospective students with advisors who are either students or alumni of some of the world’s leading schools in a peer-to-peer system.

“Our feedback reveals that students prefer to take advice from and interact with their peers, who have already been successful in securing international study, rather than get expensive, biased and conflicting advice from more traditional agencies,” said Frederik Obasi, StudySearch CEO.

Even though foreign degrees offer a perceived edge with regard to getting jobs, the poor state of local universities have also been a major deciding factor. In the past, the frequency of strike actions which often result in closure of the schools and an interruption in students’ education made government-run universities less attractive and even though the strike actions do not occur as frequently, there is still a question as to whether the educational system in Nigeria can adequately cater for the those in need.

There are around 150 universities in Nigeria with 50 of them being privately-owned. The average student cost of the government-run universities range from $125 to $500 per annum while the private universities, usually operating with fixed calendars, better facilities and no strike actions, have an average annual cost of $2700.

But regardless of the wide range of options in pricing and location, Nigerian students could clearly do with more schools. Every year, around 1.5 million students seek admissions into the national university system but fewer than half of the applicants can get in as Nigeria’s 150 universities can only accommodate 40% of them. With a national university system that cannot adequately serve a population which has 62.5% being 24 or younger, the option of getting an education abroad is almost too good to be ignored.