It has become imperative to invest more in education

Nigerian students studying abroad are increasingly finding it difficult to pick their bills because of the slump in the country’s economy and rising costs occasioned by the falling value of the naira in the international market. Even students on government scholarships are not spared the agony as many states across the nation, high-heeled parastatals and indeed the federal government, are not remitting their tuition and boarding fees as when due.

Some Nigerian undergraduates on government scholarship in the United Kingdom were told recently that they would be denied their degree certification even though many had completed their courses since the last academic year. Some 100 others, among them Ogbonnaya Samuel Ogbonna, a medical student at Leeds University, were also facing the threat of deportation for similar reasons.The Nigerian High Commission in the UK admitted that some 152 students were affected due to the “slump in the country’s oil revenues.”

Indeed, since the economy went into a tailspin about two years ago as result of the crash in crude oil prices, thousands of Nigerian students studying abroad have been going through serious financial difficulties. Many of them – private or public sponsored – are sorely hurt by the foreign exchange crisis. In a bid to fight the downward pressure on the naira, the Central Bank of Nigeria imposed some measures on access to forex – measures which stretched the pockets of many parents as well as the government. Many private individuals resorted to the parallel market with all the cost implications.

Even some states’ government willingness to fund the education of those sent abroad –many of them indiscriminately – for further studies declined considerably because of their shrinking incomes. Some 159 final year Rivers State students, for instance, were stranded overseas for a long while as a result of the non-payment of tuition fees. It took some time before the Bayelsa State government could raise 300,000 pounds sterling and $450,000 to pay the tuition of its students chased out of their university classrooms and hostels in nearby Ghana. Even those sent abroad by NIMASA and the Niger Delta Develpoment Commission (NDDC) had at various times been stranded due to the non-payment of fees. Even so, the NDDC recently called for applications for the 2017 post-graduate scholarship despite owing a backlog of fees.

However, the international embarrassment of our students and indeed the nation will not end until Nigeria puts its house in order. The weakened economy will see to that. Nigeria has one of the largest population of students studying overseas. A 2015 report by the Institute of International Education on International Education Exchange in the United States said some 9,494 students from Nigeria were admitted in the 2014/15 academic session, making it the leading African country and 15th worldwide. The statistics from the United Kingdom and Canada would likely be similar. Even in many African countries their tertiary institutions are buoyed and supported by many Nigerian students.
In a lecture some few years back as Central Bank Governor, Lamido Sanusi revealed that there were some 71,000 Nigerian students in Ghana paying about US$1 billion annually as tuition fees and upkeep, as against the annual budget of US$751 million for all federal universities. In other words, the money spent by Nigerian students studying in Ghana with a better organised system is more than the annual budget of all federal universities in the country. The irony is that some of these institutions, particularly the privately-owned ones, are more or less glorified secondary schools.

It is thus imperative for Nigeria to invest more in tertiary education, and create a market for higher education. The reinvention of our universities will benefit the country more: it will save the billions in capital flight yearly and keep its image intact. Moreover, students will have access to higher education at lower cost.

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