Navigating High Exchange Rate, Visa Challenges for International Students

With the devaluation of the naira and scarcity of foreign exchange, some Nigerian parents are increasingly finding it difficult to keep their children in foreign universities. Uchechukwu Nnaike spoke to some affected parents on how they are coping

Peter Omo is a final-year student at an European university whose parents practically sold off all their property to send him abroad and support his four-year course of study. They eagerly await him to complete his studies and possibly secure a job in Europe. However, the scarcity of forex and the high exchange rate have prevented them from sending support to their son. To help himself, Peter had to pick up a menial job to enable him to meet his financial obligations or risk being expelled.

Many Nigerian students in the diaspora and their sponsors are in a similar dilemma. In the past, tuition fees were paid at the official CBN rate. But with the collapse of the dual exchange rate in June, parents are struggling to buy at the new rates. At the Bureau de Change (or parallel market), a dollar exchanges for between ₦1,165 and ₦1,170, while the pound goes for about ₦1,455 and the euro ₦1,245. Many families are having a rethink about sending their children to foreign universities, and those whose kids are already abroad are considering bringing them home to continue their education. 

For some parents, the benefits of foreign education for their children are why they sacrifice so much to pay exorbitant fees. They include the opportunity to learn a foreign language, good quality education, and a conducive learning environment. Others learn about other cultures, develop a global network of lifelong friends and connections, discover the world through travel, engage with schools from other countries, and build relationships with people worldwide.

Recounting his experience, a parent, who identified himself as Ike, said his daughter is currently studying Accounting at the University of Salford, UK, and her tuition fee is around 15,000 pounds a year. Ike says supporting his daughter was a bit easier until the recent devaluation of the Naira and the sharp increase in inflation. He says banks are not selling foreign exchange for school fees, so parents have to rely on the Bureau de Change and buy at the market rate. The businessman says he will not give up because he desires to see his daughter reach and surpass the height he attained.  

Another parent, who gave her name as Ms. Rose, said her son was in one of the public universities in Nigeria, but the incessant strikes and ill-equipped laboratories and other facilities made her opt for a foreign university. Her son is studying Adult Nursing at the University of Northampton, UK, with a tuition fee of about £17,000. Sending support to her son has become increasingly difficult, but her UK relatives help her sometimes. If her son has an urgent need for money and she cannot send it across immediately, she would appeal to any of her siblings in the UK to send it to him and reimburse the person later. Ms Rose is appealing to the Nigerian government to fix universities. She also wants private universities to reduce fees for Nigerians and work towards attracting international students.

“Sometimes, after considering the cost of sending our children to private universities in the country, we just add a little more money and send them abroad where quality education is guaranteed, and you know when your child will graduate once admitted.”

Another parent who spoke on condition of anonymity said the financial burden is so enormous that he is thinking of bringing his daughter back to Nigeria to complete her education but is worried about the effect that will have on her. He is also worried that some private universities in the country are now out of the reach of the people. A parent whose son is studying software engineering at Cyprus International University said though the fee is about €6,000, the harsh economic situation in the country has made it difficult to continue supporting him. He said his son will return to the country if the situation continues, but he has yet to decide which Nigerian universities to send him to.

An education consultant, who preferred anonymity, said most Nigerians send their children to foreign universities because they believe they would secure employment in those countries once they graduate. So, they go out of their way, even selling off their property to get their children admitted to foreign universities. However, employment for foreign nationals is becoming very difficult to secure. He said the current situation in the country has affected many family relationships negatively as some Nigerians, after getting assistance from their relations living abroad to pay fees for their children, fail to pay back. Sometimes, those relations living in the UK, for instance, cannot be supported because of the high cost of living in that country, which causes strife among family members. The consultant added that many Nigerian students are stranded abroad, as some cannot secure jobs. He said the more realistic parents are bringing their children back to the country to continue their education, adding that there is also a high admission demand in some notable private universities for this new academic session. 

In addition to high tuition fees and scarcity of foreign exchange, restrictive student visa requirements hinder foreign education. The US embassy and the UK High Commission charge each applicant about N500,000 in visa fees, yet less than 20 per cent of applicants receive student visas every year. 

“I spent over N1 million on visa fees for my son last year, and yet, his application was declined,” said Prof. Philip Etta. “Consular officers have come to realize that many Nigerians who want to migrate from the country pose as students going for post-graduate studies. They apply for student visas as if they are seeking educational opportunities, whereas they are going to look for jobs. This is creating problems for genuine students.”

Apart from the financial burden of schooling abroad, there are other reasons why parents have been advised to keep their children at Nigerian universities. Some experts have severally advised parents to allow their children to acquire their first degrees at home and then travel abroad for further studies to allow them to attain some level of maturity to make informed choices. First, private universities in the country are far cheaper than foreign institutions. Secondly, studying abroad benefits young people from classmates and alumni networks. Students develop lifelong relationships and friendships with their classmates and schoolmates. Thus, parents are now searching for good local alternatives where their children can obtain good quality education devoid of strikes, sexual harassment and other challenges.

Many universities have strong alumni associations through which essential lifelong contacts are made. “If we have very good private universities of international standards within the country, fewer and fewer Nigerians will bother to send their children overseas,” says Prof Etta.

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