Ulster University: Nigerian Students Represent Quality, Resilient in Pursuit of Education

With a history dating back to the 1800’s, Ulster University Northern Ireland, today stands out as one of the United Kingdom’s most dynamic and innovative universities, with a spirit that transforms lives, stretches minds and raises ambition. These attributes ensure that Nigerian students receive a top-tier education that equips them with the skills and knowledge necessary to thrive in their chosen careers. Ahead of his visit to Nigeria, Niall McAleer, the Regional Manager for the Middle-East and Africa region at Ulster University in this interview with THISDAY, spoke about the institution that has become the preferred citadel of learning for many Nigerian students

Ulster University has become attractive to Nigerian students at undergraduate and postgraduate levels in the last decade. What do you think stands your institution out? 

Thank you very much for this question. Ulster University’s reputation for excellence in teaching and research is well-recognised in Nigeria. As the university boasts state-of-the-art facilities, a robust curriculum, and a faculty comprised of leading experts in various fields. We are a multi-campus institution with three campuses across Northern Ireland and a total student population of over 30,000. We offer both city and rural campus locations in Northern Ireland specialising in study areas of Business, Life and Health Sciences, Arts Humanities and Social Sciences, Computing, Engineering and the Built Environment. 

Also, we enjoy a national and international reputation for excellence in teaching and research while simultaneously playing a leading role in the enrichment of the social, economic, and cultural life of Northern Ireland. We continue to create transformational learning and research opportunities that inspire, develop and support our students and staff to reach new horizons. In addition, Northern Ireland is considered one of the most affordable student cities in the UK, and offers a wide range of cultural, social and historic places to visit.

How many Nigerians do you admit annually and what are your expectations for this year?

Ulster University welcomes over 100 new Nigerian students every year to campus.

What are the observed trends in international students’ enrollment and admission?

During the 2020-2022 pandemic period, Ulster University dedicated numerous resources to support Nigerian students coming to the United Kingdom for their studies. We have continued to enhance our support systems to help students navigate the challenges of relocating and studying in a new country. This support extends from the application process all the way through to arrival and enrolment.

Recently, Nigerian students have faced difficulties due to the currency situation in Nigeria. A weakening naira has led many to reconsider the affordability of international education. We take great pride in our diverse student body and strive to implement measures that address challenges in different regions. For Nigerian applicants, we offer a small scholarship to all self-funded students to help with tuition fees. Additionally, students have the option to pay their tuition fees in manageable instalments.

From your experience, what are the challenges Nigerians and other international students encounter in your institution and how do you alleviate them?

Nigerian and other international students at Ulster University often face challenges such as seeking community and a sense of belonging upon their arrival. Moving to a new country can be a nerve-wracking experience for students and a source of concern for their families and friends. To ease this transition, Ulster University hosts a Welcome Week for all new students. This event helps students get oriented with the city, campus, and student life, providing them with a sense of comfort and security. It also reassures their families back home that they are safe and well taken care of by a supportive university community.

For Nigerian students specifically, the opportunity to meet fellow Nigerians can be particularly comforting. This camaraderie with peers who share similar backgrounds helps alleviate the initial anxiety of moving to a new environment. Settling in is crucial for international students as it lays the foundation for their university experience. At Ulster University, we prioritize helping students build connections and create a supportive community, enabling them to thrive both academically and personally.

How often do you engage your recruitment agents in Nigeria, or don’t you have any?

Ulster University maintains a strong network of recruitment agents across Nigeria who are well-versed in our courses and the excellent teaching environment we provide. To support and guide our agents with their applicants, we have two full-time staff members dedicated to this role. I personally visit Nigeria at least once a year to strengthen our working relationships. Additionally, we regularly keep in touch online, providing remote support to our network as needed. Every two years, we invite our agents to visit our campus, ensuring they stay familiar with our offerings and can effectively promote our university to prospective students.

Last year, the Nigerian  government’s policy on exchange rate forced many Nigerian students to return home, how did that affect your institution?

The exchange rate policy significantly influenced the decisions of many Nigerians who intended to study in the UK. For those still in Nigeria, we reassured them that we would try to hold their study offers for a future intake, hoping they would resume as soon as they can. We also advised new students to carefully consider the appropriateness of accepting their study place given the circumstances. For students already in the UK, the situation was challenging. Ulster University offers a range of services to support student wellbeing, finance, and academics. These services were extensively utilised to help Nigerian students navigate their circumstances. Additionally, we provide a Financial Hardship Fund to assist students facing difficulties with daily living expenses, covering short-term needs such as food and shelter. This fund aims to alleviate some of the financial pressures caused by the exchange rate fluctuations.

Over the years, what is your assessment of applicants from Nigeria?

Applicants come from a range of states across Nigeria. We have Nigerians from large cities and rural areas who are seeking to continue their education journey in an international setting.  Nigerian applicants represent quality and we regularly encounter students coming from top Nigerian schools and universities to pursue their studies at Ulster University.  Nigerians are truly resilient in their approach to education and their sheer determination to succeed is evident from the moment they land in the UK.  

Does Ulster University have any relationship with any Nigerian university, and what are the possible areas of collaboration with universities in Nigeria?

Ulster University has active partnerships with universities across the globe. We are active in seeking collaboration opportunities with like minded universites who share similar areas of study and research.

Since Nigeria is one of your major markets, is there a plan to set up a campus here?

Setting up a university campus in another country is a significant undertaking. Typically, universities begin by strengthening existing partnerships within the country before considering the establishment of a new campus. Many Nigerian students are drawn to the UK education system and the experience of living in the UK during their studies. However, for those who prefer to stay with their families or continue working, Ulster University offers online study options. These programmes provide a flexible and accessible way for Nigerians to benefit from our education without needing to relocate. While there are no immediate plans to set up a campus in Nigeria, we are committed to supporting Nigerian students through our existing programmes and partnerships.

How well are your international students prepared to tackle the problems of their countries upon graduation, and for those who choose to remain in the UK, do you assist them to get employment?

Many Nigerian students select study areas and qualifications that will enhance their skillset and improve their employment prospects in their home country. An international study experience often makes students more attractive to global employers. Being in a diverse international environment is a significant advantage for our students, helping them successfully secure employment in their chosen industries, whether in the UK, their home country, or beyond.

For those who choose to remain in the UK, we offer assistance in finding employment. Our career services provide support, including job search resources, networking opportunities, and guidance on navigating the UK job market, ensuring that our graduates are well-prepared to tackle the challenges they may face and achieve their career goals.

What is your alumni strength?

Ulster University has a strong focus on employability with many courses developed in conjunction with industry and employer needs.  This elevates our graduates to being highly sought after for their ability to put their study into practice. Academic and teaching staff across our university are typically practitioners in their industry and can bring true knowledge of the demands and opportunities of that industry.  This prepares our graduates to enter the workforce with appropriate skills to meet employer expectations. On alumni strength, in 2016, Ulster University embarked upon an ambitious strategic plan that places global vision at its core. We are now living that strategy, having extended partnership links in 36 countries, with more than 225,000 alumni located in 154 countries across the world. Ulster University is an internationally focused university continually building new partnerships and further enhancing existing linkages.

You and your team are visiting Nigeria, what is the purpose of the visit? 

Our visit to Nigeria will provide a valuable opportunity to guide, prepare, and support applicants joining Ulster University in September 2024. Meeting with our new students in Nigeria before they travel to the UK allows us to engage more meaningfully. This visit enables us to address questions and alleviate any final concerns students or their families may have. Over the past decade, Ulster University has cultivated a strong and dynamic relationship with Nigeria, welcoming an increasing number of Nigerian students each year. The university’s diverse and inclusive campus environment has been greatly enriched by the cultural contributions and academic excellence of its Nigerian student body.

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