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By M. Babajide-Alabi,
The United Kingdom education landscape is one that is populated by many foreign students from all over the world, including Nigeria. In the past fifteen years, the number of Nigerians offered admissions to study in the UK had risen far more than it used to be. This increase has resulted in annual ‘migration’ of Nigerian students to UK universities to pursue different courses, both at the undergraduate and post graduate levels. The most accessed by Nigerians of the UK education system is at the post graduate level.
Just like Indian and Chinese students, Nigeria is regarded as a large contributor of students, and ‘major financier’ of the UK education sector. While the UK universities might have been the natural habitat for children of the rich in the past, the millennium witnessed average Nigerian parents sponsoring their kids in the universities.
There are various reasons for Nigerians’ love for and pursuit of UK education. The most ‘impressive’ reason is the declining quality in Nigeria’s education systems. The blame for this can be laid at the feet of the government and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). The successive federal and state governments take the blame for neglect, while the staff union is blamed for the insensitivity and selfishness of its members.
The impact the various strike actions, undertaken by ASUU, over the years has had on Nigeria’s education system cannot be over emphasised. These strikes, in most cases had left some students out of the school system for months and others for years. With this development and the poor ranking of the Nigerian institutions, ambitious students still feel “hunger” without a “taste” of international education.
The urge for quality education, which is unobtainable in Nigeria is another factor that has contributed to the yearning for UK education. This assurance of quality is a guarantee of the best of future, as their UK qualifications place them in better positions, careers and jobs wise, than they would get as a Nigerian university graduate.
The upsurge in the number of Nigerians in UK universities was made possible by the liberal immigration policies of the Labour-led government. Unlike what was obtained in the early Tory government under Mrs Margaret Thatcher, the Tony Blair government made UK education system accessible by its fair immigration policies.
These policies encouraged “poaching” fresh brains from outside UK shores for the mutual benefit of the individuals and the country. Majority of the new generation of Nigerian professionals in the country right now were the ones who took advantage of the favourable students migration policy of the period.
Prior to the eighties, Nigeria’s education system can be described as average and modest that could compete with what is obtainable in other developing countries. It is no longer good news in the sector. This declining development, termed absurd by concerned analysts, is depressing, considering the number of private, federal and state universities, colleges etc springing up daily all over the country.
When the Nigeria educational system was “deregulated” some years ago, allowing private investors to establish higher institutions, the thought was that this initiative would help the sector grow. The “face” of Nigerian higher institution changed forever as many eagle eye business men and women “smelled ” money from the sector and went for it. It was not long before there were commissioning ceremonies in every corner of the country heralding numerous private universities.
It is noteworthy that the Federal and some State governments, not wanting to be outdone at the establishment game, but less concerned with quality, also joined. A few more universities were established as political gestures in almost all the thirty six states of the country.
The irony of the situation is that in the past ten years the growth of private universities established is far more than the total number ever provided since independence. This has raised concerns from analysts on the quality and accessibility of education these institutions are providing. They have queried why these institutions are modelling their curricula just as obtained in the older universities.
The rot in the sector cuts across all the levels of education in Nigeria. The nursery/primary school, which should be the foundation for a solid future for a child has long been given up by all the tiers of government. The state of education in public primary schools, has been of concern for parents who want their wards to have good starts.
The mid nineties witnessed the most of proliferation of private primary schools. In every corner of the country, proprietors, motivated by profits, rather than service, gathered children together in uncompleted buildings, and pretended to run schools that are better than government-owned.
The rot in the sector coupled with the desire for better opportunities abroad is what pushes the average Nigerian student outside the shores. However, for some of the foreign students in the UK, the experience has become a nightmare. Because of the drive for more immigration control by most developed countries, including the UK, the students category is the most hit.
Ever since the emergence of the Conservatives-led government in 2010, the table has turned. While the UK Prime Minister David Cameron and his party officials had not at anytime hidden their desire to overhaul the country’s immigration systems, these students seem to bear the brunt of the policies the most.
In the run up to the 2010 General Elections, the Tories made it clear that if elected it would not be business as usual for foreign students. The Conservatives believed the Labour-led government had been too relaxed in its immigration policies, thereby leading to the “over population” of the country by foreign students
Since elected, the Tories have not fallen short on their promises of “cutting the wings” of foreign students who use the route to settle permanently in the UK. The party has reversed all immigration policies that once celebrated “fresh talents” from outside the EU shores. All the visa categories that a foreign student can progress in to live and work in the UK after studying have either been closed or made difficult to renew.
The issue at hand is not the justification of the decision of the UK government on curtailing the visas of foreign students, but the fact that some of them would have been better placed in the job market if only they have access to UK work experience. But with the current visa regime, a foreign student is expected to go back to his or her country immediately after studies, with none or limited access to the UK work market. It is extremely difficult for UK employers to take on foreign students, no matter how skilled they are in their fields.
Is it not right time we develop our education sector?
Published in Sunday Vanguard June 7, 2015. CLICK HERE