Learners from Africa’s largest source of foreign students, Nigeria, are increasingly diversifying their destinations away from the English-speaking countries in a departure from tradition.
Analysts say that popular destinations for Nigerian students including UK, the US, Canada and Australia are facing heightened competition in recent years by non-traditional European destinations including Germany, Norway and Finland among others.
“Large English-speaking countries are world-known destinations for studying abroad and focus on diversity in the classroom,” said Jacopo Gutterer, analytics consultant at international education firm Studyportals.
“It is not always easy to get a study visa for Anglophone destinations”
“However, it is also true that studying there in places such as US, UK, Australia, or Canada comes generally at a high cost, and it is not always easy to get a study visa for these destinations.”
Besides high tuition fees, difficulties in acquiring a student visa was putting the destinations at a disadvantage in as far as Nigerians are concerned. While they continue to show great interest in Anglophone countries based on the number of enquiries, a significant number did not enrol or ended up studying elsewhere, analysts contend.
Studying in non-Anglophone countries is “often cheaper than in other destinations, while quality of education remains high”, Gutterer explained.
In the year 2020 Canada, Germany, UK, US and Norway were the top five destinations for Nigerian students in terms of student interest, he said.
“[Anglophone countries] appear on top of the priority list of Nigerian students for a mix made up of historical ties, expat communities, and because universities in the UK and the US often have a better brand recognition worldwide,” Gutterer told The PIE News.
UK universities maintained their appeal in 2020, he explained. And while interest in the US dipped, with November 2020 marking the lowest share of interest in US in the last two years among Nigerians, interest has since continued to grow – currently at a two-year high.
The change in trend was perhaps encouraged by US government itself which in June this year announced that it had issued scholarships valued US$28 million to support Nigerian students interested in studying the US. The scholarships had been issued through the Education USA program.
A Carnegie Endowment for International Peace report published in January noted that, unlike US and Canadian competitors, very few UK universities offer scholarships or discounts to Nigerian students.
Coventry University, which hosted 555 Nigerian students in 2018/19 – a decline of 49% in five years – typically attracted more Nigerian applicants by combining scholarships with effective marketing, tailored course offerings, and competitive fees, the report noted.
For the same year, University of Hertfordshire and Robert Gordon University enrolled the most students from Africa’s most populous country, with 365 (-34% since 2014/15) and 340 (-41%), respectively.
In 2018, statistics show that 10,540 Nigerian students studied at UK universities – the lowest in five years, having fallen by 41% in comparison to 2014, when some 18,000 Nigerians did so. The PIE also captured the trend on March 30, reporting that the UK witnessed a drop of 27% in number of Nigerians joining its universities between 2012-2017.
Campus France’s Chiffres Cles 2021 figures indicate Canada, Malaysia, South Africa as well China as being emerging destinations to watch for Nigerian students.
Latest HESA statistics from 2018/19 show that 13,020 Nigerians were studying at UK universities – the sixth largest cohort. And Nigeria has also been selected as one of five “priority countries” in the UK’s International Education Strategy.
The Carnegie report suggested that affordability issues among middle-class Nigerian families – stemming from Nigeria’s recent recession and naira devaluation – a decline in Nigerian government scholarships, repeated changes to UK visa and residency rules, and sharpening of anti migrant rhetoric in the UK, in addition to increased global market competition, had “all had an impact on university applications”.
However, latest UCAS show that in 2021 the total number of placed Nigerian students reached a high since 2014, with 860 students finding places via the admissions service, compared with 820 in 2014.
“More Nigerians in 2020 considered online study options than in 2019”
According to Gutterer, the Covid-19 pandemic presented two main changes in terms of Nigerian student mobility, the first one seeing a significant drop in outbound volumes in 2020, before rising again in 2021. The rebound rose to beyond pre-pandemic levels in 2021, showing a “very large number of students looking abroad for their studies”.
“The second change is in interest for online programs since more Nigerians in 2020 considered online study options than in 2019, and their number remain high even now,” he observed.
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