31 January 2013

Nigeria: Open Sesame - Canada's Lure for Nigeria's Students

Mary has completed primary, secondary and university schooling in Nigeria. But she's had enough, and she's not alone.

Like her, Promise King is ready for matriculation exams but wants a scholarship to study in Canada.

"I'm tired of Nigeria, I want a change of environment," says Mary, as she browses through possible schools abroad where she will apply for a postgraduate diploma, a prerequisite for a master's programme she wants.

Among her reasons, "Nigeria is not conducive for learning," she says.

Thousands more Nigerian students are looking to move their schooling outside the shores of Nigeria--to Ghana among African countries--and elsewhere to Europe, the US and Canada.

Nigerian government is not stopping them, nor can it compete at the moment on providing the trappings of an overseas education. In the first place, there isn't enough space: two out every three students in Nigeria may never get any placement in any university.

The nearly 100 higher institutions in Nigeria "are only able to offer admissions to only about one third of eligible applicants," Wike observed. "This has created a situation where Nigeria has become the largest market in Africa for the recruitment of students by educational institutions abroad."

Despite what minister of state for education Nyesom Wike called "tremendous investments to expand access to education", the trappings of an overseas education remain strong.

Parents trolling for possible schools complain about university calendars slowed down by strike and deplorable state of schooling, says Woyengikuro Kosuowei, a visa documentation officer for Maple Education Canada.

Cegep de St Felicien offers online tuition to students of infant education in Nigeria, and its lecturers only visit Nigeria to conduct graduation at the end of programme. Its students can go to work to pick up work in any infant school, says lecturer Patricia Eno Falope.

Open and inviting

"Because Nigerians generally appreciate the values of studying abroad, the Federal and State Governments, as well as parents who can afford the cost have continued to provide young Nigerians with the opportunity to study abroad in order to adequately train, equip and prepare them to face the developmental and existential challenges of the 21st century," Wike said.

His statement at the Canada Education Fair essentially throws open the country's education sector to countries hoping to recruit Nigerian students for their campuses.

Canada has been holding such fairs for the past ten years in major cities as Lagos and Abuja, and is now considering poaching Nigerian students an international trade. It is not stopping any time soon.

This year, more than 40 Canadian universities and secondary schools--armed with flashy brochures and sweet offers-- are on the make for the hearts and wallets of students and their parents.

University of Manitoba already has more than 200 Nigerian students on its campus and is attracting more with offer of 10% rebate on tuition for students who return to work at the school.

"It's a very big thing that draws them into wanting to apply to this school," says Olabode Mapayi, admissions officer for Maple Education Canada Inc, which represents University of Manitoba.

"Tuition is $12,000. If you go around, I am sure you will find tuition as much as $24,000."

Fees range from $20,000 at Toronto's Great Lakes College for 10-month high school diploma to $32,750 at Wilfred Laurier University, which offers three-year hire contract after graduation.

Big customer

A growing proportion of international students enrolling for school in Canada are of Nigerian origin, according to the country's minister for international trade Edward Fast. Last year, the proportion reached 50%, he said, and their presence means more Nigerians students will feel at home in Canada.

Growing ties with Canada means Nigeria sends more students there "than any other country in sub-Saharan Africa", says Wike.

But Canada is offering more than just a feel-at-home campus atmosphere and taking advantage of conditions students find difficult to deal with.

Schooling abroad comes with a part-time job, and better job opportunities sweeten the deal for students like Mary and Michael Abaronye, another student hoping for placement in a Canadian university.

Fast says up to 80% of students are guaranteed job placements six months after graduation as well as expedited visa procedures to get out of Nigeria in the first place.

Mary strolled through the stalls of three schools before deciding on Niagara College and is willing to take the chance, which might cost her family thousands of dollars each year in tuition alone.

"It is a bit on the high side, but when you look at the advantages, you will benefit," she concludes.

Abaronye reached the same conclusion and reaching schools abroad through an education fair would save him stress. After an undergraduate programme at Eastern Mediterranean University in North Cyprus, he returned to Nigeria for youth service and cannot wait to leave--this time to Canada.

He says the attention he got as an international student in Cyprus "doesn't really happen" in Nigeria. "Even if it does, it is in rare cases."

But he adds students need to focus on rankings before applying to universities. He chose York University from among two schools and is "just hoping it works out."

The workings of transferring education abroad doesn't always come easy, even more so when schools target students in lower classes.

A matter of names

Albert College, a small independent coeducational boarding school in Eastern Canada, has six Nigerian students and is looking to recruit more "to maintain diversity," according to the school's head Keith Stansfield.

"What we spend most of our time doing is to explain the comparisons of Nigerian programmes to Canadian programmes, to give them a sense of what would be the right entry point for them in Canada."

A WAEC certificate is ordinary level, meaning Nigerian students need two more years of schooling for an advanced level to get into British universities.

Schools like Albert College act as conduit for Nigerian students wanting to get a Canadian high school diploma--the equivalent of a British A-level--before entering university abroad.

Says Stansfield: "When you talk to students about the fact that it would be a good idea for them to come to our school to do grade 11 and 12 when they have already done grades 11 and 12, they don't like that idea, but they are going into a university where they will competing against students who have two more years experience."

The procedure is tantamount to repeating two years and rather frustrating, he admits. But those who can fork over the thousands of dollars to get into Canada may not mind so much.

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