9 March 2014

Nigerian Students and the Appetite for UK Education

Lagos — Like butterflies are attracted to nectar, they say UK education holds certain attraction for Nigerian students. Sunday Trust correspondent finds out what this attraction is.

The expansive hall of Eko Hotel and Suites was the centerpiece of attractions few days ago when the Lagos version of the 2014 United Kingdom Colleges and Universities exhibition was held. Gathering under the canopy of British Council, the UK cultural and educational institute which has the expertise of organising such fair, the participating schools were never at loss as to the certainties of their recruitment chances.

Of course, prospective students did come in droves. It was a matter of time for the 50 participating institutions to have each of the exhibition stand filled with information-seeking Nigerians. Parents and guardian came with their children, secondary schools with their teachers and students, A'level teenagers from different parts of the country, all find their ways to the exhibition hall.

"That is how it has been for more than a decade now," Sephora Imomoh, a project manager with British Council said as this reporter expressed surprise at the large turnout of turnout of people at the education fair.

According to Imomoh, about 17,000 Nigerian students are currently studying in different UK institutions even as many others are gearing to take the next available flight. It may be hard to blame these Nigerians. The quest for UK education seemed to have become a soothing balm of sort for many who perhaps have been fed up with the woes currently bedeviling Nigerian education.

"Studying in any part of the world is about option and not compulsion.

But I think more than any other reasons for Nigerians travelling to UK to study is the need to bypass the perennial challenges associated with schools in the country. For instance, last year, Nigerian varsities went on five months strike and some students may really not be pleased with that and considering the fact that one of the greatest strength of UK institutions is the stable academic calendar, the students are certainly attracted.

"UK is also known for quality education and many Nigerians are interested in getting this quality education. And so far so good, I can say the interest so far shown have been very good. The UK is safe for study and the people in UK are quite welcoming of other people," Imomoh said.

Desmond Omovie, the Council's Communication manager could not agree less with Imomoh. Omovie said truth be told, the UK education system has evolved to meet the challenges of this age. He said this is because it is built on a tradition of innovation as well as a constant process of evolution that challenges convention and encourages independently minded people to learn not just what to think, but how to think.

"The opportunities are wide ranging and our exhibition provides a platform for every student to find a program of study that is tailored to their specific aptitudes and will help them create a great future," Omovie said.

Yet this isn't coming cheaply. Peter Muncey, an officer with the International Recruitment Office of University of Surrey agreed. Though he said the cost varies, depending on the course a student may be applying for. Currently, University of Surrey courses run between 10,000 and 12, 000 pounds, that is about N2 million and N2.5 million, according to Muncey. He was however not being particular about the cost, but the quality.

"Yes, I think we need to understand that quality education no doubt requires substantial part of one's investment. So, the kind of education we offer at Surrey is one that can place students above their colleagues in other Universities as a matter of fact we have courses that range between 10, 000 and 12,000 pound, among others," Muncey said.

Imomoh also aligned with Muncey stance. But she was quick to note that many of these schools have devised the strategy of offering certain scholarship to cushion financial burden on their students.

"It is true that the cost of education UK is high because the quality is also very high. I am aware that a number of these institutions do offer scholarships that are specific to Nigerian students and some even offer bursary or offer discount fees to the students. There are some posters in this hall, announcing scholarship specifically meant for Nigerian students and you won't believe that some of them do up to 4,000 pound discount off the tuition fees. There are also instances where students are offered full scholarships to study. Some who are qualified and are lucky have been enjoying that," Imomoh said.

But Adekola Adebisi, who represented Southampton University, said award of scholarship at the institution is based purely on academic merit.

"Scholarship in South Scholarship in the school is merit based.

Mostly, it requires you to be in good academic standing, especially being in first class positions. It is a very good school no doubt," Adebisi said.

Out there, there are prospective Nigerians who have had sour experiences in their quest to travel to UK. While some unscrupulous agents have capitalised on the desaperation that usually accompany such quest, some others have only been nice enough to fix the students up in low rated institutions after collecting huge amount of money.

Adebisi said Southampton University doesn't fall into that category. "Our school is one of the top 10 that are highly rated in UK. As a matter of fact, if you don't have 2:1, you may not be picked for admission into post-graduate studies in the school. And if you are coming for an under graduate course, you may be require to score three A's. So basically, it is a highly rated school which is appreciated both within and outside UK.

"We know that about 10 years ago, when Nigerians students travelled to UK, they didn't always put into consideration whether or not the school is highly ranked. But these days, many have come to realize that school ranking are very important. And many Nigerian Students have also come to appreciate that you will pay more if you attended a well-ranked institution and good enough, Southampton is adequately ranked. For us that is a great selling point," Adebisi said.

Imomoh also said eventhough, the British Council is not the one to accredit institution participating in the exhibition, it nonetheless work in conjuction with the body in charge so as to ensure that only the best among them, engage in recruitment of international students.

"The Bristish Council doesn't accredit or certifies institutions. That is done in UK by UK Quality Control Organization. They certifies and accredit some of these institutions. And it is only the schools that have been highly certified as fit that are allowed to participate for our exhibitions," Imomoh said.

On the performance of Nigerian students in some of these universities, Muncey said it has been quite impressive in Surrey with many of them scoring "merit" on the average. He said the institution also has in place a large percentage of Nigerian student community and this community does guide every newly admitted students from the country.

"At Surrey, we offer international students different packages as we try to even ingratiate them into different communities on campus. And I think that is why most Nigerian students often feel at home while Surrey. Today, we have a very strong presence of Nigerian students in Surrey and as a matter of fact, they are the second largest group of international students after the Chinese. There are 200 Nigerian students currently studying in Surrey," Muncey said.

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