Following nationwide dissatisfaction in the Nigerian education experience, many throng the consular offices and embassies in Nigeria to search for better educational experience abroad. In this report, Gbadegesin Adeyanju x-rayed the challenges these Nigerians hoping to study abroad face.
Dorcas Daramola is a former student of Olusegun Agagu University of Science and Technology. She got an opportunity to study Nursing Science in Canada. Her visa was denied the first time she applied to study in Canada in January 2021, but her visa application was approved later in July when she reapplied.
Daramola is one of the thousands of Nigerians seeking fulfillment in overseas study, a development some have tagged Japa Route (a way out of the numerous insecurity challenges, corruption and social vices which are rife in Nigeria).
A survey report titled “Nigeria Market Sentiments And Study Motivations” published earlier this year showed that nine out of ten Nigerians are interested in studying abroad. The top countries of preference include the United Kingdom (32.71%), Canada (16.76%), the United States (16.64%), Germany (10.60%), and Australia (7.96%).
In 2021, the student visa success rate for the UK is about 94.93%. Sadly, since 2016, Nigeria has been consistently below 25% of the Canadian student visa approval rate.
Why visa applications are denied
“I feel it is a regular thing at the Canadian embassy. They would firstly want to deny your visa before the approval,” Daramola said as she shared her experience. “But then, the common major reason for the denial which also happened to me was a non-convincing reason to leave their country (Canada) after one is done schooling for years of stay/study,” she added.
In a report by African Scholars Initiative (Canada), its President, Dr Gideon Christian, while highlighting reasons for rejection of visa applications for African students, said “racism in Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) had impact on the processing of immigration applications in certain countries; widespread reference to African countries as ‘the dirty 30’ by IRCC agents; the stereotyping of Nigerians as particularly corrupt and untrustworthy.”
Guilty until proven innocent?
In a Punch Nigeria report, an immigration expert, Taiwo Roluga, said “Under Canadian Immigration laws, applicants who wish to study in Canada are viewed as intending immigrants until they can convince the consular officer that they are not. You must, therefore, be able to show that you have reasons to return to your home country.
“If you are a prospective undergraduate, you need to write about your specific intentions or promise of future employment, family or other relationships, educational objectives, grades, long-range plans and career prospects in your home country. Each person’s situation is different, and there is no magic explanation or single document, which can guarantee visa issuance.”
I left Nigeria without a scholarship opportunity
Daramola left Nigeria because the education system in Nigeria did not help her situation. After she had a good result in Joint Admissions and Matriculations Board (JAMB), and West African Examinations Council (WAEC) exams, she was given a course she believed she could not cope with or won’t guarantee her chances of being employed.
However, she accepted the admission with the hope of changing the institution, but this was not possible. When she tried to change the course in her second year, the Senate released the result the following session, which made the change of course impossible.
“Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Non-Academics Staff Union (NASU), and other bodies’ strike is another annoying factor that pisses students off in Nigeria. Why then waste my time (approximately 6-7years) on a course I do not like. [There is] no hope for employment after the course,” Daramola said.
On how she is sponsoring herself to study without a scholarship, she said, “I originally planned work and study alongside the support of my parents. But then, my course is a time-consuming one. So my parents do that. During breaks (session break), I should do some work,” she mentioned.
The exchange rate of the Canadian dollar to the Nigerian naira is taking a huge toll on her stay in Canada. Besides, food is another challenging factor because preferred African dishes are expensive, according to Daramola.
Another challenge is the cost of English proficiency tests that most universities in the US, UK, Canada and others require international students to take.
As of today, the cost is between $250 to $300. Between 2016 to 2021, IELTS generated over US$771.2-million to the British council. In a 2021 financial report, Nigeria is one of the biggest sources of revenue.
Some African from Nigeria, Liberia, Ghana and Sierra Leone have sinced tackled the policies as costly, unnecessary and discriminatory, saying there are no good reasons for students from English-speaking countries to write English proficiency tests.
Institutions like University of Toronto, York University, Toronto Metropolitan University (formerly Ryerson University) and University of Alberta have, however, changed their policies and no longer require English proficiency tests for applications.
“Accept applications without the language proficiency requirement, and in reviewing the applications, if it becomes obvious that a candidate has difficulty in comprehending the English language or expressing themselves in the language, you could require a test rather than having it as a blanket rule,” Mr. Christian said.
A research report authored by Patrick Ezepue, Director of Research and Innovation, Dominican University, Ibadan and Amaka Metu, curriculum developer at University of Sheffield International College, showed the challenges faced by Nigerian students abroad. The challenges include initial culture shock, poor performances in their assessments in the first semester, and inability to conduct critical literature reviews.
Also, a report by ApplyBoard said international students face language barriers, cultural differences, currency differences, day-to-day finances, homesickness, and not wanting to leave.
Other students share their experiences
Despite the challenges accustomed with this new found love for overseas study among Nigerians, many have found the process somehow seamless, having received some sort of assistance while undergoing the process.
Oluwatobi Ogundepo’s interest is in research in Gene Expression and Molecular Biology. He left Nigeria because of the lack of equipment and funds for this field in Nigeria.
“The kind of research I want to do, Nigeria cannot do it because most of these equipment are not readily available. The technicality is not readily available, and there is no fund for science research in Nigeria,” he said.
Ogundepo could not sponsor himself, but while searching for scholarship opportunities, he found the i-Scholar Initiative (i-SI), an organisation that offered to fund his international graduate examinations (GRE and TOEFL).
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Eventually, not only did he get funding for the exams but also got a personal mentor who is studying a similar course through the I-SI.
Ogundepo has since arrived in the United States of America to start his fully-funded PhD programme in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Louisiana State University, Shreveport.
Fahidat Gbadamosi, a first-class graduate of Industrial Chemistry from the University of Ibadan, had always wanted to compete on a global level. Gbadamosi applied for i-SI application in late August 2019 and got an acceptance in September.
After the acceptance, i-SI paid for her GRE and TOEFL exams and helped her prepare for them. She submitted most of her scholarship applications in December and got her first interview invitation in January 2020.
“Other responses started coming in February and March (2020). After getting my acceptance, I started my visa process and I had my visa interview in July . I travelled at the end of July, and I started my programme in August,” Gbadamosi mentioned while adding that she deferred her admission for a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
She noted that at the University of South Carolina, United States, the mode of learning was totally different from what she experienced as an undergraduate in Nigeria. But after a month, she was able to adapt.
“Apart from helping to pay GRE and mentorship, we also have access to a big network of individuals. While we are here, they also have professional mentors that help us as we are currently in the university,” she added.
How i-Scholar made the process easy
David Nworie had always wanted to have expanded experience in Geology by travelling to different places around the world. He is a first-class graduate of Geology from Ebonyi State University (EBSU).
His goal bordered on travelling to experience the geology of different places in the world. He pursued his masters in Petroleum Science and Engineering at the State University of Campinas in São Paulo, Brazil. He moved to the United States in July for his PhD in Geology at the Colorado School of Mines.
Speaking on how the process got easy, Nworie said, “i-Scholar gives you some great resources that can be very helpful, a summarised document helps you on how to search for scholarship opportunities.”
He continued: “You have senior colleagues and mentors that have gone through the process, who understand most of these methods that can be used. They shared some of those information with us and that made us better informed.
“During that process, I was also using i-SI resources to guide, evaluate and review my S.O.P. After writing my S.O.P, I shared my S.O.P with other scholars and partners that could help provide some corrections or some possible suggestions on how to improve my S.O.P.”
The organisation also interviews the participants before going for respective school interviews in order to get them prepared and gain more confidence.
We contribute to nation-building — i-Scholar
“We realised there is a gap,” Victor Ogunmola, President, i-Scholar Initiative said while explaining how the organisation helps students. “They have a bridge to cross in order to be connected to the opportunities.”
“We are all into the Nigeria project when it comes to nation-building. It is our way of contributing to the Nigerian project,” Femi Fajolu, i-SI Secretary, said.
Motivated by the need to contribute to nation-building, i-Scholar funds international examinations of the students, and then assigns them mentors who will put them through the process of studying abroad. Not only do the scholars enjoy mentorship but also attend webinars at least every quarter (the webinars are opened to members of the public).
This reporter gathered that the organisation depends on the goodwill of people for support and funding.
“Accessing funds from organisations and individuals is a big challenge. Getting people to volunteer their time and resources is a big challenge for us,” Ogunmola said.
“We don’t see anything as limitations because the opportunities out there are limitless,” Fajolu mentioned.
“This organisation was founded in 2019. We have had four cycles of scholarship awards. In 2019 when we started, it was a very modest beginning for all of us. We were able to sponsor 20 scholarships that year. At the end of the day, we had a 90% success rate. We had 18 of the 20 awarded scholars get fully funded scholarships overseas at the master’s and PhD levels. And that year, our total investment was about $10,000. The 18 scholars who got fully funded offers had over $2.5 million in cumulative scholarship,” Ogunmola said while speaking about the success of the organisation.
In 2020, the organisation increased the number of scholars from 20 to 50 with support from donors, friends and partners. Out of the 50 scholars, 45 got fully funded offers. In 2021, 50 scholars were awarded the opportunity. As of the last count, 40 scholars have been granted fully-funded scholarships. 65 scholars were awarded in 2022.
“As at today, none of our scholars has been denied visa,” Ogunmola added.
A report by the Nigerian Tribune quoted Olatunji Fagbola, a partner and mentor with i-SI, saying “i-SI will go through your credentials and match you up with mentors because before you can access these opportunities, you need an all-encompassing support system that involves resources, information, mentoring, funding.”
Not Only i-SI
Other organisations and individuals including Vantage Network Africa, Moments With Bren, Opportunity Desk, Opportunities for all Africans, Scholars Dream, Akintunde Babatunde, Olumuyiwa Igbalajobi, Dipo Awojide, Summer Okibe, and ‘Tunde Omotoye equally put the effort into providing insights and resources for Nigerian students who hope to study abroad. Scholars Dream has a website that offers scholarship opportunities, tips and travelling opportunities.
“Some people are under-privileged,” Bashir Adewale, Owner, Scholars Dream, said while stating the reason behind the creation of the website.
On the other hand, Babatunde, an international development professional, periodically anchors Twitter spaces where young people seeking these opportunities ask questions. He has been doing this for about three years. On August 2, 2022, the Chevening alumnus hosted a two-hour long Twitter space on tips that can help young Nigerians ace Chevening applications. He also uses his personal page to share global opportunities.
“A lot of people are smart, but they don’t have opportunities to choose what they can do. What I have chosen to do is to be a bearer of opportunities by bringing opportunities to them. At the end of the day, the deal is to have many more people that win global opportunities.
“I like to see young people win,” he said.
According to Babatunde, many people have been able to win global opportunities, including internship opportunities and travel gigs from the opportunities he shares on his Twitter account.
On other challenges affecting the overseas study dreams of many Nigerians, he said, “Sometimes, there are some people who may want to go abroad and are not able to get required documents, let’s say international passport, due to [the] bureaucracy in Nigeria..
“Also, some students are unable to get required documents to study abroad due to the ASUU strike.”
Furthermore, the Nigerian government sponsors students every year to countries with bilateral agreements. But the government failed to do its part, according to a Premium Times report published in December 2018.
In response to the issue, President Muhammadu Buhari’s adviser on Diaspora matters, Abike Dabiri, was quoted to have said that “this matter, which has been a recurring issue for years, needs to be tackled once and for all by NASS and the scholarship board. We will be engaging them continuously on this.”
She added: “My suggestion to the scholarship board is to verify and pay, urgently. However if not adequately captured in the new budget, we will be back to square one. We need to put a stop to the embarrassment permanently. Been on for years.”
The students studying abroad were owed by the federal government since 2015 but got paid in 2019.
On January 20, 2019, Abike Dabiri made a tweet about the payment of the debt. It reads, “As promised by the HME, all our students on scholarship in diaspora, verified to be owed, will be paid. Over 9bn released. This inherited problem will be permanently solved by the @MBuhari admin @FGNscholars.”
Stakeholders make case for improved education system in Nigeria
Meanwhile, concerned by the mass exodus of Nigerian students and graduates from the country to foreign countries, stakeholders have continued to stress the need for an improved education system in the country.
Daily Trust report published in October 2021, says the ASUU President, Prof. Emmanuel Osodeke, called on the National Assembly to initiate a law that makes it compulsory for public officials to send their children to public schools in Nigeria because they are the architects of the problems facing the sector. This, the ASUU president believes, will let them know about the decay in Nigeria’s education system.
A bill sponsored by Hon. Sergius Ogun to regulate international studies for the children of public officials and strengthen educational institutions in Nigeria was rejected as the members said it is against their fundamental human rights, according to a report from Vanguard published in March 2022.
The report was sponsored by I-79 Media Consults’ ‘Campus Solutions’ project which is supported by the Solutions Journalism Network (SJN) as part of the 2022 LEDE Fellowship.