For how long can UK enforce its rules against students from Nigeria, others?, By Olabisi Deji-Folutile

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When the Home Office of the United Kingdom in January this year announced the implementation of its policy banning Nigerian students and other overseas students from bringing in dependants via the study visa route, it was unclear to me how long the UK would be able to enforce this harsh rule.

From the standpoint of the European country, it seems foreign students suddenly descended on the UK and made it their choice destination for the pursuit of education, without being offered any prior enticement to do so. But clearly, that is not the case. In 2019, the UK deliberately and intentionally solicited the patronage of these foreign students, especially those from Nigeria, India and Pakistan to boost foreign enrolment in its universities — the same set of people it is trying to shut out now. It did that to attract funds that would strengthen the survival of its threatened universities.

Between 

2012 and 2017, 

 the UK witnessed a 27 per cent drop in international students from Nigeria, as Nigerians looked towards Canada, Malaysia, Ghana and the rest for their education, due to UK’s policy of not granting post-graduate stay for its foreign students. Having lost potential students and in its bid to attract them, it launched an 

International Education Strategy

 in 2019, which was revised in 2021. This strategy placed Nigeria as one of five other high-priority countries that it focused its recruitment efforts, funding and new immigration routes on.

 

The UK wilfully opened up its borders as much as possible to 

international

 students, including Nigerians, in October 2020 when it introduced a new student’s visa rule that created clearer 

pathways

 for students. It intentionally created a visa route that allowed students to bring in their family members along with them as

 dependants

 and also allowed students to stay back after their studies for two years.  

Expectedly, the result was very successful. It boosted overall international student numbers in the UK from 485,000 in 2018-19 to 

over 680,000

 last year, way ahead of the 600,000 target set for 2030, and increased the value of education exports to over £35 billion (US$43 billion). 

If the UK insists on disallowing foreigners, especially Nigerians, from bringing their families along with them for studies, it should also be ready to bear the consequences. UK is not doing anyone a favour by allowing students to bring their families along with them. It is a survival strategy for the UK. In many ways, education to present-day UK is what crude oil is to Nigeria. According to a Times Higher Education 

report,

 universities contribute £116 billion to the UK economy annually. And most of this comes from international students.

Already, there are fears that many universities in the UK may fall into financial deficit due to astronomical decline in the enrolment of international students as a result of the new government policy on dependants.  Data from 

Enroly,

 a web platform used by one in three international students for managing university enrolment, has shown that deposit payments are down 37 per cent, compared to last year. According to the PwC analysis, quoted by 

Financial Times,

 if the growth in international students stagnated in the 2024-25 academic year, the proportion of universities in the financial deficit would rise from 19 per cent to 27 per cent — but if numbers start to fall between 13 and 18 per cent, then four-fifths would be in deficit. The PwC analysis was based on the 2021-22 financial returns of 70 Universities UK members in England and Northern Ireland. It also found that about 40 per cent of universities are expected to be in deficit in 2023-24, falling to 19 per cent by 2025-26.

Reports also indicate that UK universities are getting worried that the number of international students have declined sharply this year due to its government’s hostile policies. These universities are making private moves to warn their government of the implication of shutting out some key countries, including Nigeria and India. Also, the chief executive of Universities UK, Vivienne Stern, told Financial Times that the education sector was facing the prospect of a “serious over-correction” due to immigration policies that deter international students from coming to study in Britain. Stern was speaking for more than 140 universities. The FT report indicates that the number of international students taking up places in January 2024 was “way below the bottom end of projections for everyone.”

This is the reality. Although Robert Halfon, UK’s higher education minister, thinks the UK would tackle net migration and ensure that the brightest students are attracted to study at its universities, there is a huge limitation to this enthusiasm. The so-called brightest students are the brides of most universities in the world. Unfortunately, they are not large in numbers, so they are in high demand, making competition for them to be stiff.  Many universities outside the UK are offering huge scholarships to attract these students. So, these brightest students may not offer the succour that the shortfall from shutting out the majority of students would create on the UK system.

Maybe it is also high time the UK realised that many of its international students are aware that they are paying far more for an education that they could probably get at a very huge discount in their countries for a reason. And that reason goes far beyond the UK being tagged a great destination for good and quality education. There are so many universities in the world creating such image in their marketing approach. Nigerians, for example, have their reasons for choosing UK above some countries. These could range from proximity to language, etc. But UK government thinking that a Nigerian student would spend over £20,000 in tuition for a one-year course without having in mind what to gain from its system is unreasonable and unpragmatic.

Agreed, the Nigerian government may not be proactive enough in discouraging capital flight through education tourism, and in intentionally developing its university system to attract foreign students, but clearly, its citizens going for foreign education aren’t stupid. Nigerians won’t sell their properties, take loans and make all sorts of sacrifices just to raise the needed fund to study in the UK without being allowed to come with their dependants or have the opportunity for post-study work. While I concede that it is within the UK’s rights to determine the terms for coming to study there, the earlier it comes to terms with the reality that its relationship with Nigerian and other foreign students is symbiotic, the better for it. Nobody is deceived. There are other study destinations waiting to take over the UK’s market share.

 

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It’s time Nigeria reviews its approach to its higher education, especially in the area of monitoring university managements. Many institutions have started charging fees. It is not enough for students to pay, the process of expending these resources must be transparent. We must up the level of accountability among university managements.

 

A lot of university managements hide under different guises to perpetuate corruption. University Governing Councils are only independent in name. The membership of councils is integral to its success. Governing council membership shouldn’t be rewards for faithful political acolytes. They should be independent such that they can run these institutions without undue interference from government. 

Besides, revenue shouldn’t come from tuition alone. What stops universities from being the citadels of consultants? After all, they are the ones training the experts. The population of Nigeria should be an asset and not a deficiency.

And above all, the Nigerian government should intentionally and deliberately do things that will prevent education tourism.

 

Olabisi Deji-Folutile is the editor-in-chief of franktalknow.com and director at af24news.com. You can reach her on bisideji@yahoo.co.uk

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