Teesside University Students From Nigeria Ordered To Leave UK


The screaming headline of a BBC story on May 22, 2024 was to the effect that students from Nigeria at Teesside University have been ordered to leave the UK. Placard carrying students accompany the story. If one is not careful, only nine students are visible. But a closer look shows a hand clenched around what could be a placard. In addition, two students – a male and a female – are hiding behind another student, whose placard reads: “INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS ALSO HAVE RIGHT[S] RESPECT IT”. It means some of the students are being intimidated and are afraid.

These students were demonstrating against just one of the many universities in the UK that are forcing Nigerian students to return home. However, this developing and worsening situation of throwing students off their respective course, and reported to the British Home Office for deportation, is not unique to Teesside University. Many UK universities that had benefitted enormously at the height of the “japa” syndrome are now causing the Home Office to deport Nigerian students after they defaulted in the payment of fees.

Historically, Nigerian students have not been habitual tuition debt defaulters. However, Nigerian students fell on bad times after the unparalleled devaluation of the Nigerian currency by about 300% as the President Bola Ahmed Tinubu administration began in Nigeria about a year ago. The naira values respective students had stashed up from sales of personal or family properties or parental earnings could no longer meet the needs of external obligations for the payment of tuition fees.

The problem of failure to meet debt obligations is not unique to students. As a result of tripled replacement costs or huge naira debts on goods already sold at pre-devaluation prices, businesses are finding it difficult to continue being in existence. Some businesses are negotiating debt reductions or forgiveness from suppliers around the world. Nigeria being largely an importing country has been unable to take advantage of devaluation through huge export quantities resulting from a cheaper naira.

However, the Teesside University situation provides an opportunity to look broadly at the larger picture—the problem of external/foreign education as a material and human drain on Nigeria. The problem of foreign education especially in terms of both material and human resource drain on Nigeria is multifaceted. From significant financial costs, exacerbated by the sustained crippling of the Naira, a disastrous level of brain drain/talent flight, and broader socio-economic impacts. Included in the problems have been the false expectation that foreign education opened up job opportunities and pathway to residency in the countries of study.


Tuition Fees and Living Expenses

Nigerian students studying abroad often pay significantly higher tuition fees compared to local institutions. For instance, in countries like the UK, US, and Canada, international student fees can range from $15,000 to over $50,000 per year, depending on the program and institution. Living expenses, including accommodation, food, and transportation, add to the financial burden. These costs can range from $10,000 to $20,000 annually. These costs, according to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), have resulted into a major financial drain on Nigeria over the years. The CBN’s Governor, Mr. Olayemi Cardoso, in a speech to the House of Representatives on February 6, 2024 stated:

Looking at the demand side of the exchange rate, it’s important to note the growing number of Nigerian students studying abroad. In the 1980s and 1990s, the need for US Dollars for their living expenses was minimal. However, recent data shows a significant change. According to UNESCO’s Institute of Statistics, the number of Nigerian students abroad increased from less than 15,000 in 1998 to over 71,000 in 2015. By 2018, this figure had reached 96,702 students, as per the World Bank. Another report projects the number of Nigerian students studying abroad to exceed 100,000 by 2022. Additionally, the UK’s Higher Education Statistics Agency noted a 64% increase in Nigerian students studying in the country, rising from 13,020 in the 2019/2020 academic session to 21,305 by the 2020/2021 session. Given this data, it’s crucial to highlight that between 2010 and 2020, foreign education expenses amounted to a substantial US$28.65 billion, as per the CBN’s publicly available Balance of Payments Statistics.

On the flip side, the African giant did not attract any form of inflow from foreign students. This is not surprising given the current state of the Nigerian educational system, with university students counting over seven months at home as a result of strike actions.

The Nigerian young populace has tapped into study visas as a perfect formula to “japa” from Nigeria, an expression that is used to represent escaping from the country. Similarly, many Nigerian companies are currently faced with an exodus of resignations, as foreign schools resumed academic activities and both young and old citizens jumped on the leaving train abroad.


Brain Drain and Loss of Talent

Many Nigerian students who study abroad do not return home after their studies. They often seek mean jobs reserved for them and not jobs measuring up to the skills they had acquired. The salaries and improved living conditions are necessary allure, in spite of the fact that most of the earnings go into meeting survival bills, leaving no extras. At times, Nigerian youths embark on homelessness, and eating donated foods at soup kitchens.

This sad situation has resulted into a significant loss of skilled professionals in various fields such as medicine, engineering, IT, banking and finance and even more recently, the academia.

The absence of highly educated and skilled individuals hampers local development. Sectors like healthcare and education face shortages of qualified personnel, affecting service delivery and overall progress.

Socio-Economic Impacts

The allure of foreign education often undermines confidence in local institutions. There is a perceived, gap in the quality of education provided locally compared to international standards. Efforts to improve the local education system has continued to be deprioritized, as the wealthier segment of society opts for foreign education solutions.


Impact on the Nigerian economy

The massive brain drain currently ravaging the Nigerian corporate world is leaving a huge skills gap in most organisations, as it seems the best hands are the ones jumping on the “Japa” trend, making an imperative case for firms to train and retrain their staff to fill the space. This has also meant more competition in terms of hiring as firms now develop strategies to outwit themselves in getting the remaining best hands in the industry.

Foreign education spending requires the availability of foreign exchange, something which the Nigerian economy is in shortage of at the moment. The increased demand for the dollar to pay for foreign services, speculative needs, including thefts by Nigerian authorities especially when federal allocations are shared, and importation amongst others have caused a significant depreciation in the local currency against the US dollar.


Potential Solutions

Expecting Nigerians already outside under the japa syndrome to return home is the appropriate thing to do. A lot can be done in meeting the needs of Nigerians from within through a focus on infrastructure developments, that will boost productivity on several fronts. However, this is wishful thinking. There is the assumed “shame factor”, over returning to Nigeria when all acquisitions prior to the japa plan had been liquidated and there is nothing to return to.

The Nigerian diplomatic and consular efforts need be more activist in protecting the rights of Nigerians outside our shores. Some of the Teesside University students could use such assistance to secure their respective certificates that were almost earned when they defaulted. The ease with which Nigerians are being subjected to deportation pressures and actual removal should be a basis for negotiations by our diplomats. To claim that nothing can be done once a report had been made to the Home Office impugns the involvement of Nigerian in protecting its citizens. We should not only remember that we have a diaspora only when calculating annual remittances.

Significant investment in Nigeria’s education sector is crucial. This includes upgrading infrastructure, enhancing teacher training, and developing a robust curriculum that meets global standards as well as boosting the emoluments being paid to academics, in order to retain more of the available capacities. In this regard, policies that create attractive job opportunities for graduates within Nigeria to reduce the incentive to emigrate is yearning for adoption.

Forming partnerships with foreign institutions to facilitate knowledge transfer and collaborative programs that allow students to gain international exposure without leaving the country permanently would be a welcomed development, after all, Nigeria in my student days attracted brains from around the world as students and teachers.

The big assumption is that Nigeria would be blessed with the leadership at all the arms of government, the federal, state and local government levels as well as public, private and social sectors, that could eschew corruption and divert stolen and hidden wealth and continued stealing into education, research and development as well as improved health delivery, boost rule of law and capable to successfully handle our currently inclement external dynamics, build sustainable institutions as well as improve the flow of human and material resources aimed at reducing inequalities. Is such leadership possible at this time in Nigeria’s history? I would modify Ayi Kwei Armah to say that: The Beautiful Ones Are Yet To Be Conceived.



*Babafemi A. Badejo, author of a best-seller on politics in Kenya, was a former Deputy Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Somalia, and currently a Legal Practitioner and Professor of Political Science & International Relations, Chrisland University, Abeokuta. Nigeria.


Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.