The burden of learning overseas, leaning on lean forex
At the beginning of this month, Chairman, Senate Committee on Tertiary Education and Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund), Senator Binta Garba, stated that Nigerians spend about $2 billion yearly on education abroad. While describing the trend as embarrassing, Garba stated that such a situation could be halted if Nigerians worked harder to strengthen the country’s educational structures.
According to her, “Capital flight from education in Nigeria is about $2 billion; this is something we must work hard to put a stop to. We at the National Assembly are projecting that before 2019, there should be a very drastic reduction of such funds going out of the country.”
Shortly after that, President Muhammadu Buhari’s ban on Foreign Exchange (Forex) for education abroad made the headlines in Nigerian dailies and also virile on social media platforms. Buhari had, during an interview session with Al Jazeera in Qatar, stated that the country could no longer afford giving forex to Nigerians schooling abroad due to falling foreign reserves.
“Those who can afford foreign education for their children can go ahead but Nigeria cannot afford to allocate foreign exchange for those who decided to train their children outside the country. We can’t just afford it. That is just the true situation.”
This pronouncement, however, attracted many criticisms, with Senator Ben Murray-Bruce pitching against the president even though he is a strong supporter of things made in Nigeria. He was quoted to have posted on Facebook, “It’s awkward for a leader to say no forex for education for our kids schooling abroad when his own kids school abroad! Mr. President, these are people who voted for you. You ought to be more sensitive about their need for forex for education.
“This year all tiers of government, including the presidency, will spend billions importing cars. If we can afford that, can’t we afford forex for education? If the government could provide forex for those going on pilgrimage, there should be no reason why it should deny those schooling abroad”.
However, some stakeholders who spoke with The Guardian on the issue were of the view that parents should reconsider allowing their wards do their first degree within the country as high demand of dollars is weakening the naira while others opined that parents are at liberty to decide the kind of education they desire for their wards. The argument is that high demand for the U.S. dollar is putting unnecessary pressure on the naira, thereby affecting the nation’s economy. Even if there would be need for overseas education, it should be at the postgraduate level and it should be on specialised programmes, those against argue.
An Economist, Dr. Felix Adeduro is a supporter of government’s position on forex for education abroad. He is convinced that it would be an opportunity for Nigerians to look inward and strengthen the country’s education sector. Adeduro who is also the Chairman of Banquaires–SMS Consultants, a recruiting firm for India-based Amity University, stated, “I’m fully in support of the position of government in terms of forex for educational purpose. This would help us to ensure that our institutions run well, and where we have lapses it would help us correct the lapses; where we have gaps, it would help us close the gaps. Now, if you want your children to study abroad, you have to factor in the fact that you have to source your forex, at least in the short term.
“I want to say that government should give some form of waiver for those that are already in the universities abroad, but subsequently, for students going abroad, their parents have to source for their forex from the open market and transfer.
“The basic determinant of the rate of exchange is the forces of demand and supply. For health issues, if we have genuine cases that are verifiable I think government should allow it. Right now we don’t have efficient health delivery system, particularly a system that can handle chronic diseases. But in the case of education, we found that we have a lot of universities coming up.
All we just need to do is to put our house in order and ensure that our universities run effectively”.
He continued, “When we stop having quite a sizeable number of Nigerians going abroad, particularly for undergraduate programmes, you will realise that we will be saving a lot of demand for forex.”
On whether there are enough institutions to accommodate the educational yearnings of Nigerians, Adeduro said, “I have said this several times; what we need in this country is to run a collegiate system in government universities. How? We should have universities running only post-graduate programmes, then those universities would provide the syllabi and the curricular for their undergraduate programmes and then seek affiliations from colleges that are graduate colleges, degree awarding institutions.
“For instance, University of Lagos is over 50 years; it is mature enough to handle about 30 degree-awarding colleges. What UNILAG needs to do is to provide the syllabi and other curricula. These colleges teach the curricula and UNILAG conducts and marks the examinations. That would eliminate sorting and immoral activities because the colleges only teach and prepare students for examinations conducted by UNILAG.
“We don’t need to send students abroad, especially for first degrees; we have everything here. For postgraduate programmes and some specialised courses, I can say yes, but for first degrees, we should have our children do their first degrees in Nigeria.”
Also echoing Adeduro’s view on overseas education was Deputy Vice-Chancellor, (Management Services), UNILAG, Prof. Duro Oni. He said, “We certainly need overseas education. No nation can be an island unto itself. I prefer for young Nigerians to do their first degrees in Nigeria and some part of their postgraduate programmes abroad. Cross-fertilisation of ideas is certainly beneficial, especially for Ph.D candidates. Quite a few of our PhD staff candidates get to spend between six months and one year abroad and this has helped their research work.”
But the Chief Executive Officer of Dave Abion Consulting, an overseas education counselling and placement firm, David Oni, stressed that Nigeria is part of the international community, and so parents should be at liberty to send their wards in any country of their choice. He said although President Buhari’s pronouncement has not been passed into law, parents were currently facing great difficulties in getting forex.
He said, “They are still allowing people to send money through ‘Form A’ but it is by priority. What usually takes three days before now takes seven weeks because dollars and pounds are not available. What is available at the moment is narrowed down and prioritised.
“So what is greatly affecting parents is the exchange rate; they used to pay N156 per dollar, but now they are getting it at government rate of N199. It has become more expensive to send people abroad. With the body language of the president, what he is implying is that if you find it very expensive to send your child abroad maybe you should consider local alternative. I don’t want to believe they would want to ban forex for education.”
For the Director, Centre for International Advanced and Professional Studies (CIAPS), Prof. Anthony Kila, parents have the duty of giving their children the best education possible, adding, “Therefore, the government and Nigerian organisations have a duty of making institutions in Nigeria attractive enough not only to Nigerian parents but also for people abroad to come to Nigeria.
“We had that tradition in the 1960s and 1970s; people came to Nigeria to study. Therefore, the government and school organisations need to up their standards. Nobody has the right to force parents where they should send their children to study because they might be violating their rights”.
Kila said if government is no longer comfortable in giving forex for education, they should lead by example. “It will be good to start with people in government circle. There should be a survey of the people in the cabinet to see where their children are studying. If they say our universities can competently handle first degree courses, their children should also stay back to study in the system.
“The facts are there for us to quantity how well our universities measure up with world universities, and how happy our employers are with our graduates from local universities. Government should do things to make our educational institutions better and possibly sit down with stakeholders to find out why our people are going abroad to study and also bring those advantages back home”.
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