NIGERIA: British universities scout for rich students

British universities have visited N igeria on a recruiting drive to attract rich N igerians who can afford high fees for their offspring to enrol as private students. A London-based company, British Canadian International Education, organised an education fair recently in two cities, Abuja and Lagos, on behalf of 15 British institutions. The fair gave parents the opportunity to prepare for the future of their children in the hope they would eventually secure, with internationally recognised university degrees, lucrative jobs as employees in multi-national companies in the highly competitive global economy.

The five-star Eko Hotel in Lagos and the Sheraton Hotel in Abuja were venues chosen to display the opportunities offered by the British universities for those seeking to pursue various university degrees. The 15 constitute an integral part of the recruiting company's network of universities.

One feature of these fairs is the class nature of those present. Right from the parking lot, the two hotels displayed the latest cars from North America, Africa and Asia. Alighting, young boys and girls were accompanied by their parents who occupy influential positions in private and public sectors of the Nigerian economy.

"This fair is definitely not for the children of the poor," said Christiana Okeh, a primary school teacher who came to enquire about the possibility of sending her son to one of the universities.

"While the children of the rich struggle with our poor children for available vacancies in public universities in Nigeria, these same rich children have the double opportunities to study in private universities in Nigeria and they can also study as rich private students in British universities. This world is unjust and unequal."

Okeh was further disappointed when she was told by representatives of most of the universities that there were few scholarships or bursary schemes for brilliant students.

Samples of the fees displayed by the representatives were quite revealing: the University of Hull charges each overseas student for the next academic year ₤21,000 for medicine, ₤10,000 for laboratory-based science, ₤8,500 for class-room-based science and ₤13,500 for an MBA.

"I don't mind paying these fees provided I am allowed to work in the United Kingdom," said Nkem Obinna, a graduate who obtained a first-class degree in computer science from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. But Obinna was politely told by a company official the fair was meant for those who could pay their university fees without working in Great Britain.

A major highlight of the fair was the possibility of an immediate offer of admission to parents who could show proof of payment of their children's fees, including purchase of return tickets, tuition and accommodation.

"This process is called spot offers," said a Nigerian official of BCIE called Ify. "Part of the conditions for spot offers include the compulsory presentation of each candidate's transcripts and these must show proof of five credits at O Level certificate and one must be in English language and other relevant subjects required by each university.

Ify said spot offers were not just given to parents with the resources to meet the costs. But all candidates had to have the minimum requirements to be admitted to the university of their choice.

"This education fair is not an opportunity for those who want to leave Nigeria and convert themselves into economic or political refugees," he said. "Moreover, we offer guidance counselling to candidates and we assist them in going through their papers. Although we cannot guarantee an automatic procurement of visas for those offered spot offers, the rate of visa rejection by the British Embassy of our candidates is low

The presence of members of Nigeria's upper and middle class at the fair was a proof of their continued patronage of and fascination for British university education.

There are various reasons said Ibikunle Kayode whose father is a director in one of Nigeria's banks: "For those who can afford to study in Britain, they are sure of getting a better university degree as and when due. In Nigeria, strikes by lecturers and students have rendered the university calendar highly unpredictable.

"My senior bother spent six years to obtain a degree in economics in a Ni gerian university - and this was a three-year course. I will be happy to go and study in the United Kingdom and have just been offered a spot admission by one of the universities."

Recent trends in the world's global economy have reinforced the belief among Nigeria's wealthy class that their children should obtain their university degrees from European and American universities.

"Multi-national companies, especially in the oil and gas, banking and communication sectors have begun, in a subtle manner, a deliberate policy of recruiting as international staff, Nigerians who graduate from universities abroad," said Ahmed Umaru, a lecturer in education psychology at the University of Maiduguri.

"These graduates are well paid compared with those who graduate from Nigerian universities but, at the same time they are paid less than Europeans and Americans with the same university degrees. Nigerians recruited as international staff have the possibility of working with higher pay for these companies in other countries.

"It is therefore not surprising that members of Nigeria's wealthy class have intensified their patronage of opportunities offered by the British Canadian Education International Education fair to obtain admission for their kids in overseas universities."