Lucrative international education fairs draw scrutiny

Education fairs held annually in Nigerian cities are attracting attention for potentially harbouring fraudsters. The fairs, aimed at students seeking admission to universities abroad, have mushroomed in response to the exodus of Nigerian students seeking quality education in other countries. According to the British Council, in the UK alone there are nearly 18,000 Nigerian students.

In recent years the cities of Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt and Ibadan have hosted elaborate education fairs, whose main objective is to bring together agents from foreign universities and parents and their children who are in search of university education abroad.

However the student recruitment market has grown rapidly, and its lucrative and unregulated nature has sparked concern.


The fairs emerged several years ago on the Nigerian education landscape for two reasons.

First, the Nigerian government, unlike many other African countries, has consistently refused to grant licences for the establishment of satellite campuses of foreign universities because of a fear that their presence may ‘pollute’ Nigerian tertiary education and culture.

Second, the number of qualified school-leavers seeking university education is increasing. According to Professor Dibu Ojerinde, executive director of the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board, or JAMB – the sole agency for organising entrance exams into tertiary institutions – 1.3 million school-leavers applied during the current academic year for 400,000 slots in 150 universities in Nigeria.

The federal government created the National Open University of Nigeria to provide another avenue for qualified applicants, but it can’t cope with the increasing demand.

In this context the Nigerian government has permitted international education fairs to take place, unhindered. They are perceived by agents to be gold mines – a perception that is not far fetched, given the huge demand for foreign study.

Nigerians abroad

Lamido Sanusi, former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria and currently the emir of Kano in Nigeria, was quoted in the media recently as saying: “Nigeria is today placed third on the list of countries with the highest number of students studying abroad.”

Figures from the United Kingdom’s Higher Education Statistics Agency indicate that the number of Nigerians in UK tertiary institutions has tripled in eight years, while the United States embassy’s EducationUSA Advising Centre, or EAC, has confirmed that Nigeria has more students enrolled in America than any other Sub-Saharan African country.

Jennifer Onyeukwu, head of the EAC, has said that there are about 7,318 Nigerians at undergraduate and postgraduate levels in 700 US tertiary institutions.

Ike Onyechere, chair of the NGO Exam Ethics Marshals International, said that Nigeria spends about US$8 billion on students in foreign universities.

“This amount covers monies spent on scholarships, tuition, accommodation, medical services, health insurance and students sponsored by private and government institutions,” he said.

Agents under scrutiny

While Nigerians welcome the trade fairs because they provide avenues for parents to talk to representatives from foreign universities, student recruitment agents have recently come under public scrutiny.

Project manager for the British Council in Lagos, Adetomi Soyinka, providing context for their emergence, described how “the British Council used to have a student counselling service, where individuals could obtain information about schools in the UK.

“Now, we no longer have the capacity to do that. So what we have done is [set up] a six-to-eight-week online certification programme for our agents, regardless of where they are operating from.”

This has lead to the establishment of the Nigerian Association of UK Certified Education Agents, which plays a leading role in the organisation and sustenance of the international education fairs, with some of its members also using them to market opportunities to study in other places outside the US and UK – notably South East Asia, China, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Eastern Europe.

Martins Amo-Ayesu, a Ghanaian education agent whose business operates in Nigeria and other African countries, said that fraudsters had infested the fairs.

“Some Nigerian parents have been duped by fake agents. [They] extort large sums of money from parents with fake promises to get their children admitted into higher institutions, only to disappear into thin air,” he declared.

Hidden charges are also a major headache. “Some of these educational agencies are run by unethical and shrewd businessmen. Hidden charges which are not disclosed at the initial stage pop up, jolting parents and their wards,” said Phoebe Larry-Izemoje, a Nigerian graduate of Imperial College, London.

A registrar at a Nigerian university, who requested anonymity, said education agents and fairs were a reality set to stay in Nigeria.

“They are important features in a globalised international educational market. However, there is the need to put in place some kind of flexible mechanism, by the Nigerian state, to put a stop to the excesses of some of these agents.”