As naira slips, international students reconsider studies

Nigeria’s President Bola Tinubu’s rush to implement economic reforms is impacting negatively on Nigerians studying abroad. Some students say they may not be able to continue their international education and the government's Tertiary Education Trust Fund, or TETFUND, is considering local alternatives to foreign scholarships.

The moment the dominos began to tumble was when, at the instruction of the president, the Central Bank of Nigeria implemented changes to the foreign exchange markets that consequently allowed market forces to determine the exchange rate.

This resulted in the devaluation of the naira, the Nigerian currency, which means Nigerian students abroad now have to pay more to access forex to pay their tuition.

In less than one month the local currency’s buying power fell sharply from N471/US$ to N870/US$ and from N589.4/£ to N1,120/£.

To understand the implications of the development, University World News spoke to Nigerian students who are currently studying in the United Kingdom. They asked to be identified by their first names only.

From 2015 to 2022, approximately 78,540 Nigerians enrolled in UK universities to further their education.

What the students say

Precious, a Nigerian masters’ student at the University of Edinburgh Business School, told University World News that the impact of the naira devaluation has plunged her further into debt.

“I still had my last school fee payment to make and the payment immediately doubled in naira. So, I plunged deeper into debt.

“We source forex from the black market [or bureau de change, which are licensed to deal in forex by the Central Bank of Nigeria]. I use Lemonade, which is really expensive … and every time I do, I shed a tear,” she said.

To cope, she spends money on essentials only, to the extent of cutting transportation from her expenses.

“I don’t take transport unnecessarily. I walk to a lot of places. If it’s a 30-to-40 minute walk I don’t take the bus.’’

Another student in the UK, who asked to be identified as Michael only, detailed the precarious situation that he and other Nigerian students in his personal circle are in.

“Two months ago, I was buying pounds for N850-870 per pound – at some point, N900. But it has since moved up to over N1000. It’s been very challenging, and I know that is the case for other Nigerian students here.”

Michael, who speaks to other students as a leader in his community, explained the particularly challenging ordeal of scholars who are having trouble using the official track [also known as Form A] for tuition fee applications that are provided by the Central Bank of Nigeria, the government’s apex bank.

“Some students with 40-hour work weeks, who had dependents and who were working here, had already converted their pounds to naira and applied for Form A [used by Nigerian banks to access international fee payments, upkeep allowances and others]. Imagine selling your pounds for naira because you want to pay from Nigeria through Form A, only for Form A to no longer be a viable route. So, you have to start looking for pounds to buy again at a far more exorbitant rate than you sold [them] for,’’ he said.

Universities review policy on payment

As the devaluation of the naira continues, some universities in the UK also reviewed their policies on the acceptance of tuition payments.

John Henry, a masters student at a university in Wales, explained that the university no longer allows students to pay only half of their tuition.

“My school is no longer allowing partial payments. Now that the naira is weaker, they [students] need more of it and that is creating problems. It is difficult for many students to use the naira to support themselves as the currency is now worth 50% less than its value some months back. I know students who have registered at Food Banks for survival. It’s not easy,’’ he said.

The Nigerian graduate student told University World News that his institution, following the introduction of the new policy, withdrew admission letters initially issued to students. “I paid £6,000 pounds which was 50% of my tuition when I gained admission.

“That was done at the exchange rate of N600 per pound about six months ago. Now the school is asking new students to pay the full £12,000 pounds and this at the rate of N1,120 to a pound. An initial deposit that used to be between N3million (£5,000 pounds) to N3.5 million (£,833 pounds) has gone up to N15million (£13,392 pounds) to N20 million (£17,8579),’’ he said.

Clever, a Nigerian who just got admission to a UK university, confirmed John Henry’s comments. She said she had already gotten a letter of admission before the school wrote her another letter asking for full payment of her tuition.

“I have given up. I don’t know how I can meet up with the school’s demands. The exchange rate has gone up, the money I have is not enough.’’

Asked if she was considering other options, she said that although options from Finland, Austria, Germany and Switzerland were being considered, she was concerned about the language barrier.

Blessing, also a student in Wales, said that her younger brother received a letter of admission, but tuition payment requirements have changed.

“The major thing in the new letter was that he had to pay in full. The school wants him to pay £12,000 pounds. That’s huge with the current exchange rate of N1120 to a pound. It used to be N600 to a pound which was really bad, it is almost doubled now,’’ she said.

However, some universities have maintained some flexibility. An example is the University of Edinburgh Business School. But, said Precious, her institution is different to many other institutions in the UK.

“It is known to be very considerate and not aggressive about fees. So they treat payment [problems] on a case-by-case basis.’’

No respite, students suffering

The devaluation of the naira could mean that students have to halt their studies.

Sam, another student in the UK, explained: “If you don’t pay your school fees the school can ask you to go. If you have advanced in your studies, you can get a diploma instead of a degree.

“The situation is difficult for those paying off debts back at home. It’s particularly difficult for those who came with families because the money for their upkeep is no longer enough. Many students are suffering. Once you have financial issues, the school will advise you to withdraw.’’

A lawyer and the principal solicitor at Del & Co. Solicitors, London, Dele Olawanle, while confirming this said: “I have had to intervene [on behalf] for many students as their lawyer.

“Many of these foreign students are from very poor families in Africa, Asia, and some of the poorest countries in the world. Their parents, or the students themselves, sold lands, properties, borrowed money, and left lucrative jobs to further their studies in the United Kingdom.’’

TETFUND considers alternatives

Nigeria’s Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND) is considering local alternatives to foreign scholarships due to the devaluation of the exchange rate. TETFUND Executive Secretary, Sonny Echono, said that most training would now be done locally to retain revenue.

The TETFUND was set up to provide supplementary support to public tertiary institutions in Nigeria.

Academics are often sent abroad on government scholarships to study courses that Nigerian universities do not have competence and the right quality of faculty to run.

Unfortunately, the agency recently said the money allocated to it in naira can no longer cover the dollar requirements for training.

The TETFUND is therefore planning to work with Nigeria’s first-generation universities.

Although the institutions have not yet been named, institutions in these categories include the universities of Ibadan, Nsukka, Obafemi Awolowo, Ile-Ife, Ahmadu Bello, Zaria, and the universities of Lagos, Benin, Edo, Maiduguri, Calabar, Jos and Ilorin.