Nigerian parents spend a fortune on education in foreign countries, but who can blame them for giving world-class education to their children? Perennial closure of the universities, brain drain and a lack of proper investment in the education sector has taken its toll - and good slice of students with it.
For nearly three decades, Nigeria has been producing in very large numbers, graduates who lack the quality and readiness required by employers. Naturally, parents explored options beyond the shores to ensure their children can compete in the emerging world.
Good education is the only true wealth a parent can bequeath, perhaps after integrity and faith. Since money hardly lasts beyond three generations, education becomes the legacy of a good family.
Nigerians' love for education is reputable. A university degree is both a stamp of achievement and pride to the Nigerian family.
Therefore, anywhere in the world you find Nigerians, it is common to see that their college attendance is disproportionate to the population.
We are enriching foreign universities to conduct research, employ the best talents, build infrastructure and innovate, while we turn the local competition to glorified secondary schools
In recent years, economic prosperity coupled with the utter mismanagement of the school system at home have created an army of young Nigerians seeking educational opportunities abroad.
These are not the children of the Diaspora, but those making educational migration from Nigeria.
While studying abroad is good news to those who can afford it, the wave of students studying abroad is a magnificent backward movement for Nigeria, as it drains the system of funds and creates a dichotomy between the generation of Nigerian students.
Parents are so enraptured in the race to send our sons and daughters to foreign universities that we have failed to pause and ponder how it drains the economy, destroys the stability and quality of local universities, and reduces the pool of talent necessary for development.
Recently, the U.S Deputy Director, Student and Exchange Visitor Program in Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Rachel Canty, revealed that Nigeria led all Africans studying in America.
“There are over 36,000 students from Sub Saharan Africa studying in the U.S. As of March 2019, there are 16,039 students from Nigeria studying in the United States with 54 per cent male and 46 per cent female students.
This is an increase of 3,342 students over 12,693 students recorded in November 2018,” she stated.
Let's examine the numbers.
Nigerians' love for education is reputable. A university degree is both a stamp of achievement and pride to the Nigerian family. Therefore, anywhere in the world you find Nigerians, it is common to see that their college attendance is disproportionate to the population
Nigerians at home are spending an average of N173 billion per year to pay for studies in America alone.
My calculation is based on an average cost of $30,000 per student attending US universities, including tuition, accommodation, feeding and pocket money.
At an annual US bill of nearly $500 million to Nigerian parents, there is a financial drain, not just to the Nigerian school system but to the parents and the economy as a whole. Just imagine for a minute, if this annual investment of N173 billion is going into the local universities.
And that is just a tip of the iceberg. Let's add the United Kingdom.
The estimated total population of students in the United Kingdom as of the last available statistics in 2017 is 12,665, down from 18,020 in 2014 when the economy was stronger.
The total average cost of studying in the UK is estimated at least £22,200 or $31,380 per year, with studying in London likely to be significantly more expensive. Going by the 2017 estimates, Nigerian parents spent $423 million in the UK. That is N152 billion.
While studying abroad is good news to those who can afford it, the wave of students studying abroad is a magnificent backward movement for Nigeria, as it drains the system of funds and creates a dichotomy between the generation of Nigerian students
In the United States and the United Kingdom alone, we lavished N372 billion per year on overseas universities. Even if we leave out all the students in Canada, Sweden, Ukraine, UAE, Germany, France and other African countries, among others, this kind of investment on foreign universities is one that Nigeria cannot afford.
Although studying abroad opens the best opportunities to a small percentage of kids with advantage, regardless of perception, it cripples Nigeria because it drains her of some of the best brains and significant financial resources, while producing little return on investment.
I am not advocating that parents who send their children to foreign schools are less patriotic than those whose kids are trapped.
Who will not do something if they can, when universities are shut down for months or use books and materials from the 1960s? That is not the point. The point is that we are collectively arriving at a conclusion that produces little benefit.
We are enriching foreign universities to conduct research, employ the best talents, build infrastructure and innovate, while we turn the local competition to glorified secondary schools.
The government’s priority has to be the parents’ priority. The government has to create a stimulating environment for a thriving school system. A massive investment in university education must be a national priority
It would not be so bad if most of the students being trained abroad are returning to Nigeria to develop the nation.
But many of these students are not returning home. If they are talented, they will be absorbed abroad. And when this happens, the investment is not harnessed by Nigeria and the talent needed for national development is lost.
The parents that I know - and I know quite a few - do not wish that their kids return to Nigeria too. So, these young brains end up being forever lost.
The failure of the education system should be a matter of serious concern to all. Education is shaping out to be the new petroleum.
It promises to be the deciding factor for prosperity among nations in the emerging future where innovation and technology are disrupting traditional economic assumptions.
In my generation, everybody in the neighborhood attended the same schools. At some point, private and federal schools had to replace failing public elementary and secondary schools.
But our universities remained the equalizer for all. Almost everyone in my generation ended up in the same universities, regardless of the types of schools we attended prior to the university.
Today, not even the private universities can stop the rush for foreign degrees.
More worrying is the fact that because of the seismic failure of our universities, students are seeking an escape not just to the better developed economies, but to universities in countries such as Benin Republic, Ghana, Kenya and Uganda.
In some of these countries, universities are set up just for Nigerians. These are nations that we used to train. How in the world did we end up here, and how do we deal with the calamity?
The Nigerian government and educational institutions may think that they are doing enough. Thinking this way is living in a fool's paradise.
Significant investment in education and the guarantee of a stable academic calendar with the absence of corruption will raise the quality of education and keep many students at home.
Until we achieve this, it will be morally wrong to advise parents to keep their children in a failing system.
The government’s priority has to be the parents’ priority.
The government has to create a stimulating environment for a thriving school system. A massive investment in university education must be a national priority.
Then, Nigerian parents will see no need to spend the money they could have invested on their retirement on foreign education, thinking that their children would be their retirement plan.