Friday, 29th September 2023

‘How Nigeria wastes unjustified wealth on UK education’

By Iyabo Lawal and Helen Oji
25 March 2021   |   4:20 am
Despite severe shortage of foreign exchange (forex), overseas education continues to drain the country’s resources, as Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Godwin Emefiele, admitted $80 million weekly disbursement...

• As CBN admits $960m overseas funding of education, personal travels
• Nigerians pay N20.25b tuitions yearly to UK schools, says report
• Make education system attractive to curb trend, scholars advise

Despite severe shortage of foreign exchange (forex), overseas education continues to drain the country’s resources, as Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Godwin Emefiele, admitted $80 million weekly disbursement for personal travel allowances or payment of overseas school fees. The amount, which translates to $960 million yearly, is disbursed to banks to enable Nigerians meet their forex responsibilities.

This is after a recent report indicated that Nigerians spend £30 million (about N20 billion) yearly paying tuition in the United Kingdom alone while the country’s education system grapples with challenges of underfunding, poor remuneration and obsolete teaching facilities.

According to a report by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP), a global foreign-policy think tank, Nigeria contributes £30 million yearly to UK economy through the education sector. This amount, which does not cover the cost of living in the foreign country and other school-related expenses, is about 16 per cent of the Federal Government’s 2021 education budget.

Urging Nigerians not to panic over dollar shortage as parents groan with banks delay in foreign school fees payment, the apex bank chief said: “Part of the measures that we have adopted is that on a weekly basis, the CBN disburses not less than $80 million to the banks either for personal travel allowances or payment of school fees.

The CEIP publication explored how overseas studies have become potential sources of financial illicit flows from prominent politically-exposed persons (PEPs) and politicians, some of who have been accused of corruption.

Authored by Matthew Page, a U.S. intelligence community expert on Nigeria, the report revealed how PEPs in West Africa have wasted unjustified wealth in the UK education sector.

“It is not easy to estimate the overall value of this flow, yet it likely exceeds £30 million annually. Most of these funds emanate from Nigeria and, to a lesser extent, Ghana. Compared with these two countries, only a handful of students from elsewhere in West Africa seek education in British schools.

“All of Nigeria’s presidents and vice presidents, for example, during that period had done so. Likewise, roughly 40 per cent of Nigeria’s current and former state governors have educated their children in the United Kingdom.”

He raised questions on how Nigerians, particularly government officials who can afford the high tuition fees for their children overseas become “inexplicably wealthy”, whereas the public service rules prohibit them from running private businesses.

The research called on UK officials to conduct more scrutiny on the conditions under which children of politicians enroll in British schools, arguing that this would help realise the UK’s global anti-corruption objectives and “close a troublesome anti-money laundering loophole.”

BUT Pro-Chancellor, Chrisland University, Prof. Ayodeji Olukoju, has noted that education tourism is just one of several forms of tourism for which Nigerians are famous for. While medical tourism takes Nigerians to foreign hospitals in India, Europe, North America and elsewhere for all manner of serious and frivolous medical issues, the scholar lamented that some parents and guardians send their wards to any foreign country, regardless of the educational standards of the country involved.

He acknowledged that some parents send their wards abroad for noble reasons to acquire higher degrees to complement their Nigerian educational background, while others, particularly politicians, send children abroad to position them for a vantage position in social circles.

“The underlying reason is that many Nigerian-trained professionals look down on Nigerian institutions, partly because of the crippling strikes, exodus of some of the best brains from these institutions and their lack of competitiveness in terms of global ranking.

“Educational tourism results in capital flight at a time that we cannot afford it and we are not getting a reciprocal inflow of capital. To be fair, sponsors of these children are exercising their right to spend their money but it is harmful when considered in economic terms. Nigeria is seriously hemorrhaging, and that flow is not sustainable. It makes us economic and cultural appendages of the foreign recipients of our capital exports,” Olukoju added.

The former vice-chancellor lamented that the capital flight impacts on the nation’s economy and how it indirectly robs educational institutions of financial support that could have come from a private endowment of chairs, equipment and grants to institutions and scholars.

Besides, he noted that the reality of the government’s neglect of education or citizens’ lack of access to higher education is being masked by the recourse to foreign institutions, which act as a safety valve.

He said: “Either way, the neglect of our tertiary institutions is a direct consequence of this educational tourism. Stakeholders can afford to ignore the plight of Nigerian institutions because there are offshore alternatives to them. Nigerian tertiary institutions continue to stagnate, if not decline further, under the weight of poor funding; low staff morale (arising from overwork and scandalously low wages); mismatch between student enrolment and staff and equipment carrying capacity; inadequate teaching (physical and virtual/online), laboratory and library facilities; societal apathy, bordering on resentment towards the universities; and incessant crises, occasioned by avoidable industrial action and governance issues.

“If our currency exchange regime is stable and reasonable; if our fees are competitive with those charged by foreign institutions with similar facilities; if we maintain good staff and student exchanges; if the universities build and sustain a reputation for high-quality research and teaching, transparency, meritocracy and good governance; if diaspora returnees and guest researchers are guaranteed short and long-term positions in our universities; and if our power supply and ICT infrastructure can guarantee the level of reliable supply and services available on counterpart campuses in advanced countries, then we can make our institutions so attractive that politically exposed persons and the rich will patronise home institutions the way they now do foreign ones,” Olukoju added.

On his part, an economist and professor of economics at the Olabisi Onabanjo University (OAU), Ago Iwoye, Prof. Sheriffdeen Tella, accused successive leaders of deliberately destroying the nation’s educational system through underfunding

Tella wondered why foreign governments are running after graduates from the medical profession if the country’s universities are not good enough.

“Note also that Nigerians with first degree here find it easy to cope with postgraduate studies abroad. Each university knows how much they earn from requests for transcripts annually. This implies that our graduates are not as bad as we think,” he stated.

Also, a professor of economics at Babcock University, Segun Ajibola, said the population of Nigerians seeking admission abroad is embarrassingly high.

Although he pointed out that some genuinely do this from the proceeds of their sweat to ensure their children are well prepared for the highly-competitive global labour market, he insisted that the numbers have become a drain on the country’s foreign earnings.

He said the country could only reverse the trend with a more functional, current and globally competitive educational curricula. He said there is a need for better funding of and improved facilities, especially for public schools with more qualified, competent and motivated staff members.

The Vice President, Highcap Securities, David Adonri, said the amount of money exported by Nigerians to finance children’s education in the United Kingdom is staggering.

He decried that this has become a cover for money laundering. He described the development as an indication of the parlous state of education in Nigeria. According to him, capital flight is preventable if Nigeria’s educational system is globally competitive.