Amid war in Ukraine, disrupted academic programme for returnee students raises concerns
• Private varsities woo displaced students
• Stakeholders express mixed feelings; say entry requirements must be met
• Parents rule out children’s return to Ukraine
• Nigeria not an option, say affected students
What next for Nigerian students evacuated from Ukraine? Most of them now face an uncertain future where their education is concerned.
According to Ukraine Centre for International Education, as at 2019, there were 4,379 Nigerian students in the country, most of them studying science-related courses.
The number of international students in that country rose by 50 per cent from 53,664 in 2011 to 80,470 in 2020.
Nigeria has the fifth largest number of international students in Ukraine, following India with – 18,429; Morocco – 8,233; Azerbaijan – 5,470; and Turkmenistan – 5,344 students.
The huge Nigerian population in the country is blamed on the instability in the country’s education system, especially with frequent industrial actions by workers’ unions.
Since February 14, members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) have been on industrial action over government’s failure to honour the agreement reached with them.
While ASUU strike is yet to be suspended, other unions in the universities, under the aegis of Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) and Non-Academic Staff Union of Educational and Associated Institutions (NASU), announced the commencement of their own two weeks warning strike.
Apart from industrial actions, Nigerian tertiary institutions also suffer from dearth of teaching and learning facilities, as ASUU disclosed that about N1 trillion would be required to fix the rot in the institutions.
There is also the challenge of capacity, as candidates, who pass the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) into universities, are sometimes denied admission by the institutions for lack of space.
With about two million candidates seeking admission yearly into tertiary institutions, less than 50 per cent of qualified candidates are admitted.
Ranked as the nation with the fifth most populous international students, Nigerians are said to be spending an estimated N14 billion yearly in Ukraine to acquire degrees, findings have shown.
According to data compiled by a higher education search platform, Erudera, each of the international students spends between $6,000 and $8,000 yearly.
Based on the figure, the over 4,000 Nigerian students in Ukraine spend between $26m and $35 million yearly.
According to Erudera, a huge number of Nigerian students study General Medicine (MBBS), Dentistry, Doctor of Pharmacy, Nursing, and postgraduate studies in Medicine in Ukraine.
The director, Ukraine Centre for International Education, Olena Shapovalova, said the country hopes to attract more than 100,000 international students by year 2025. That was before the Russian invasion.
Ukraine as a place of study
ONE of the reasons Ukraine appears to be one of the choice destinations for international students is that qualifications from the country are well recognised all over the world, especially for medical science and engineering courses.
Besides, it is also said to be one of the cheapest countries to live in, according to a report by Ceoworld magazine, a business magazine, which ranked Ukraine 107th of 132 most expensive countries in the world in 2020 –cheaper than Australia, United States, Canada, and United Kingdom, which ranked 16th, 20th, 24th, and 27th respectively.
Other reasons include cheaper tuition compared to other countries and absence of eligibility tests. According to StudyinUkraine.site, tuition for MBBS is between $4,000 and $5,000 per year in Ukraine; $15,000 to $60,000 in the UK; $15,000 to $75,000 in the US; $20,000 to $90,000 in Canada; and $25,000 to $75,000 in Australia.
Nigerian students studying in Ukraine once said that the country’s education appeal lies mostly in its affordability, a better standard of life and safe environment.
Despite disruptions in their academics following an outbreak of war between Russia and Ukraine, students who were evacuated to Nigeria, have ruled out the option of enrolling in any of Nigerian universities.
They cited disruptions in academic calendar, occasioned by incessant strikes, as well as lack of teaching and learning materials as some of the challenges confronting the country’s tertiary institutions.
The students said better learning environment, infrastructure and good standard of living would always make them return to continue their studies when the war is over in Ukraine.
Already, some of the schools have switched to online so that learning could continue, as education contributes a major percentage to Ukraine’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Some of the students decried high cost of data and epileptic power supply in Nigeria. For instance, Eunice Eleaka, acting president of National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) in Ukraine, said: “Having to subscribe for mobile data every two weeks is frustrating; the network is also unstable. The weather is harsh, and electricity is unstable. In Ukraine, I don’t exhaust my data subscription, even when I do the basic plan. Electricity is also 24 hours a day over there. Staying back in Nigeria is obviously not an option.”
Eleaka, a fourth-year student at Bogomolets National Medical University in Kiev, added: “I don’t know what the future holds for Ukraine, but I’m hoping to get a better place to move to. I would miss Ukraine; it was home to me for four years. I know a lot of students won’t return there. Sometimes, when I think about it, I feel down, but then life moves on.”
According to the foreign affairs minister, Geoffrey Onyeama, most of the students are not willing to study in the country. A first-year medical student at Ternopil National Medical University, Michael David, said he has no intention of continuing his study in Nigeria. David said he would be returning to Ukraine when the war is over.
Local universities wooing evacuated students
THERE are indications that some parents concerned about their children’s safety may not allow them to return to Ukraine or elsewhere to study.
“My son was among those evacuated by the government. I am happy he is back safely. He is a second-year student at Kharkiv National Medical University. He is done studying overseas; I can’t cope with the high blood pressure that comes with not knowing if your child is safe in a foreign land. I will enrol him in a private university here in Nigeria,” a parent, who wishes to remain anonymous, said.
Already, private universities at home have started wooing concerned parents to enrol their children. For example, the American University of Nigeria (AUN), Yola, has invited the evacuated students to consider enrolling at the institution, stating that, rather than flying abroad for university education, AUN would meet their needs.
The university’s executive director of communications, Daniel Okereke, said AUN is a “safe, diverse, cosmopolitan and well-resourced university, with an excellent digital library, organised on the United States model of higher education,” and could meet the students’ immediate needs.
Some other private universities have also opened their gates to the students, promising them qualitative learning and conducive learning environment.
Several e-platforms have also been set up to assist African students who have managed to flee Ukraine to consider their educational options.
Amid challenges of alignment among institutions on different continents at the undergraduate level, in particular, and concern over prolonged disruption of these students’ education, the e-platforms could capture details of affected students in an effort to accommodate them in other institutions.
The Presidential Council for Africa and Cooperation of African Associations for Education have created a personal, educational and academic e-platform for registering Africans, who have been studying in Ukraine and whose studies have been disrupted. The platform is aimed at enabling them continue learning online.
Several African countries have also taken steps to help those desirous of completing their studies in their home countries.
Already, Nigeria has set up an e-platform for returning students from Ukraine to register their academic and educational data; to examine available alternatives, through their possible inclusion in the country’s institutions.
Several eastern European countries, including Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria, Poland and Serbia have announced their readiness to allow students previously studying at Ukrainian universities, including African students, to complete their studies at their universities and higher education institutions.
The Nigerian government has been in talks with the governments of Poland, Greece, Romania and Hungary to enable its students in their fifth and sixth years of medical school complete their studies at universities in these countries.
Study abroad portals have also provided a list of medical schools in Europe, for international students who were enrolled in Ukrainian university and are looking elsewhere to continue studying for their degrees.
In addition, the Afro-German organisation, Deutsch Connect, has offered free German language courses for African students who escaped and may want to continue their studies in Germany.
Educational quality jeopardised
PROJECT officer for harmonisation of the African Higher Education Quality Assurance and Accreditation Initiative, Dr Violet Makuku, a tertiary education quality specialist, is concerned about the disruption in education.
She said African students who were evacuated might consider starting afresh in their home countries, other African countries, or European countries if funded, if they have residence permits, and access to university education could be secured.
“Overall, they will definitely not finish in a record time because of a number of reasons, including mismatches in content sequencing and coverage between institutions in different countries,” said Makuku.
A FORMER secretary general of All Africa Students Union, Toni Benson, said prior to Ukraine-Russia crisis, students were calling for ratification of global convention on recognition of higher education qualifications.
“The global convention is designed to facilitate international academic mobility and promote the right of individuals to have their higher education qualifications evaluated through a fair, transparent and non-discriminatory manner with the aims of expanding access to higher education and strengthening research cooperation by facilitating international exchanges of students, teachers, researchers and job-seekers,” he said.
According to Benson, there should be options for digital modes of learning, to ensure that their education is not cut short.
“We call on all parties to ensure that education infrastructure is not destroyed and respect the Safe Schools Declaration (SSD) – an inter-governmental political agreement dedicated to protecting education in armed conflict,” he added.
VICE Chancellor, Chrisland University, Abeokuta, Prof Peace Chinedum Babalola, said as long as the affected students are Nigerians, they have a right to education and right to study in Nigeria.
“The next step is what do they have? Are the students able to get their transcripts in this war time? If they are able to get their transcripts, then the institutions that want them will match their requirements with what is required and see if they meet them.
“There are requirements to meet for you to study in Nigeria. Chances are that most of them had their secondary school here in Nigeria, and we all know that we have a centralised admission system. We have the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB), which oversees the conduct of Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) and admissions. Even if they sat for UTME, do they have the requirements from West African Examination Council (WAEC)?
“So, those are the issues. It should not be a blanket thing for me. They must check if the students have the requirements to study. Every institution has requirements for new students or those on transfer from other institutions, the most important thing right now is to check if the affected students meet these requirements,” Babalola said.
In the alternative, Babalola said the Federal Government could look at what other countries are doing with the evacuated students and emulate them.
Are they doing massive admission of those people?
“Like I said, they have a right to education; that is number one. The entry requirement is number two, which I believe they should all have. So, if WAEC said you need six credits, including English and Mathematics and you don’t have that, there is no way JAMB will offer such a person admission. If I am in that condition, I would swallow my pride, go and sit for WASSCE.
“But the issue is that do they have the entry requirement? Is it adequate? If it is not, then, I don’t think such people should be admitted. They should go and make it adequate.
“Number two, do they have any results that are foolproof to determine where they stopped? If they have their annual results, then one can look at that.
“There is a rule in Nigeria, I think that you must spend at least two or three sessions when you transfer to an institution before you can get your degree. And that is important. Yes, they have general standards, what we call benchmarks, but every institution is still unique. They need to know the culture of that particular university. And that is why there is that clause; you need to spend two to three sessions when you transfer from one institution to another.
“My second suggestion is that they should enroll for advanced level if they don’t meet entry requirements. But for a student in final year, it will be difficult to migrate to final year in Nigeria, as it will require a change in policy to do that and I don’t think the country is ready for that.
A professor of Botany, Bayero University, Kano (BUK), Adamu Ahmed, said the first option is to enrol in any of the private universities.
Besides, Ahmed said government should take census of the students, look at their levels, and do some rating, which will determine the level the affected students can be injected in the country’s education system.
“Government should also reach out to the medical council, the regulatory council for medical practice because these schools are sometimes given quotas on the number of students that can graduate at a particular time.
“It should also have a meeting with proprietors, vice chancellors and Deans of College of Medicine of those institutions and deliberate on how to go about things; even if it requires the government putting in some money because this is an emergency.
“For example, increase bed space in the hostels to accommodate them or to increase laboratory space, whatever it is, something has to be done to get them absorbed. That is one option.”
The university teacher said the other option is for government to reroute the students to say Ghana, or other countries, depending on their preferences and how much their parents can afford to pay.
“If the parents agree, it has to do with discussion among stakeholders, the students and their preference, the ability of the parents to pay, the government and its willingness to assist, then medical schools locally here and elsewhere and the ability also to absorb.
“So, we are going to ask different stakeholders, what can you offer us? What can you give, what can you take and so on and so forth. Sometimes also, you might also say this is remedial, in other words, the student would be in that class, but if things improve in Ukraine, he or she can go back.
“Let us get them reinstated into the Nigerian system, if they couldn’t get into the Nigerian system, we can’t talk of other options. I think that we should give them the type of courses they studied there; we should give them the choice of the best places in Nigeria that they can go to. But then, the question would be will government give them money to make up for school fees, or will their parents be willing to pay?
“There is also the problem of whether they were qualified to study here in the first instance, but I think we should give them a waiver, treat them as transferred students from foreign universities to Nigerian schools, whatever happens I think we can always meet them halfway,” Ahmed added.