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The plight of citizen Fidelis

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When Fidelis got a Federal Government of Nigeria scholarship to pursue his master’s degree in one of the top universities in the United Kingdom a few years ago, he thought it was a dream come true. Although he had acquired an MBA while working, he believed a foreign master’s degree would increase his social capital.

But when he requested for study leave from his employers, HR said he was not eligible as he had spent less than three years with the company. To qualify for study leave, Fidelis was told, he should have put in at least five years. He was faced with the dilemma of either resigning from the organisation to pursue his master’s degree in the UK, or forfeiting the scholarship. It was a tradeoff, he knew. In the end, he chose the former option, confident he would secure a better job when he returned to Nigeria, armed with a foreign degree. And so Fidelis tendered his resignation letter to the company and travelled to London for his post-graduate studies. A year later, Fidelis graduated from the prestigious UK university with flying colours.

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Like thousands of other foreign students, he decided to stay back in London to look for work. It was no easy task getting a good job due to fierce competition for the few available ones. He eventually secured a government job that was based on a non-renewable contract of two years. At the end of the contract, he could not get another job. He had no option but to relocate to Nigeria. He came to London full of hopes for a better life, but left bitterly disappointed.

If Fidelis thought his condition would improve when he returned to Nigeria, he was wrong. It took him almost six months before he could get a low-paying job with a Lagos-based marketing company. He resigned after one month because he did not get on well with the managing director of the firm, who constantly monitored his movements.

The MD had a good reason for snooping on him: he suspected that Fidelis would not stay for too long due to his qualifications. Indeed, his academic credentials scared away other potential employers that felt he was ‘over-qualified’ for the jobs he sought. In the course of his job search, he did try to contact his former employers. He was told that only the head office in Lagos could reinstate him. Since he had no connections at the head office, he did not pursue the matter further.

He eventually got a job with another company that did not take into consideration, his local and foreign degrees, before fixing his salary that was conveyed to him, in his employment letter. His countenance fell when he saw his remuneration—a figure far lower than what he earned before he resigned from his previous job to pursue his master’s degree in the UK.

Beggars, as they say, cannot be choosers. He knew he was in no position to negotiate for higher pay. After about a year, he resigned. He secured another job. The pay package remained practically the same, as his new employers had required him to submit his pay slip for the previous three months.

Now Fidelis is regretting his decision to resign from his former company, where he should have climbed up the corporate ladder, like most of his ex-colleagues, had he stayed back. As breadwinner of his family, he felt he had made the biggest mistake of his life and today still regrets his decision to quit his first job.

Sandra’s story is slightly different. She also had the opportunity of doing her master’s abroad, but opted for a Part Time programme in a local university, while keeping her job. Now, she has completed her MSc degree, and still has her job intact. She was even promoted shortly after acquiring the additional qualification.

In the case of John, just like Fidelis, he secured a scholarship for his master’s degree in a foreign university, while he was still doing his National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) scheme. He also got a job with a Lagos-based oil company, shortly after his NYSC. He declined the scholarship for the job, because he struggled financially while he was in the university. He felt he needed the job, which offered more security, than the scholarship.

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These three real-life stories illustrate the dilemma some people often face when they have the option of doing a master’s abroad or keeping their jobs. There is no gainsaying the fact that a master’s degree enhances the status of its holder, particularly in terms of creating better job opportunities. As a matter of fact, many employers in Nigeria, especially those in the private sector, appear to have a soft spot for applicants with foreign degrees.

Some fresh graduates, whose parents are relatively well-off, usually travel abroad for their master’s degree, often immediately after one year of compulsory National Service, or in their first or second year in employment. And when they complete their studies, a good proportion of them typically would stay back to look for work. If they choose to return to Nigeria, which is not too common, there is a probability that they would get high-paying jobs. But things appear to have changed. According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), unemployment rate in Nigeria stood at 33.3 per cent at the end of the last quarter of 2020.

Although the UK, a major destination for education seekers from all over the world, recently announced liberal measures that would encourage many international students to stay back after their studies, it might be prudent for some Nigerians who are contemplating quitting their high-paying jobs for post-graduate studies overseas, to weigh their options, in the light of the above case studies, and also the current uncertainties occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic. A bird in hand, as they say, is worth two in the bush.
Dr. Mordi is a corporate communications and government affairs practitioner, based in Lagos.

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