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Why Nigerians Are Still Flocking to Universities in the U.K.

Despite the numerous challenges they face, including unfavorable immigration laws and rising tuition costs, Nigerians make up one of the largest demographics of international students in the U.K.

When Leroy Morgan finished law school in Nigeria, he wanted to go deeper into the music business scene. He’d always had an enthusiasm for the business of music, and thought there was lots of potential for him to explore in promoting artists, concerts and tours. In order to do that, he needed to get a different set of skills and knowledge to pursue this path. Schools in Nigeria, however, didn’t necessarily provide what he wanted, so he decided to apply to the U.K., where he recently graduated from the University of Westminster in London.

“There are only two schools in the U.K. that offer this course (Music Business Management),” Morgan tells OkayAfrica, “so I had to opt for one of them. With the kind of quality and knowledge I was after, it was clear that I’ll not get [that] from Nigeria.” Nigerian students like Morgan are drawn to the quality of British education and continue to head there in droves to complete or further their education.

According to a report on higher education, over the past five years, almost 100,000 Nigerians left to study at U.K. universities. And in 2021/22, more first-year students in the U.K. were from Nigeria than from the E.U. To put this all into further context, Nigeria is among the fastest-growing countries of students going to the U.K. (at 63 percent), followed by Pakistan and India.

Choices, choices

The appeal of a British education extends to the range of courses and fields of study on offer. Whether it's a degree in business, engineering, medicine, or the arts, students from Nigeria find an array of options that cater to their academic interests. The rigorous curriculum, distinguished faculty, and abundant research opportunities can make it a dream destination for those eager to learn and grow academically.

But despite this appeal, Nigerian students have faced major challenges over the past few years. For one, tuition fees for international students have significantly increased, and universities in the U.K. have been vocal about heavily relying on this income.

Visa regulations change as well, and in May this year, U.K. Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, announced that international students may no longer bring dependents come January 2024. This causes an issue for the incoming international community, because dependents, like other family members, help them stand a better chance of surviving the cost of living crisis in the U.K., especially after sacrificing a lot of money in the immigration process.

Nevertheless, many are willing to overcome these obstacles to pursue their dreams. Especially in the case of single international students, where the issue of having dependents come with them is not as big of a deal as it is for other prospective students.

Nigerian students say they find a sense of belonging within the U.K.'s diverse communities. “I needed a good quality education, but I also didn’t want to feel like I was too detached from home,” Peter Obaze, who currently studies Economics at Manchester Metropolitan University, tells OkayAfrica. “There’s a really good Nigerian community in my school, and even the whole of Manchester, and that has made my transition into the U.K. really easy.” It's not just about pursuing an education; it's about experiencing a rich cultural exchange.

A sense of community

While adjusting to life in a foreign country can be challenging, Obaze believes the U.K. offers a supportive environment. Universities often have dedicated international student offices to assist newcomers. This, coupled with a thriving Nigerian and wider African community helps students find a supportive network, and can create a sense of home away from home.

Industry connections is another reason Nigerian students keep heading to the U.K. to study. “Through the course, I’ve met people that on a normal day, I’ll need a VIP pass to access them,” says Morgan. “Think Skepta, people from Sony, MI, and many others.” The potential for global networking opportunities can enhance the appeal of a British education for Nigerian students.

Economic prospects, too, play a part in the decision to study in the U.K. Ultimately, many of those who choose to study in the U.K. are looking to escape looming hardships in their home countries. The U.K., itself going through an economic crisis, still has an attractive job market that is seen to have more opportunities for many Nigerians. “Although not necessarily what we might want at first, certain jobs like support work in the health sector, and cleaning in the hospitality sectors, are readily available for those who want it well enough,” Obaze says.

Beyond the U.K.

Since moving to the U.K. a few years ago, Possible Okpara, a recent graduate of Digital Marketing Communications from Ulster University in Northern Ireland, has always shared her experiences of studying abroad on her social channels. “There have definitely been loads of down days,” she says, “and I don’t think it’s escapable. I think as a student, you get to experience these challenges, and it doesn’t have to be financial. It could just be transitioning to the environment.”

The challenges, it seems, will always be there when it comes to studying overseas, but Nigerians will continue to find ways to make studying abroad happen.