Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Studying abroad: look before you leap

Studying abroad: look before you leap

I smile to myself each time I remember the confession of a plumber I once engaged to work. We were griping about Nigeria’s prolific problems when he confided in me that he’s made up his mind that when he has children they will not grow up in Nigeria. He will send them abroad. He wasn’t kidding judging by the resolute expression on his face. But I couldn’t help smiling when the said abroad turned out to be Ghana, our bosom neighbour. Apparently anywhere but Nigeria is a more auspicious place to live. It made me wonder how many Nigerians harbour rosy dreams of escaping a dysfunctional society where everything that can go wrong does go wrong to build a more cosy life abroad which seemingly offers utopia. Many it seems, judging from the numerous international education consults springing up to take advantage of the increased demand for foreign degrees. 

On the face of it, studying abroad is the best option. There is a backlog of articles bemoaning the declining quality of education in our country. Employers too complain that home-made/Nigerian graduates are ill prepared for work, and use the term ‘half baked’ to describe the country’s inadequately skilled graduates. Therefore one of the appeals of a foreign degree is attaining better skills which subsequently put a foreign-trained graduate ahead of the competition in an already saturated job market. Even graduates of Nigerian universities who are increasingly opting for a masters degree owing to unemployment, would still prefer to have a postgraduate degree abroad. 

And it is not just about the skills, who wouldn’t be taken in by the glossy brochures exhibited by foreign universities displaying idyllic settings, sophisticated, highly-equipped laboratories and dedicated staff? Who wouldn’t find the offer of 24 hours electricity, high-speed broadband internet, good transport systems, security and better career prospects enticing?
However before a person sets the wheels in motion, there are considerations to be made. Just like at the end of a mouth-watering promo you read terms and conditions apply, before making a decision it is important to weigh the costs against the benefits.

People who choose to study abroad must face up to the discrimination they will experience as a result of being international students. They should be prepared to pay at least twice the amount paid by home (local students). In the United Kingdom for example (a popular destination for Nigerian students) home students can pay as much as £5000 annually. That means an international student should be ready to cough up a couple of millions, considering the high exchange rate of the pound to the Naira.

Granted, the student will get good quality education, thanks to well equipped labs, dedicated staff and modules that equip them with the right skills. An added bonus is that unlike Nigeria where students rely on mummy and daddy for pocket money, they can offset living costs by working part time both during the semester and during holidays. However, what happens at the end of the degree? Getting a job is one thing, getting a good job is another matter. This is when the difference between home and international students becomes glaring because an international student is ‘saddled’ with two tags: immigrant and ethnic minority. The two don’t go down well in the job market except the person studied a course that fills shortages in labour. For instance medical and engineering graduates have better opportunities. 

That immediately puts the graduate at a disadvantage; he/she is not on a level playing field with other local students. Hence the majority of ethnic minority/immigrant graduates will find themselves doing odd jobs to get by such as cleaning, working as a care assistant in old people’s homes, sales assistant and so on. Many times people retrain to enter careers where they’ll find a leeway but has nothing to do with their passions.
The graduate who chooses to return home to Nigeria shouldn’ rule out discrimination. Many employers will tell you that experience abroad does not translate in the Nigerian setting.  Unfortunately in the saturated labour market having a foreign degree may not necessarily make an applicant more attractive to employers.

It is a painful reality, but one which is important to face up to. Before a person chooses to study abroad he/she must make careful considerations and above all have the end in mind. In other words, check out the quality of education a country offers but also check out the prospects of getting a good job afterwards.
How receptive is the country to immigrants? Are there job opportunities in the person’s chosen field? What prospects await if the person chooses to return to Nigeria? It is not commencing a journey that counts but completing it successfully, therefore look carefully before you take that leap.