TOLUWANI ENIOLA writes that with the current economic recession, overseas-trained Nigerians who spent millions of naira on foreign degrees, are finding it difficult to secure jobs after returning home
After spending over £15000 (over N4m) and more than a year of rigorous studies at the Birmingham City University, United Kingdom, Titus Agu’s joy knew no bounds in 2014 when he successfully completed a master’s degree programme in Environmental Sustainability.
Brandishing his certificate with smiles, Agu posed in his convocation robe as the photographer took turns to capture the moment. He believed that with his second degree, his dream to be gainfully employed in one of Nigeria’s multinational companies was about to come to reality.
Agu’s expectation was that upon arrival in Nigeria, he would be gainfully employed to compensate for the huge cost of his education in the UK. This is because, in the nation’s labour market, those who study abroad often get better recognition than their counterparts from varsities in the country.
The same degree could be obtained for less than £2000 (N500, 000) in Nigerian universities. But the prestige attached to a UK education and the prospects of getting a good job in the country often makes Britain and other foreign countries a desirable option.
According to a 2016 ranking of universities across the world released by the Centre for World University, no Nigerian university is ranked among the world’s top 1000 varsities.
Things started to fall apart for Agu when he could not get a job months after returning to the country. Applying to relevant companies suddenly became a frustrating routine. He got no response from the scores of places he submitted his curriculum vitae to and the only interview he attended was not successful.
Sharing his experience with SUNDAY PUNCH, Agu said, “I left for the UK in 2012 for further studies because of the prestige and quality of education in Birmingham City University.
“I expected that I would have a better chance of securing a job in top-ranked companies in Nigeria. I chose the UK because the mode of learning there is better compared to Nigerian varsities.
“When I returned home, I applied to many companies but got no response. It’s very unfortunate that my master’s degree certificate could not fetch me a job in the country, especially when one considers the investment put into getting an elite education.”
Agu noticed that he was getting frustrated and humbly became an apprentice to a local cobbler to learn shoemaking, after sitting idle at home for months.
According to him, becoming a cobbler, despite having two degrees, is akin to a curse. But he has been able turn the ‘curse’ into a blessing.
Narrating his experience, he said, “Learning shoemaking didn’t go down well with many who felt that I was demeaning myself making shoes because I hold a master’s degree from the UK. Becoming a cobbler despite my education was a foolish decision to some people. They felt that with a foreign degree, I shouldn’t be doing what is considered a job for uneducated folks in the country. Joblessness spurred me to consider entrepreneurship.”
Pains of foreign degrees
Agu’s fruitless search for job is the same fate many Nigerians who spent millions of dollars and pounds to study in the UK, US, Canada and other countries suffer.
Every year, owing to the low quality of education in some Nigerian varsities, job prospects and better opportunities, many Nigerian students opt for overseas education.
The 2016 Open Doors report on International Educational Exchange indicated that 10,674 Nigerians were studying in the United States during the 2015-16 academic year.
The report, published annually by the Institute of International Education, in partnership with the US Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, stated that the figure marked the highest number of Nigerians studying in the United States since 1986. There are millions of Nigerians studying in the UK, Canada, Russia, Ghana among others.
The upsurge of interest in foreign universities’ degrees is fuelled by the perception that such degrees command prestige back home and gives the holders an edge over other job seekers who studied in Nigerian universities.
But with the biting hardship caused by the economic recession, these returnee graduates are no longer as popular as they used to be.
Some of them, who spoke with SUNDAY PUNCH, said their failure to get jobs at home made them feel that their acquisition of education abroad was a waste of resources.
Ada Ihuoma, a 24-year-old MBA graduate of the University of Huddersfield, UK, has been searching for jobs to no avail since she returned home from the UK a year ago.
Ihuoma, who obtained a BSc degree in Nigeria before travelling to the UK, said she was beginning to regret spending over N6m, the estimated cost of her MBA in the UK, because of her inability to get a job.
“My job search has been fruitless since I returned to Nigeria. After earning a degree in Computer Science, I couldn’t get a job. So, rather than wait for a job, I reasoned that an MBA would not only increase my chances of securing a job but also boost my education profile.
“Some days ago, after ruminating on my inability to secure a job in Nigeria, I wished I had the N6m I used in obtaining the MBA. There are so many lucrative business ideas I would like to prosecute now. Although I do not regret going abroad to study, I don’t find it funny that I am jobless,” she told SUNDAY PUNCH.
Also, Yewande Osamein, a graduate of Advertising at the University of West-London, is facing a similar challenge. Since she returned to Nigeria last year, Osamein said employers have not been forthcoming with responses on her series of applications for jobs.
Osamein said she spent up to N20m on her degree, adding that the hope of getting quality education and better job chances also made her consider travelling to the UK.
“Getting a job, even with a UK-degree in Nigeria is daunting. Inability to get a job after investing much in education is frustrating. It is high time the governments raised the bar of the country’s educational system for an enabling environment for the youth to get jobs,” she told our correspondent.
Big loss for Nigeria
Recent statistics released by the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics showed that the economic recession has led to 1.5 million job losses. In the 2016 report on underemployment and unemployment in Nigeria, the NBS stated that the country’s unemployment rate rose from 10.4 per cent in the last quarter of 2015 to 12.1 per cent. The fear of unemployment has led to an increase in the proportion of Nigerians who stay in their countries of study after graduation.
Since he graduated three years ago from a Russian university, Bode Ngochindo, told our correspondent that the frightening unemployment situation in Nigeria had made him stay back in Russia. Ngochindo said unemployment was scaring many Nigerian graduates from returning home.
He added that many Nigerian students with brilliant ideas considered it unwise to return home because of the low chances of achieving their visions in the country.
Just like Ngochindo, Fadekemi Adetosoye, a Political Science bachelor’s degree holder from the University of Pittsburgh, US, is not finding it easy getting a job with her degree which she spent about N55m to obtain.
She is employed in the United States but would not risk coming back home because her applications for job in Nigeria have not been fruitful.
Adetosoye, who shared her story with SUNDAY PUNCH, said, “I currently work as a consultant in the US. I am hoping to apply the experience in the Nigerian market. I have had difficulty applying on the websites of a few multinational companies, and it has also been a challenge to reach out to their HR contacts as well.
“It usually involves knowing someone who can help link one in the right direction to get things going. It’s tough, but that’s the nature of things. I guess, and I’ve learned to accept it and adapt as needed.”
Apart from the fact that Nigeria is losing some of its best brains to other countries, the nation is losing millions of dollars yearly due the rush for overseas education.
Experts say the rush to foreign varsities by Nigerian students underscored the importance of an urgent overhaul of the country’s university system.
A Non-Governmental Organisation, Exam Ethics International, estimated that Nigeria lost N1.5tr as capital flight to overseas education. The estimated loss figure of N1.5tr is more than one-sixth of the country’s 2016 budget.
Stakeholders say the UK, US, Canada, South Africa, Ghana and other the countries are inadvertently profiting from the failure of Nigeria to revamp its university education.
The National President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, said the rush for overseas education was unfortunate, noting that if the Federal Government could invest in the education sector, Nigerians would be encouraged to study at home.
Ogunyemi, who lamented the loss to overseas education, said he envisioned a new Nigeria typical of the 1950s and 1960s when citizens of other African countries came to study in Nigerian varsities.
He said, “I think we should first ask why Nigerian students are going out to study abroad. If we fix our educational system, we will stop this exodus and education tourism. Considering the amount of money we are losing, it calls for concern.
“Ultimately, we have to address the issue of why our youths are going abroad for education in places that ordinarily would not have been of interest to them. Many of them are also taking risks by going to volatile areas.”
Also, a financial expert, Yemi Soladoye, in an interview with SUNDAY PUNCH, maintained that the country was losing too much to overseas education in foreign exchange.
Soladoye asked the President Muhammadu Buhari-led Federal Government to revamp universities in each region of the country so that Nigerians would be encouraged to study in the country.
“I cannot blame parents and guardians who prefer their wards to study abroad. These parents are not necessarily rich but they believe that quality education is the greatest legacy they can give their children.
“But this rush for overseas education calls for concern. It is an opportunity for the government to invest in education because we are losing much in foreign exchange. I will encourage the government to build world-class universities. This is achievable if we put resources into this.”
Returnee graduates losing relevance
A human resources manager at a job recruitment firm in Lagos, Toju Ashogbon, told our correspondent that his firm has over 2,000 CVs of Nigerians with foreign degrees in its inventory looking for jobs.
Ashogbon said the applicants are no longer as attractive as they used to be as employers now prefer hiring graduates from the country’s private varsities because they could offer them less renumeration than overseas graduates.
The HR expert noted that its firm had secured employments for over 500 graduates, including those who studied in the UK, the US and other top destinations, with the average starting salaries ranging from N80,000 to N120,000 monthly.
“Graduates from private universities in Nigeria have a competitive edge over those returning from the UK, US and others. Clients now prefer hiring graduates of private universities because they can offer them a little less than the foreign graduates and still get the same quality of job delivery and performance.
“Owing to the recession, a candidate who is good and can take less is preferred to one who studied abroad, who usually have higher expectations in terms of salaries,” he told SUNDAY PUNCH.
Another HR expert, Afolabi Akindele, buttressed Ashogbo’s views. He maintained that graduates who studied abroad have lost their advantage in the local market because they often lack the skills needed in organisations.
He stressed that skills acquisition was as important as the quality of education.
Speaking on ways to be successful in the crowded labour market, Akindele said, “Graduates, who studied either in Nigeria or abroad, should focus on skills acquisition rather than mere paper qualifications. It is a big problem for us in Nigeria because we tend to celebrate paper qualification than skills.
“That’s why some people claim to have studied abroad and when you give them the job, they cannot do it. The graduates need to invest in skills acquisition, developing problem-solving competencies and leadership qualities. These are what organisations are looking out for in any candidates. An organisation wants to solve problems. If you don’t have the required skills to solve the organisation’s problems, your paper qualification, irrespective of how prestigious the university which issued it, it is useless.”
Ashogbon advised the returnee graduates to consider entrepreneurship, noting that their frustration in getting jobs back home points to the fact that Nigeria needs more of job creators than job seekers.
Agu called on graduates who are finding it difficult to get jobs to embrace entrepreneurship. According to him, he now lives a better life after he made the decision to learn a trade.
He said, “Being a cobbler has become very rewarding for me although there are many challenges. The beauty of it is that I now have my shoemaking business which I have been running for over one year. I make more money than most companies would have paid me monthly and I am happy.
“I engage about 10 workers who are also learning the trade under my supervision. Creating shoe factories in all cities of Nigeria is my goal. The same people who jeered at me for becoming a cobbler despite my UK degree now patronise me for footwear.” (Punchng.com)