Nigerian students ‘opt for Canada over UK’ after dependants ban

Professor says Nigerian students feel ‘targeted’ by Westminster policies

December 27, 2023
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Nigerian students feel “targeted” by the Westminster government’s policies restricting the rights of international students and are increasingly preferring Canada over the UK, according to a state government official.

Among a series of new policies, Westminster has barred international students from bringing dependants to the UK unless they are on postgraduate research courses – a move that appears to affect Nigeria more than any other country.

Figures released earlier this year showed that the number of dependant visas granted to Nigerians had increased significantly year-on-year, meaning that there are now more Nigerian family members of students in the UK than students.

“The general impression is that we feel targeted,” Olanike Adeyemo, professor of health and medicine at the University of Ibadan, the country’s oldest institution, told Times Higher Education.

“The issue of the matter is that you can’t have your cake and eat it [too].”

Professor Adeyemo, who is also secretary to the Oyo state government, one of the most populous states of the country, said the current model drives immigration, particularly among postgraduate students, but they tend to be older and married.

“By and large it seems unwelcoming, but if we want to change that we have to change the model entirely,” she said.

“You can’t say somebody should be separated from your family – it’s not right and it’s not fair.”

Recent figures from ApplyBoard show that nearly 18,000 Canadian study permits were issued to Nigerians in the first six months of 2023, more than for any other country apart from India.

Nigerians were Canada’s fastest-growing international student population from January to June, with 44 per cent more study permits issued during that period than across the whole of last year.

Professor Adeyemo said there was a lot of competition in the market now, particularly in Canada – although it was unclear what effect recent policy upheaval there would have on the market.

“The UK is not the primary destination right now for Nigerian students,” she said. “They will take Canada over the UK now, and it’s because there’s a pathway to integration in Canada which is not as much as here.”

Nigeria’s demographic boom is set to make it the world’s third-largest population by 2050, meaning it will be a key recruitment target for decades to come.

Separate data from Enroly estimates a large fall in international student numbers for the UK’s January 2024 intake when compared with January 2023. The data platform suggests that this was partly driven by a “collapse in the Nigerian market”, with deposit payments down 74 per cent.

Syed Nooh, head of global insights and market development at the University of East Anglia, said this “alarming” drop was partly caused by the impending ban on dependants – making the UK the odd one out among its many rivals.

“This will have a substantial impact not only on the UK higher education industry, but also on the larger economy,” he said.

An additional though less significant issue is the naira currency inflation, according to Mr Nooh, which makes it harder for Nigerian students to study overseas.

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