UK looks set to benefit from Nigerian student boom

British Council forecasts enrolments to grow tenfold in just five years. John Gill reports

December 11, 2008

The number of Nigerians studying in the UK is being forecast to increase tenfold in the next five years.

The explosion in student numbers, up from just 2,800 last year to 30,000 by 2015, is predicted in new research published by the British Council.

Its calculations are based on a number of factors, including the poor quality of Nigerian universities and the rapid growth in the number of families that can afford to send a child overseas to study.

According to the Economist Intelligence Unit, which conducted the research, Nigeria has seen massive expansion of its higher education sector.

Whereas in 1960 the country had just one university, it now has more than 90, as well as 100 polytechnics and 150 technical colleges.

Despite this growth, demand for a university education far exceeds supply, with 1.2 million prospective students competing for just 148,000 places domestically.

The expansion has also damaged quality, the report says, while students' job prospects are poor, with graduate unemployment of about 60 per cent.

With the quality of Nigerian degrees likely to remain "substandard", students who can afford to study abroad will continue to do so.

Alongside the problems facing its universities, the report highlights the growing wealth of the middle class in Nigeria, where the number of households earning more than $25,000 (£16,900) is expected to increase fivefold by 2015.

As a result, the total number of international student enrolments will continue to rise, with Britain, which has historic links and a shared language, well placed to benefit.

The report predicts that the UK's market share of Nigerian students studying overseas will increase from 51 per cent last year to 67 per cent by 2015.

Over the same period, the US dollar is expected to strengthen against the pound. And with the Nigerian currency pegged to the dollar, the UK will become a cheaper destination.

Pat Killingley, director of educational services at the British Council, said the Nigerian Government is considering whether to allow transnational provision of higher education.

If it is approved, she said, the UK would stand to benefit as one of a few "high-quality" providers that would be allowed to operate in the country.

She said: "There are absolutely enormous capacity-building needs within the Nigerian system, and because of the ties between Nigeria and the UK, the Nigerians could be expected to look to the UK for that, and we need to respond.

"We need to look beyond the next five years and our universities need to look at how they can work in partnership with Nigeria, first at capacity building and then, as a more equal partnership emerges, at other things."

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