Nigerian student debt could impact graduation

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The Nigerian economy was severely impacted in 2023 by a national election, the subsequent devaluation of currency and the removal of the discount exchange rate for students studying abroad from the Central Bank of Nigeria, known as ‘Form A’.

While Nigerian’s have become accustomed to fluctuating rates and shortages of foreign exchange, many students have seen costs rise by 300% in the same academic year.

A perfect storm of a cost-of-living crisis in the UK and extreme pressure on foreign exchange in their home country, have restricted payment options, including support from family or diaspora overseas.

As the final academic term approaches, many universities are facing a tough decision regarding the potential withdrawal of students who have not paid tuition fees on time, or letting them complete and graduate.

In March 2023, Swansea University made national news for withdrawing a Nigerian student from their studies ‘within hours’ of missing a payment deadline. The decision was later rescinded after appeal.

The PIE recently spoke to a Nigerian student about the current financial pressures. The student asked not to be named.

“Before setting out on this endeavour [of studying in the UK], most people have their [financial] plans set out. I work 20 hours to cover my expenses here, but most of the money for tuition was saved [already],” he said.

“But now, within the space of four or five months, the exchange rate has jumped over 300%. [That budget] is not going to add up anymore.

“Because of our changing situation we’re expecting some level of flexibility from the school. Make some changes, help us, give us some time to get these payments out. But the school has been quite rigid about it actually. We’ve been appealing to them to just be flexible.

“Some students have been withdrawn. I understand saying ‘we want the money now’ but I feel like it’s not right in my opinion. We still have time on our courses. Most of the students cannot combine the pressure from the school [with work], the academic pressure is a full-time course on its own.”

The PIE understands that some UK universities are considering large discounts on tuition fees to students who pay up front, in a bid to mitigate the accumulation of debt for future students from specific price-sensitive markets such as Nigeria.

“Most of the students cannot combine the pressure from the school with work”

However there is often a lack of understanding of these international market conditions from colleagues working in professional services such as finance, legal or student support services.

Speaking on stage at The PIE Live Europe conference, Bimpe Femi-Oyewo, founder of Edward Consulting in Nigeria, described how university finance teams often hold agents to account for student payment issues that arise.

“I do understand that there are some international students that are going to need instalment payment. That’s just the truth,” said Femi-Oyewo.

“I was an international student [myself] and without an instalment plan, I’m not sure that I would have been able to get that degree on time.

“However, I think that the university should not penalise the agent for the fact that your school has an instalment payment. There has to be a better approach in situations like that.

“I think that as long as more than 50% [of a student’s tuition] has been paid, I feel like we should get paid, right? And that would be in about three months maximum, depending on when that student begins.”

With final instalments due for most institutions in the next month or two, it remains to be seen how cash-strapped universities will respond to the situation.

Students are usually withdrawn if they fail to pay 100% of their tuition fee by an agreed date.

While this date may be extended, it looks uncertain that the financial situation in Nigeria will improve in time for many students to complete the necessary payments.

In 2014, several hundred Nigerian students were stranded in the UK after the RSSDA River State scholarship was withdrawn.

In response, some universities funded students to return home under hardship funds, while other institutions supported students to complete their qualifications and graduate regardless.

Are you aware on Nigerian students who are struggling to pay their tuition fee instalments? Do you feel like this could impact on their ability to complete their courses and graduate? Please leave a comment below or email editorial@thepienews.com

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