Nigeria’s central bank allowed the currency to drop on the official market in June in an effort to unify the exchange rate after years of over-valuation. The currency weakened by 40% in July, according to the Nigerian Exchange in Lagos.
Although markets and the government are optimistic that this move will boost Nigeria’s economy in the long term, the timing has created challenges for students hoping to enrol in overseas courses in September 2023, as well as for those already abroad.
“You’ve planned, you’ve saved, you’ve calculated your money, you’ve done excel sheets, you’ve done cost analysis and then boom,” said Bimpe Femi-Oyewo, educational lead at Nigerian agency Edward Consulting.
“What you actually budgeted for your school fees prior to the policy, you need to increase that budget now,” said Rotimi Olorunfemi, a master’s student and president of the Nigerian Students’ Society at the University of Bradford.
Those who are already abroad are struggling to afford their tuition fees as their money is suddenly worth much less and they face long delays transferring funds via Nigerian banks.
“A lot of students still find a way of raising such amount of money, to be fair,” said Olorunfemi. “But now it takes a longer time to process these fees from the bank to the UK because now there is a lot of pressure on foreign currency.”
Some UK universities, including the University of Bradford, have introduced more flexible payment deadlines to accommodate these delays.
But one student in the UK told Nigerian newspaper Punch that he had been locked out of his university’s student portal after failing to pay his tuition fees, while others said they may have to drop out altogether.
“I’ve heard of people getting stuck,” said Femi-Oyewo. “I think when you start your program and then you’re stuck, you just don’t want to leave. I’m hearing situations of people just trying to see what they can do without coming home.”
“Nigerian students are almost paying double”
Students hoping to start a new overseas course this autumn are now struggling to meet the proof of funds threshold to secure a visa, despite having already saved what they thought they needed.
Previously, if a student was expected to show USD $1,000, they would need approximately 471,000 naira. Now, they need around 800,000 naira.
“Nigerian students are almost paying double,” said Jamie Hastings, director at My International Office.
“Because West Africa is a very financially sensitive market, any fluctuation of a few percentage is bad and when it fluctuates almost 40%, it’s like a disaster.”
For UK visas, students must have the funds in their bank account for a 28-day period. If they top up their bank accounts following the devaluation, the 28 day count will be restarted.
Hastings said some students are instead making extra payments to institutions, which reduces the amount of savings required by the Home Office to grant a study visa.
But some simply can’t afford the extra costs and will have to delay their travel plans.
“Many students find themselves grappling with the dilemma of balancing their aspirations with the financial realities they now face,” said Christianah Daini, senior placement manager at Nubi Education.
Beatrice Adegbiji, a placement officer at the same agency, added, “We have seen cases where individuals have had to reconsider their study plans by waiting an extra year or choosing January intakes instead, or all together just exploring alternative options that are more affordable.”
They said Nigerians were increasingly considering destinations such as Finland, Spain and Malta.
Hastings said institutions need to do more to support Nigerian students.
“The only way to react to this and to try and help Nigerian students is to make it cheaper for them, ie. give them a bigger discount, and I’ve not seen any university do that,” he said.
“It seems like they don’t really care about the Nigerian students,” he added.
“We are at the point where it’s excruciating and we’re hoping it gets better,” said Olorunfemi.