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Nigerians cope with triple processing time for forex

Nigerians hoping to buy pounds, US dollars and euros are facing processing times of up to three times as long as those before. President Muhammadu Buhari announced earlier this month that the Central Bank of Nigeria would no longer sell foreign currency to pay for overseas study.

Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari announced earlier this month that forex sales for study abroad would no longer be allowed.

Nigeria currently spends over $2bn annually as capital flight to pay for education abroad

Despite the rhetoric, the CBN is still accepting bids for foreign currency if students provide the right documents confirming acceptance into foreign universities. However, many are being forced to use parallel markets which devalue the naira by almost 50%, according to reports.

Speaking with The PIE News, education agencies in the country say the situation is very difficult but the desire to study overseas remains strong as students are not put off by the forex challenge.

Since the announcement, students and parents must complete a form and attach an official letter of intent on university letterhead to be allowed to bid for foreign currency from the CBN.

“For you to transfer £16,000 you have to go through about three biddings”

Processing times for any one bid can take up to a week and the maximum amount the student can receive is $10,000.

“You can’t do the bidding [for all the tuition] in one go, you have to do it in sessions.” said O.O. Banjo, head of counselling at Bridge House Counselling Ltd in Lagos.

“There is only one bid per week, which means for you to transfer £16,000 you have to go through about three biddings. It’s about twice or three times as long to process, depending on the fees.”

Rose Omonubi, president of the Association of UK Certified Agents in Nigeria, said processing times can take up to a month or two months, putting students already studying overseas in danger of being stranded without money.

“We have one student who doesn’t have access to money but the universities are giving them more time,” she said. Other reports meanwhile reveal that students in Malaysia have been suspended from their studies due to their failure to pay outstanding fees.

Despite the current squeeze, agents say they won’t know the full impact of the policy until July or August when students receive their final grades.

“When final results are available, then we can start the process of fee payment and visa processing,” said Banjo. “It’s the first time it’s going to happen so we’re just planning and waiting to see how we will surmount it.”

Despite the barriers to access, demand to study overseas has not waned. “The desire is so very high, parents don’t complain because of the challenges to get money,” commented Adepeju. O. Agoi, director of Brookline Consult in Lagos.

“Between now and when they would have the quality of education that we are looking for outside of the country, people still need to go abroad to study,” she added. “Study abroad is not just because people want to run away. It’s probably because the quality of education in Nigeria is that bad.”

Speaking with Al Jazeera earlier this month, Buhari said the country can no longer afford to sell dollars for overseas study.

“The desire [to study abroad] is so very high, parents don’t complain because of the challenges to get money”

Last month, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Tertiary Institution and Tertiary Education Trust Fund, Binta Masi, said Nigeria currently spends over $2bn annually as capital flight to pay for education abroad.

“Those who can afford foreign education for their children can go ahead but Nigeria cannot afford to allocate foreign exchange for those who decide to train their children outside the country. We can’t just afford it. That is the true situation we are in,” Buhari said.

Official forex rates put 200 naira to the dollar, however, on parallel markets, it has been as high as 400 naira to the dollar. The situation has pushed some students to enrol in in-country pathways or postpone overseas study for graduate level degrees.

“I’m sure we’ll have an increase in students doing undergraduate degrees in Nigeria and then looking to do a master’s overseas but that may not be so obvious until another year,” commented Banjo.

Students are also beginning to look at more cost-effective study destinations. “Many students are interested in going to Canada now because it’s more immigration friendly, that’s number one,” reported Omonubi. “There the exchange rate is not that high and they have the opportunity to work when they finish their studies.”

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