September 2023 Recruitment and January 2024 Recruitment (The Issues, The Challenges and Prospect in the Nigeria Market).
The year 2023 has been one of a roller coaster year for student recruitment sector most especially in Nigeria. It was our election year where we faced different economic issues ranging from currency change to removal of subsidy on fuel and free floating of the FX market. It appears the economic turmoil was non ending and while the Nigeria market was still trying to grasp the depth of the impact of all the economic policies of the Nigeria government, in July 2023, the UKVI announced that From January 2024, international students travelling to the UK will no longer be able to bring dependants on their student visa, unless they are studying a postgraduate research programme. The UKVI announcement has generated a lot of heat in the market as many International Offices have sought opinions on what impact the UKVI announcement could have on the Nigeria market. To which my response has always been that of a minimal impact.
January 2023, the major economic agenda of the federal government was the change of currency going into an election and this policy was announced with a very short deadline in the midst of scarcity of fuel for the nation. This generated a lot of tension in the system that created inflation as well as restricted access to finance. The situation made a substantial number of intending students already in the loop to opt out through deferrals and outright forsaking of the admission process.
February and March 2023, the presidential and gubernatorial elections were held. The country was to make a choice among candidates seeking to replace the incumbent from three major political parties (APC, PDP and LP). The popular opinion at the beginning of the year favoured the incumbent party winning the elections but the series of unpopular policies implemented by the incumbent made the election an open contest providing some minor assurances for the major opposition party (PDP) as well as the resuscitated Labour Party who had the support of the youths who want a break from the establishment and power brokers. However, the incumbent party came out victorious at the poll thereby retaining power even though there would be a change of power within it.
May 29, 2023, the new president, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, took over the reins of power from the now outgone president, President Muhammad Buhari in a well celebrated and televised Presidential Inauguration ceremony held at the Eagle’s square. President Bola Ahmed Tinubu in his first speech to the nation, made some major economic policies pronouncement which includes the removal of subsidy and unified exchange rate for the country. Within 24 hours of the president pronouncement, the fuel price was increased, and uncertainty hung on the Foreign Exchange. The rise in fuel price imparted all aspect of the economic and led to inflation. ( https://www.thecable.ng/full-text-tinubus-inaugural-speech-as-president-of-nigeria)
Sometime in June 2023 President Bola Ahmed Tinubu announces a Unified Exchange Rate policies, which is meant to provide a unified and single exchange rate for the country, contrary to the multiple exchange rates system that was prevalent in the country at the time of the pronouncement. Even though there are multiple rates, intending international students still benefitted from the CBN rates which is the lower rate via application through the CBN. The challenges that students had under the multiple exchange rates is the slow pace of processing payment to international organisations, such as UK universities, as the turnaround time for processing payment through the Form A can take up to 5 months (https://www.thecable.ng/i-could-have-benefited-from-it-tinubu-speaks-on-unification-of-exchange-rate-windows).
The unified exchange rate also means that the naira was free floated. This means that the forces of supply and demand determine the exchange rate at any particular time. This also means there will be no more CBN rate which was the preferred rate for students. This singular policy affected almost half of the students already in the pipeline for September 2023 as Naira fell to as low as 1,200 NGN to 1 GBP. A atudent whose deposit requirement was 5,000 GBP for instance and who was hoping to get FX from CBN at the rate of 580 NGN to 1 GBP required 580*5000= 2,900,000 NGN but with the new policies which saw the naira fell to as low as 1200 NGN to 1 GBP. The same student now required as much as 6,000,000 NGN to make same deposit. All these changes happened within 24 hours of the pronouncement of the president catching many students unaware. Maintenance fees also rose in same manner, student needed more than double of the funds they had initially required to show as proof of available funds. At this point, due to the uncertainty of the FX rate, and the fact that required funds for international studies had more than double, many students again had to consider deferring their place or completely setting aside their plan to study abroad.
The impact of the UKVI announcement that dependants will no longer be allowed on the postgraduate study visa except on a research programme I opined will be minimal. My position is strictly based on data. Except for the last 3 years: 2020, 2021 and 2022 where the recruitment numbers have seen a surge in the numbers of applicants with dependants partly due to the reinstatement of post study work and also the desire of the working class in Nigeria to seek greener pasture abroad, and UK being the only country that maintained an open door all through the Covid-19 Pandemic means that most professionals in Nigeria had just one single choice of study destination to explore for the immigration possibilities thereof. And that destination was UK. While the number of enrolment numbers rose substantially and a good number of these students were experienced professionals seeking immigration possibilities through the study route, however the numbers of new graduates who are single and with little or no experience that applied to study in the UK is still substantially higher than the professional/ married students who made it through to the UK with their dependants. I have submitted that based on available data, the removal of the rights of postgraduate students to come to the UK with their dependants would have a little impact on the overall numbers of students who are interested in studying in the UK. However the Nigerian economic factors outweigh the dependant visa issue, and have far more impact on the numbers of enrolments for both September 2023 and January 2024 as the buying power is currently curtailed due to inflation, the floating of the naira, subsidy removal which are all consequences of the new economic policies being championed by the new government.
The mobility of students from Nigeria will be impacted more by the economic situation in the country than the UKVI policy stopping postgraduate students from coming into the UK with their dependants. My position is based on the fact that, fresh out of school graduates or young professionals (who are mostly single) accounts for the largest chunk of the student enrolment numbers abroad in general and in UK specifically. This class of students do not require the dependent visa anyways and will still accounts for the largest percentage of students who will study abroad. A look at Nigeria demographics profile provides an insight that should be readily deductible by just a cursory look at the figure. A table is provided below for your analysis:
|65 Years and above
The above table provide a good picture of the Nigeria market potential and I believe this potential can be impacted slightly by UKVI policies at the moment but strongly by the economic state of the country. As the economic fortunes of the country rises, the market can expect to rebound. However in the interim institutions may now consider strategies that support students in ways that help relieve the financial burden created by the current economic situations in the country. I believe institutions that provide some form of scholarship will still be the choice of most student for the January 2024 and beyond and institutions must not only provide this support in form of scholarship but must promote this support/ scholarship well to attract the necessary attention to their brand.
With the high demand for applications to the UK universities now behind us, due basically to a lot of factors such:
- Opening of other study destinations in a post covid era. All countries are now open for international students to attend their various universities. This will create a strong competition for the UK which was the only country opened in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. Study destinations such as Canada, Australia, USA, Ireland, New Zealand etc are all opened to international students and on the path to recovering student recruitment numbers lost to the Covid-19 pandemic. We have also seen some flexibility in the visa application procedures to some of these major study destinations which makes them more of a preference ahead of the UK.
- Over the last 3 years, most institutions substantially cut down on marketing and the reason for this is obvious, the demand for UK education went through the roof basically because of re-introduction of Post Study Work Visa and in addition to that, the fact that UK remained open all through the Covid-19 pandemic when all other countries shut down completely. Now all major countries are now open for student recruitment and Nigeria is a market that cannot be ignored. Institutions must now commit to marketing substantially to help drive engagement in the market.
- Events: One of the ways of the ways of promoting institutions is events, with the Covid- 19 behind us with all its restrictions, it is safe to submit that events will take a centre stage in the marketing of institutions in the country. Exhibitions, Fairs, City tours, Applicant meetings, Pre-departure events etc will all be deployed in the promotion, and marketing of the programmes of various institutions in the country.
- Country Representatives: The Nigeria market has grown substantially that it is now a necessity to appoint a representative who looks after the interest of the institution in the market. The representative handles all core responsibilities of the institution in application generation, applicant support and management, partnership management, event participation among others are core functions or duties of the country representatives. As institutions breaks certain boundaries with recruitment numbers, it may be suggested for institutions to consider providing this level of support in the market.
Country Director, Abiodun, writes from WIN Education Nigeria. He can be reached via email on [email protected]