The United Kingdom (UK) appears to be the favourite destination for African students; this is not surprising considering the colonial links between the UK and some African countries. Also, the United Kingdom government actively pursues a policy of making UK education the number one in the world; it markets the UK education brand all over the world in association with its many universities through the British Council and other agencies. Students are recruited using various methods such as brochures, word-of-mouth, road shows and related events, and also through technology i.e. internet marketing. Local representatives are also appointed in some countries and are charged with the responsibility of marketing the UK education brand to local students all through the year.
According to a publication by ukuniversites.ac.uk, International student numbers in UK higher education institutions have increased by over 60% in the last five years. “In 2003/04 there were 213,000 international students and 104,000 students from other EU countries in UK higher education institutions (HEIs)”, the report said. These foreign students contribute about £4 Billion annually to the UK economy.
There is however a school of thought which argue that, what the UK government is doing can be likened to reverse-colonialism because of the persisting paternalistic nature of its educational provisions, as regards African and foreign students. This has led to fears that the brain drain syndrome will continue because on graduation, many of the African students settle back in the UK, thus denying Africa and the rest of the developing world the opportunities of benefiting from the skills which the students may have acquired while studying in the UK, thus the much touted western education offered to these African students ultimately benefit only the western countries. This agenda is further perpetuated by policies and schemes such as the Highly Skilled Migrant Programme (HSMP). Such stay-back preferences and schemes counter the more recent argument in certain quarters that the current situation which sees Africans flock to the UK and other western countries to acquire education should be regarded as brain-gain instead.
There are also rising fears that standards are falling in the UK education system, though not at the same rate as in Africa. Some have even described the situation as pure opportunistic exploitation and fleecing of the resources of developing countries, as some of these students are sponsored by African governments. Some however sell family properties and also borrow to sponsor themselves to the UK. The average yearly tuition fee in UK universities for foreign students is £7,000 (excluding living and board) for undergraduate students. Post-graduate tuition fees are £9,000 (excluding living and board) for a year depending on the university and course of study.
There have been unpleasant stories and experiences from some of these African students studying in the UK, many of whom were conned by flashy websites only to be shocked and disappointed on arrival, by the reality on the ground and the fact that some of these institutions are actually un-accredited one-flat colleges. There are also complaints against some of the older established universities as regards the quality of teaching, added value, course contents as well as the general enrichment of the students’ experiences. Such complaints therefore justify the Times UK Universities League Table exercise and their Good University Guide publication. It also challenges the UK’s Department for Education and Skills (DFES) to improve on its supervisory and oversight functions, and gives rise to a recurring need to probe further on whether these fee-paying African students are getting value for their money.
We went to town to sample the views of some African students in the UK, to get their thoughts on UK education and also to find out their plans upon graduation.
Helen Chibogu Edozie (M.Sc International Marketing Management student at the University of East London)
“I came to the UK to study because I wanted to learn how marketing is done at the international level compared to what we have back home in Nigeria, and also to reposition myself for greater challenges. The Nigerian economy is opening up once again, and employers prefer overseas trained graduates, especially in my sector (the banking sector), with the recent bank capitalization and re-structuring policies, you need western education if you really want your career to progress. Of course I Intend to take the knowledge and experiences back to my country and add value to my people. The experience has really been inspiring and very challenging”.