- Nduka Orjinmo
- BBC News, Abuja
After more than 200 unsuccessful applications on LinkedIn alone, Nigerian student Modupe Osunkoya knew she was running out of time to extend her stay in Belgium.
With three months to go before her student visa, she needed to find a job or leave the country.
But there was another option – enrolling in another cycle, which would take her to third grade since leaving Nigeria in 2017.
“I never saw myself doing a PhD, but if I go home now there’s no work waiting for me,” the 28-year-old told the BBC.
High unemployment – one in three young people are unemployed – and relatively poor living conditions mean that many of Nigeria’s brightest would rather try their luck abroad than return home.
So, last year, Modupe Osunkoya applied for a PhD in Estonia, along with his second Master’s in Belgium.
She moved to Estonia after not receiving any job or PhD offers in Belgium.
“Studies are [un] way to achieve my goals, and if God gives me permanent residency, why not?” she said.
Her PhD at Tallinn University of Technology is a paid position. At the end of the four years of research, she can apply for permanent residency.
She plans to move to the Eastern European country to take classes, which, like in Belgium, are taught in English.
Modupe Osunkoya, like many other students, is not one of the super-rich elite who send their children to study abroad.
Last year, around 100,000 Nigerians moved abroad to study, according to ICEF Monitor, which focuses on international student mobility.
Many hope to become permanent residents of the host country and are considering all options to make that happen.
Studies on Africa – in Belgium
Another Nigerian student in Belgium, Bonuola, who declined to give her last name, said: “People finish a master’s degree, go back to take a higher course below their academic level, then a cheap certificate, all for the purpose of legally staying in the system. “.
Despite having trained in economics in Nigeria, she decided to start from scratch when she arrived in Belgium, taking a three-year course in business management – to save time – and then a master’s in business management.
She does not rule out the possibility of a second master’s and a doctorate if she does not find a job that will allow her to obtain a permanent visa.
“I’m an African studying Africa in Belgium and it’s driving me crazy,” said a third student, Ifeoma, (not her real name) who is currently pursuing her second master’s degree since arriving in the country in 2019.
“It’s nothing serious, it’s just to kill time [pendant que je] decides what to do,” he added.
Tuition fees as low as €1,000 per year and the relatively low cost of living for students in Belgium compared to some other European countries have made it an attractive destination for many middle-income Nigerians.
“The cost of living is low – you can get accommodation for 300 euros a month,” said Osunkoya.
Like many others, she left home with only one semester of tuition paid and enough money for a few weeks. She financed her studies by working up to 20 hours a week, as legally permitted, earning up to 1,000 euros a month.
But the preferred destination for students from financially wealthy families continues to be English-speaking countries such as Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States, where there are more than 13,000 Nigerian students.
We prefer Canada to the UK
Nigerian student interest in the UK dropped from 18,020 in 2013/14 to 10,540 in 2017/18, a 41% drop, according to ICEF Monitor.
One of the reasons for this drop was the withdrawal of the visa that allowed foreign students to work for two years after completing their studies.
This, along with cheaper tuition, less stressful visa processes, and clearer pathways to postgraduate work and residency, has made Canada a more attractive destination for many students.
But the UK government has since changed course, hoping to regain its share of the lucrative global education market.
Like most foreigners, Nigerian students typically pay more than three times the fees paid by students from the UK or EU countries.
But it can be difficult for Nigerians to get non-manual jobs in the UK, let alone in places like Belgium in languages they don’t speak.
Flemish, French and German are Belgium’s official languages and most employers want candidates who can speak at least two of them.
Like most other Nigerian students, Modupe Osunkoya is only fluent in English, although he has a basic knowledge of Flemish.
“Even if you have a post-study visa, you will be competing for jobs with locals who speak the languages better than you,” she said.
Some students also complain of racial bias, while others say they have become overqualified and still lack work experience.
Belgium last week revised its immigration policy to allow students to stay for up to a year on their temporary visa to look for work.
But Bonuola says she won’t take that option because, once enrolled, she won’t be able to go back to school for more degrees if she can’t find a job.
“It’s like being between a rock and a hard place,” she said.