By Jemima Codrington
Last week, a proud father posted a congratulatory photograph of his son’s graduation on Facebook – and was immediately met with an accolade of verbal abuse. The man was Nasir El-Rufai, former minister (July 2003 – May 2007) of the Federal Capital Territory of Nigeria. The bone of contention with the the disgruntled mob that set up camp in his Facebook comment area was El-Rufai’s alleged use of public funds to educate his children abroad. “Were Nigerian universities not good enough?”, reasoned the Foreign Studies Police, Facebook chapter. “If not, why?”. Incidentally, El-Rufai was a reoffender. Only a month ago, he had congratulated his daughter in the same fashion.
Exactly 13 days prior to El-Rufai’s most recent graduation announcement, the government announced the appointment of a new education minister – Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau, an ex-math teacher notorious for denying thousands of children the polio vaccine in 2004. His appointment follows a spate of higher education strikes, the most recent keeping polytechnics shut between December 2013 and July 2014. In this time, one person in another part of the world would have learnt a new language, and another would have learnt to play the guitar.
Consequently, some people regard decisions of government and ex-government officials to train their offspring anywhere but in Nigeria as defeat characterised by a loss of faith in the local educational system, and rightly so. If anything, more Nigerians are also looking elsewhere to satisfy their educational needs.
There is an increasing number of us, turning towards open distance education (ODE) to earn degrees and qualifications.
After what was described as the “internet revolution of Nigeria” in 2002, the number of citizens utilising the internet to earn an education has risen steadily. In 2013, there were at least 3 students competing for each of the 520,000 university places available, leaving at least 1.2m candidates to try again next year, seek admission further afield, or learn how to contact beneficiaries of oil funds.
There are innumerable benefits to taking the quest for education online. Disruptions to tutelage caused by civil unrest, terrorist activity and union strikes are circumvented, and students can benefit from a wider range of courses available online. They can also access networking and employment opportunities after successful course completion.
Joey Ironbar opted to study online at the University of Liverpool after plans to travel in the UK didn’t come to fruition. “I was in full-time employment working on a project here, and I couldn’t physically go to the UK to enrol,” he explains. “By getting a degree online, I had the flexibility to study and still earn an income.” Ironbar graduated with an MSc in Information Systems Management, a degree that has indirectly helped him improve everything from his problem solving to managerial skills.
Already holding a Bachelors Degree with honours in Electronic and Computer Engineering, Chikelue Oji began exploring his options for further education. He quickly realised that all of them came with significant drawbacks.
“As I had set a goal to get my next degree from a foreign best-in-class University, I had only two options; either resign from my job and invest my savings into travelling to the UK to pursue my degree, an opportunity that would cost of 2 to 3 years of income and time away from my family, or I enrol for the programme at a Nigerian university.” Oji then learned of the opportunities that abounded overseas through a friend that had recently studied online, and took the opportunity to enrol in an online MBA program at the University of Roehampton, London. Not having to move away from his family or leave his job, Oji was able to achieve his goal of bettering his education and employment prospects through ODE.
He worked hard to schedule his studies around his existing commitments, but did encounter difficulties at first. “My biggest challenges whilst getting an online education in Nigeria were time management and prioritisation,” he says. “As a busy working professional, business owner, and a family man, it is not easy combining all my responsibilities with my academic work.”
Like Ironbar, Oji notes that getting his Masters has contributed to honing a number of important workplace skills. “My personal and career value has increased, and I am frequently being approached by companies and recruitment experts looking to hire the next best talent for their organisation and/or client,” says Oji.
In an increasingly digital age, online recruitment is increasingly prevalent.
Nigerians with formal education can create profiles that include these credentials on international job sites such as LinkedIn, and potentially be head hunted by employers around the world. The doors can also be opened to jobs in new and emerging markets, such as social media, or in areas such as finance, IT and management, in which a Masters can give job candidates a competitive edge.
According to Ironbar, an individual should be in a steady job that is not high pressure or prone to sporadic schedule changes in order to get the most out of an online course. “You have to be very disciplined, very committed to get a degree online,” he says. “You cannot focus on school if you are stressed, or if you have an emergency at work that conflicts with a deadline. Sometimes the logistics can be a challenge – you have to get used to working with people in different time zones, but anyone in a steady job should be able to do these courses with relative ease.”
The slew of world-class educational institutions offering distance education courses is breaking down barriers for Nigerians. For Oji, being able to access these opportunities without having to forgo family ties or pay to physically relocate has been the biggest benefit of all. “The most important lesson that I learned is that you do not have to leave a great career, business, and family to travel abroad just for the sake of getting foreign education,” he says. “You can get it here in Nigeria.”
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