Abel is a retired surveyor and a building contractor. He has been retired for five years and the last of his four children graduated from a university in the United States two years ago, as her three other siblings had years before her. Abel believed that a foreign degree was the ticket to a better life for his children, so he spared no expense making sure his children got one, even if it meant sinking his gratuity and income from his business into the project. When I ran into Abel at an event some months back, he was a shadow of himself. His cars were all packed up and he came alone in a public vehicle. There was no sign that he was once the surveyor-general of a state, living in official quarters with a fleet of vehicles attached to his office. His gratuity was long gone and business was down. The bank he used to do business with had been taken over by the central bank and his contacts pushed out of the system.
Pursuing a vanishing dream
Abel had hoped that after bankrupting himself financially to send his children abroad, the children and his pensions would be his financial security in old age. His pension has since stopped coming as expected and his children have yet to find their feet. The oldest stayed back in the US and got married to an African American. He had a good job but the financial meltdown of 2007/8 pulled the rug from under his feet. Jobless and homeless, he had to move in with his in-laws in the US and has not been heard of since. The others returned to Nigeria after fruitless search for jobs in the US. They have yet to find their feet in Nigeria while the youngest wants to return to the US for her Master’s degree and another shot at job hunting afterwards.
Abel was bitter at the turn of events and had asked her to go and marry rather than remain a burden to him at old age. He wondered aloud if he would have been better off sending his children to school in Nigeria and have his money work for him rather than follow the crowd and get stranded in old age. I felt very sad as I sat and listened. Although our time together was short, I let him know that although it was late in the day, having squandered the opportunity of leveraging his salary, gratuity and income from his business when the going was good to build a solid financial foundation, it was not too late to start afresh.
The current trend in higher education in Nigeria is to school abroad. This has become the new normal. It is expected of you, if you are to consider yourself as part of the emerging middle class in Africa. The underlying assumption is that a foreign degree will place the child on a higher pedestal to grab the plum jobs over and above folks that schooled at home. There is also the issue of the risk of unpredictability of school calendars at home due to frequent strikes by lecturers, and the perceived lower quality of education. Some employers, especially multinationals, seem to be biased towards foreign degrees and work experience. Like any stuff made abroad, which is believed to be of higher quality than locally made ones.
A foreign degree is not mandatory
From the standpoint of financial literacy, there is nothing wrong with paying for or sending your child to a foreign university if you have investments that generate the cash flow to pay for it. Eliminating your financial security on the altar of foreign education is unwise financially. The fact is that foreign education is an option and not mandatory. There are other options, be it a federal university, state university or a private university. There are private universities like the American University of Nigeria, Yola; Baze University, Abuja and a host of others that are de-facto foreign universities complete with world class facilities and faculty but based in Nigeria, which is cheaper than giving an arm and a leg for your son or daughter to school abroad.
Some federal universities have up-to-date facilities, especially those that have a strong alumni and income generating units like the University of Lagos. ASUU strikes may be with us for now, but success is not a hundred meter dash. First to finish does not always translate to the most successful. It may be a badge of honour to school abroad, but if you do not cut your coat according to your cloth, you may find out rather late that success in life has more to do with emotional intelligence than academic intelligence and alma mater. If you are not street-smart, having a foreign degree will not exempt you from the rat race.
Degrees are no indicators of success
While it is good to acquire a good education, the marketplace requires more than academic intelligence. There seems to be an inverse correlation between good grades, high degree and financial success – the more degrees you have, the more you struggle in the area of money. Most billionaires and multi-millionaires are school drop-outs and folks that made third class, pass or second class upper. Good grades from a good university are no longer an indicator that one will become successful in life. You can hardly find MBA holders in the Forbes Billionaires List. Folks like Donald Trump are an exception rather than the rule. The skills required to succeed in life are not taught in conventional classrooms. It is learned in real life. Most of the students that travel abroad for education skipped a class in primary school and the gap year after secondary school, hence they are not mature enough to hold their own in a foreign country without their parents. Some get indoctrinated and imbibe strange behaviour and attitude that make their parents regret sending them abroad. Nigeria’s first suicide bomber got indoctrinated as a student while studying in the UK.
Spending on our children’s education is a highly emotional subject. Parents, especially in Africa and Asia, pay for their children’s university education while most parents in the western world hands off after secondary school. Their children take college loans and part time jobs while schooling. They earn their way hence are better equipped to fend for themselves afterwards rather than have their parents pay for their first and second degrees, and in some instances, PhD. Thus, we end up raising children with an entitlement mentality looking for connections to get a job to enable them to live the high life rather than focus on their dreams.
If a foreign degree is not a guarantee of future success in life, why bankrupt ourselves to acquire one?
Why carry a load that is heavier than us?
If all you can afford (without jeopardising your financial independence plan) is the university next door, it is better to be content with what you have and make the best of it. The university is not the end of education but rather the beginning. Life is a never ending learning process, and there will always be time to go and acquire a foreign degree if you truly believe you are not complete without one.