Nigerians and the obsession with the Harvard title


Harvard-trained this, Harvard-educated that.

You look deeper and discover that they only attended a two-week executive training program at the Kennedy School of Government or one of the other commercial units of Harvard University that cater to insecure professionals from the Global South who crave the prestige and symbolic capital of the Harvard name.

We Nigerians have taken this obsession to new heights.

Folks from other countries are content to have the training listed on their resume and CVs and would not refer to themselves or allow others to refer to them as “Harvard-educated” unless they’ve completed a regular course of study at the institution. Not us Nigerians.

Even if we attend a two-day workshop or seminar or conference at Harvard, our bios will begin to claim that we’re Harvard-trained and Harvard-educated.

Apparently, this has opened many doors for people in Nigeria, so it’s no longer just about insecurity but also about cold hard pecuniary calculation.

I didn’t even realise that this was a thing until a relative told me during one of my trips to Nigeria a couple of years ago that he was saving up to go to Harvard to attend one of their short executive training programs.

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I asked why, since he was already pursuing a PhD (which he now has), is a chartered accountant, and has his own flourishing business. His response was that the Harvard name would take him to a new professional pedestal and open up many opportunities for him. He had seen it with other folks, he said.

Who was I to question his logic? No wonder, I see a lot of “Harvard-trained” in many Nigerian bios nowadays. The only thing is that it now brings a chuckle to my face.

Harvard, of course, is quite happy to leverage its reputation to collect dollars and give these successful people from non-Western countries a certificate of attendance and participation after their executive programs. It’s a win-win.

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