By Moses Ochonu
In the early to the mid 2000s, as the quality of Nigerian university education plummeted and graduate unemployment soared, many Nigerians began seeking foreign degrees, especially advanced degrees, to gain an edge in the employment market.
Back then, foreign, especially Western, degrees had great purchase and enjoyed a social cachet. Holders of such degrees, regardless of their socioeconomic backgrounds, had their pick of jobs. Even when their numbers increased in the late 2000s, they still frequently rose to the top of interviews and hiring lists, with employers automatically according them priority consideration on account of their foreign training.
Today, there is a saturation in the number of foreign degrees being paraded, and there are many holders of foreign Masters and PhDs who are unemployed or underemployed. Such degrees have lost their worth; their holders their advantage in the hiring process.
The deluge of degrees, both local and foreign, and dwindling opportunities have equalized the terrain. Everyone, foreign or local graduate, is now in the same pot, scrambling for the same opportunities and being subjected to the same scrutiny. Employers now have the luxury of insisting that every graduate, local of foreign, prove their skills, aptitude, and suitability for the position they’re applying for.
Those who thought they could bypass the broken Nigerian university system now have a different experience from that of the first millennial cohort of foreign degree returnees.
First, their foreign educational adventure now gives them little to no advantage.
Second, they, too, like local graduates, meet the sons and daughters of the rich and powerful in NYSC camp and watch as these children of privilege, regardless of where or how they obtained their degrees, go from service to choice jobs without going through any rigorous hiring processes.
Third, they now realize that unless there is a fundamental change in the political economy to expand opportunities for those without political connection or privilege, your foreign MSc or PhD will no longer open any doors for you as the children of privilege continue to monopolize available white collar jobs and send the children of regular folk scrambling for N-Power and other dead-end jobs.
Fourth, if the scramble for foreign second degrees was meant to make up for the widely acknowledged inadequacy of the local first degree and make employment and personal professional fulfillment easier for holders, the present absence of hoped-for opportunities should cause a realization that we need to fix the Nigerian university system so that the first degree is a quality credential that equips young Nigerians with the critical thinking skills and the aptitudes to be competitive and employable not just in Nigeria but elsewhere.
There are no short cuts in life. And short term personal work-arounds are just that. The acquisition of a foreign second degree is not a solution to a broken tertiary education system. And it no longer guarantees any socioeconomic advantages. We have to insist on our universities getting better at teaching, mentorship, and research.
Ochonu, a history professor, writes from Nashville, USA