The plight of Citizen Fidelis

By Frederick Mordi

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When Fidelis got a Federal Government of Nigeria scholarship to pursue his master’s degree in one of the top universities in the United Kingdom a few years ago, he thought it was a dream come true. Although he had acquired an MBA while working, he believed a foreign master’s degree would make him more marketable.

But when Fidelis requested for study leave from his employers then, HR said he was not eligible as he had spent less than three years with the company. To qualify for study leave, Fidelis was told, he should have put in at least five years. He was faced with the dilemma of either resigning from the organisation or forfeiting the scholarship. It was a tradeoff, he knew. In the end, he chose the former option, confident he would secure a better deal when he concludes his study abroad. And so Fidelis tendered his resignation letter and travelled to London for his post-graduate studies. A year later, Fidelis graduated from the prestigious UK university in flying colours.

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Like thousands of other foreign students, he decided to stay back in London to look for a job. After combing the streets of London for several months, he settled for a job that was far below his status: washing plates at a restaurant. He also secured another job as a part time security guard to pay his bills in the tiny flat that he shared with his friends. This continued for over a year before he decided to relocate to Nigeria. He came to London full of hopes for a better life, but left bitterly disappointed.

If Fidelis thought his condition would improve when he returned to Nigeria, he was wrong. It took him almost six months before he could get a low-paying job in a Lagos-based marketing company. He resigned after just one month because he did not get on well with the managing director of the company, who constantly monitored his movements. The man had a good reason for snooping on him: he suspected that Fidelis would not stay for too long in the company given his qualifications. Indeed, Fidelis’ academic credentials scared away other potential employers that felt he was ‘over-qualified’ for the jobs he sought.

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He eventually got a job with another company that did not take into consideration, his local and foreign degrees, before fixing his salary that was conveyed to him, in his employment letter. Beggars, as they say, cannot be choosers. He knew he was in no position to negotiate for higher pay. But at least, it paid his bills, or so he thought. After about a year on his new employment, he resigned. He secured another job. The pay package remained practically the same, as his new employers had asked him to submit his pay slip for the previous three months.

Now Fidelis is regretting his decision to resign from his former company, where he should have climbed up the ladder had he stayed back.

Sandra’s story is slightly different. She also had the opportunity of doing her master’s abroad, but she opted for a Part Time programme in a local university, while keeping her job. Now she has completed her MSc degree, and still has her job intact.

There is no denying the fact that a master’s degree enhances the status of its holder, particularly in terms of creating better job opportunities. As a matter of fact, many employers in Nigeria, particularly the private sector, appear to have a strong preference for applicants with foreign degrees.

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These days, Nigerian graduates, whose parents are relatively well-off, usually travel abroad for their master’s degree, often immediately after one year of compulsory National Service, or in their first or second year in employment. And when they have completed their studies, they usually stay back to work, or if they choose to return to Nigeria, there is a probability that they would get high-paying jobs, unlike their peers that did their master’s programme in the country. That explains the rush by many young Nigerians like Fidelis for foreign post-graduate degrees.

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But all that may soon change, as the UK, a major destination of education seekers, is trying to discourage non-EU students from staying back after their programme, through a new strict immigration policy. Home Secretary, Theresa May has been championing this policy, which is designed to safeguard jobs of Britons. Under the new policy, students that opt to stay back after their programme, have only four months to find a job as against the previous two years. Also, few UK companies are willing to sponsor the often prohibitive high cost of work visa for prospective foreign applicants.

These rules seem not to have discouraged foreign students, particularly Nigerians, from going to the UK for further studies. But for Fidelis, who learnt his lesson the hard way, the popular saying, a bird in hand is worth two in the bush, may be quite apt.

 

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