Nigerians looking to exit the country in exchange for foreign education and a better life are fueling billions of naira in revenue for British Council.
SKYTREND NEWS estimates suggest Nigerians who rely on British Council for exams spend roughly N90,000 per sitting to prove they can speak and write good English by participating in the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) exams conducted by the British Council.
In preparation for the test, many also enroll in coaching classes which cost as much as N45,00 to ensure they pass the test in a sitting.
For many Nigerians writing the exam, it is one big hurdle that they have to cross to realise their dream of leaving the country. Folasade Adeyemo is in this category. According to her, she had sat for the IELTS exam last year and could not meet the required pass mark, so she had little choice but to enroll for coaching classes in the hopes that she will pass the test this October so that she can travel to the UK for her Master’s programme.
Another applicant, who would not want his name mentioned, is preparing to write the IELTS in order to relocate to Canada as a skilled immigrant. Having obtained a Master’s degree in English Language from one of the leading private universities in Nigeria, he believes subjecting himself to an English test would amount to ridiculing the education system in Nigeria, but he has to write it.
Nigeria’s high demand for foreign education fuels billions of naira in revenue for British Council
“It is really embarrassing that I have to write this test before I can travel after studying English Language at undergraduate and post-graduate levels, but since it is one of the conditions to apply for the Visa, I have to,” he said.
For David Ayinde, who took the IELTS exam in 2015 and passed but could not travel due to financial constraints, is pained that he would have to pay again to re-write the exam since the one he wrote had 2 years validity. “I see it as extortion. Why should the result have an expiry date? Does it mean I no longer understand the English Language or I have lost my memory?” he queried.
British Council continues to cash out
While there is no official figure for the number of Nigerians writing the test annually, the British Council on its website listed the cost of writing the test as ranging from N83,000 to N89,500.
The International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR) in a recent report quoted an exams invigilator working with the organisation in Nigeria as saying that an average of 120 people write the test at a centre on each day with up to five test dates per month.
There are 11 test centres run by the British Council in Nigeria. This translates to roughly N7.732 billion in revenue for the Council every year.
Efforts to reach the British Council in Nigeria for comments proved abortive as an email sent to its Head of Communications, Edemekong Uyoh, was not responded to.
To underscore how crucial the IELTS and other educational revenues are to the British Council is how it went near bankrupt during the lockdown occasioned by the coronavirus pandemic. Politico reports that the pandemic forced the British Council to shut down 44 out of its 47 English language schools and 195 of 223 test centres around the world, according to a spokesperson for the organization. This effectively cut off its main source of income and created a substantial budget deficit. The Council gets an annual grant of 161 million pounds from the British government.
Agitation to end IELTS in Nigeria
Amidst the rush to leave the country, some Nigerians are agitating to put an end to the IELTS test in Nigeria. An online petition to this effect which is being coordinated by Policy Shapers, a youth-led open-source platform for policy ideas, has gathered 79,574 signatures as of the time of filing this report.
According to the Policy Shapers Founder, Ebenezer Wikina, the petition is being put forward to end ‘the unjust treatment of Nigerians and Africans’. According to him, “the UK Home Office has a list of 18 countries whose citizens are exempt from writing an English proficiency test (IELTS, TOEFL, etc.) when they seek to study or migrate to the UK, including; Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, the Bahamas, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, Malta, St Kitts and Nevis, Trinidad and Tobago, to mention a few. However, it will interest you to know that there is no Anglophone African country (out of 20+ English-speaking countries on the continent) on the Home Office list. Not Nigeria, not Ghana, not Kenya, not South Africa. Despite the fact that these African countries are former British colonies and belong to the Commonwealth! Why?”