Trends in Nigerian students studying abroad

Continuing our series of articles regarding profiles and information sources for international students from major, sending countries, we’re taking an in-depth look at the leader in Sub-Saharan Africa – Nigeria. 

As noted in our earlier blog entry about India, Sub-Saharan Africa’s population is estimated to be nearly 2.5 billion by the year 2050. A key driver in this growth is Nigeria. The oil rich, coastal nation is projected to see its nearly 200 million population more than double in the coming decades, topping 400 million by 2050. Even such a projection may be an understatement as some experts, noting expanding infrastructure and economical diversity, believe it will be even greater. 

The history of Nigeria informs the future prognosis. Dating back to the 11th century, due to the fortuitous location on the Gulf of Guinea and fertile Niger Delta, it became a regional hub for trade and agriculture, drawing in a vastly diverse collection of traders and entrepreneurs from thousands of miles away. The commerce activity intensified following the colonization by the British in the early 19th century through Nigerian independence, in the mid 20th century, and to the present, where the country is recognized as the world’s 20th, largest economy. This distinction makes Nigeria the largest economy in Africa, a title it wrested from South Africa at the onset of the 2010s. 

To address the needs of a growing nation, President Muhammadu Buhari, since taking office in 2015, has sought to make education a priority. As such, the national budget has seen an increase in spending to over $1 billion, annually, for the academic sector consisting of over 300, Higher Education Institutions (HEIs). Currently, over 90,000 students a year study abroad with a substantial amount going to the UK (approximately 30,000) and the USA (approximately 20,000 with California, New York, and Maryland being the most common destinations). 

With the steadily increasing population, UNESCO projects that in addition to their population growth, Nigeria will lead the world in students studying abroad. Even before such an achievement is reached, Nigeria represents an opportunity for HEIs from all over the world to further diversify their international student population. This blog will examine the further keys to trends within the study behaviour and habits of students from the African country. 

General profile of an applicant from Nigeria

To determine general profile of an international student from Nigeria, we’ll look at basic factors, such as: gender, age, acceptance rate and other criteria. To ensure the most relevant information, we’ll be including only submitted applications from 2016-2018. Within these criteria, we have a population of 24 690 unique applicants who completed their applications for a DreamApply partner school. It is important here to note that students can use DreamApply to apply to more than one course with a single application, those students sent in 32 155 applications, 1.3 applications, on average, per student. 

Most students from Nigeria are males – out of all submitted Nigerian applications in DreamApply platform who have indicated their gender, 24.5% are females and 75.5% are males. It’s worth noting that the ratio of female Nigerian students applying to study abroad is slowly rising – in 2016, it was 20%; in 2018, it rose to 25.5%. 

Out of 24 690 students who applied, only 2145 received some sort of notice of admission, a meagre 8% conversion rate. The share of females who received an offer has increased from 18.9% in 2016 to 24.44% in 2018. Thus, there is very little difference between conversion rates of male and females. 

Applicants from Nigeria tend to be older than other high-volume countries like India. In 2018, only 17.89% of students were aged between 21-25 years, while 23% of them were between 26-30 years and the nearly 60% remaining were over 30. The data indicates a continued trend further upward in age – In 2016, 8.68% of applicants were 17-20 years old compared to only 2.83% in that demographic in 2018. 

Across the selected timeframe, 38.5% of applicants from Nigeria applied to bachelor level, 45,33% to MA level, and 7.10% to PhD level. The data indicates a growth in applicants applying to master level studies – In 2016, 41,2% of applicants applied to MA level of courses; in 2018, this grew to 52.6%. 

Study areas

We also were interested to see to which courses Nigerian students apply to most. To reach this conclusion, we examined all the courses in the DreamApply systems and grouped them according to major subject (this brevity was done as the number of different courses offered throughout the entirety of DreamApply is staggering). We took a selection of 8629 applicants from 2018 and assigned denotation by study subject.

While the study subjects which Nigerian applicants apply is diverse, by far the most popular is engineering, with almost a third of applicants. Alternatively, Management and Public Administration are both also popular, definitively #2 and #3, but they trail behind Engineering by a noteworthy amount. All other courses slot in behind these three. 

Information channels

Most universities using DreamApply have made it mandatory for applicants to choose their main information channels indicating where they received information about studying abroad. By combining information channels across all students who have applied, we can determine general trends and measure changes. We were interested if this data could give us answer on top of information channels for Indian students. 

We analysed a sample of 8390 students between 2016 and 2018 and divided them into main categories: 

Information source Description 
Advertisement Advertisements on billboards, newspapers, web banners, marketing handouts etc 
Agent Agents, personal counsellors etc 
Fair Education fairs 
National portal Centralised marketing portals aimed at marketing country as a whole 
Online General organic searches, Google, Bing etc 
Other Any other channel not listed elsewhere, such as  
country visits etc 
Portal Designated education portals such as StudyPortal, Masterstudies etc 
Ranking Ranking sites and -lists 
Recommendations Recommendations by friends, family, alumni etc 
School visits Locally held info sessions, visits of recruitment  
staff in applicant’s school etc 
Social media Social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter etc 
Website University websites 

We selected 2018 as the latest year for which we had data available to take a snapshot of information channels used by Nigerian applicants and ended up with the following pie chart. 

Here we can see that personal recommendation plays a big role in the study choices. However, it is topped by various online channels – online searching, university websites, various portals and social media as information source accounts for a total of 50% of applicants. Arguably, advertisements can be added to it, as most advertisements listed were various online campaigns. Alternatively, school visits, education fairs and the other face-to-face interactions with university marketers, seem to play a relatively, minor role. It is also interesting to note that various portals (both portals dedicated to informing students of global studying opportunities and various national portals aimed at marketing a country as a whole) are an important tool for schools, totalling 13%. 

However, while this snapshot of 2018 shows us some interesting information, we were interested to see how those trends have changed over time. So, we added data from previous years into the mix to see what trends, if any, there are.

While having a strong, online presence and personal recommendations have maintained their edge as preeminent channels for generating interest with Nigerian students, web portals have become vital. In the past, three years, while the online and recommendations have declined, portals have risen from nearly non-existent to being responsible for one out of ten applications. Additionally, social media has experienced a similar, albeit smaller, surge in becoming indispensable resource for recruiting in Nigeria. However, it is worth noting that the specific channel of social media is important to consider as Nairaland generates more results than Facebook, which can be attributable in the uptick in advertisement as schools are homing in on the relevant websites. With regards to this factor, it’s important to note that organic and paid search engine results are trailing behind specialised websites (which reinforces the growth of portals). For a more conservative and stable approach, recruiting agents have delivered consistently in the 6-7% range. 

Main takeaways

Here are the main takeaways from this article:

  • As online channels play an increasing role, make certain your website and online marketing is up to scratch. There is a symbiotic relationship between the various websites when it comes to students from Nigeria, and if you want to get the best students, you need to present the best, digital representation possible. 
  • Admission rate of Nigerian students at 8% is far below the average (our data shows that the average conversion rate hovers somewhere over 25%). There are a lot of applicants, but only few of them get accepted. With an already numerous and increasing number of applicants, it is imperative to check your admission process to ensure your ability to efficiently select and offer the best applicants. 
  • Check your presence in portals, both dedicated portals for international students as well as national portals. Portals, overall, enjoy a popularity among Nigerian students and brings results. 

In conclusion – looking at the application numbers, overall trends, and enrolment rate of Nigerian students, it is evident that applications by Nigerian students are not only a fixture for admission departments but will continue to grow. As such, the importance of employing a good strategy to both process applications and promote your courses in right channels and right, target group cannot be understated. As noted in our previous blog entry while it’s generally important to offer promising students quickly, in the Nigerian market, it is requisite. Here at DreamApply, we have over a decade of experience, knowledge, and data which we can apply to improve your strategies both in Nigeria and anywhere else.

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on whatsapp