Are some foreign higher institutions overrated?

Olabisi Deji-Folutile

Olabisi Deji-Folutile

Almost a month into the death of Fadlullah Agboluaje, a Nigerian student admitted to Lviv Polytechnic National University, Ukraine, the school authorities are yet to tell the family what went wrong.

Fadlullah’s death is an avoidable one that ought not to have been. But the young man is gone – very painful.  His sister, Rofeeha, had explained how her brother arrived in Ukraine on January 9, 2022, and was picked up from the airport by a representative of the university.

She said the young man was not particularly excited with the condition of the accommodation provided by the institution and had lodged a complaint. He had also complained that the heater in the room wasn’t effective. Unfortunately, he couldn’t get any help because the person on the front desk didn’t understand English. He reached out to the school liaison officer, but the man said he should see him in the morning the following day. He never did as he was found dead on the floor of his room according to his family here in Nigeria.

Telling anyone to sleep in a room without heater in Ukraine in January is as good as asking the fellow to commit suicide. January is the coldest month of the year in Ukraine with an average high-temperature of -2°C (28.4°F) and an average low-temperature of -6.3°C (20.7°F). Cold season in the country lasts for 3.8 months, with an average daily high temperature below 39°F. So, it is highly insensitive of the school authorities not to take this into consideration in catering for international students especially those coming from tropical countries like Nigeria.

The university did not even have the decency to inform the family that Fadlullah was dead. His mum had to reach out to different people for help when she couldn’t get any response from her son when she tried speaking with  him on phone. The liaison officer dodged calls from the family and when the call was eventually picked, it was a student in the accommodation facility that broke the bad news.

As usual, the Nigerian government has said that it is exploring options of taking up the issue of alleged negligence against the university. Chairman of Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM), Abike Dabiri-Erewa, said this during a visit to the deceased student’s family in Ebute Metta, Lagos State.

Dabiri-Erewa also said that the Nigerian authorities in Ukraine are providing assistance to disclose issues that led to the student’s death.  She, however, hinted that “a preliminary autopsy report indicates that Fadlullah died of pneumonia due to effect of extreme cold weather.”

This is not surprising.  The picture of the young man as shared on the social media before his death did not suggest that he anticipated the cold in Ukraine. The best the university could have done in this circumstance was to help him survive the inclement weather as much as possible.  A good room with a functional heater is the least of such support. The sister said, “I looked at the picture on my uncle’s phone and my brother looked asleep in the blue shirt he wore from Nigeria, fully buttoned up and in a blue thick furred coat. They haven’t sent us another picture of my brother in his dead state.”

Indeed, the dingy room where Fadlullah was kept speaks a lot about the quality and standard of Lviv Polytechnic National University, which incidentally is one of the only two higher institutions in Ukraine that are in the top 1000 of  the 2021 Times Higher Education World University Ranking.  The university is within the group of 601-800.  Meanwhile,   Nigeria’s premier university, University of Ibadan, is far higher in rank as it is within  401–500; University of Lagos is  in the group of 501-600; Covenant University, Ota, Ogun (601-800) going by Times Higher Education 2021 ranking.  So, this Ukarian university is not particularly too different at least ranking-wise from some Nigerian universities. Yet, it is the second best university in the country! So, what is the attraction?  If all that Lviv Polytechnic could offer is the room in the picture displayed on the social media by Fadlullah’s sister, Nigerians are really being short-changed by some of these education merchants.

It is just too painful that young talents like Fadlullah are wasted because we live in a country that is so rich yet very poor- a country that has so much value and potentials but  flounders in the deep ocean of poverty.  We are blessed with so much human and natural resources, but we waste them on our profligacy. Otherwise, why should Ukraine of all countries be a learning destination for Nigerians?

A governor in one of the south west states once sent 85 medical  students of the state University to the  V.N. Karazin Kharkiv National University, Kharkov, Ukraine  to study medicine because the state forgot to build a teaching hospital when it established its faculty of medicine. Just imagine that- establishing a faculty of medicine without building a teaching hospital alongside! So, the students could not proceed to clinical class due to non-availability of teaching hospital. I am talking about the Osun State University (UNIOSUN). At the end of the day, 50 out of the 85 students graduated, 35 returned home and 15 stayed back. The state got less than 50 per cent of the students it sent to Ukraine, though it paid fully for all of them. Where is the gain? Which is better, to establish a teaching hospital that will serve generations of the state indigenes or sponsor a few abroad on government expense – a practice that is not sustainable? Meanwhile, to the governor, that was success. He chose to spend the hard earned resources of the state to develop another nation at the expense of his own state, his people.  How do we explain such thinking pattern?

This dysfunctional thinking manifesting in different dimensions in our education sector is responsible for Fadlullah’s unfortunate death. And despite the promise of NIDCOM chairman to take up the case, there is no guarantee that Lviv Polytechnic National University will pay for its carelessness. The case of Itunu Babalola, a Nigerian who died in Ivory Coast prison after she was wrongly jailed is still fresh in our memory. Before she died on November 14, 2021, NIDCOM said it was working to prove her innocence, but it never did as the lady died in the Ivorien prison eight months after NIDCOM had made the promise.

Itunu’s apartment had been burgled by an Ivorian in September 2019 and she had reported the incident to the police but the DPO informed her that the suspect was his nephew. He reportedly offered her a settlement worth roughly N100, 000 to drop the case, an amount lesser than the N300, 000 worth of stolen effects. She was subsequently arrested when she refused the settlement, charged to court for human trafficking and sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Similarly, a Nigerian doctor, Gbolade Ejemai, was stabbed to death in Ukraine in 2019. Although the Nigerian Embassy in Ukraine had petitioned the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Police Department in Kharkiv demanding full investigations into the circumstances surrounding the alleged stabbing, nothing concrete has come out of it. These are just a few examples of interventions that never yielded any tangible results. Assuming that justice is even served, what is the value of that to a person that is dead.

Using Lviv Polytechnic National University, Ukraine as a case study, I believe that some of the foreign higher institutions Nigerians patronise are unnecessarily overrated.  Some of them are probably worse than what we have here.  The major consideration for many of  them is commercial, so they do everything to attract Nigerians as foreign students. Even the best rated among them go to unimaginable length to attract Nigerians. I have said it before that those countries going out of their way to attend to Nigerians seeking education in their lands are not doing so for altruistic reasons. They want our money. They need our money as part of the pool of funds to keep their own institutions running.  Many of them give us the impression that they are the only ones that can give us quality education and we swallow their narratives hook, line and sinker. There is always the other side of the coin.

Agreed, globalisation and internationalisation are contemporary issues in higher education. Hence, it isn’t a bad idea for Nigerian students to benefit from worldwide flow of ideas, values, culture and knowledge that comes with globalisation or the international, intercultural and global dimension that internationalisation offers. But there is everything wrong in Nigerian students enriching other universities across the globe, making them more competitive, without a reciprocal arrangement for Nigeria to host these international students in our own land as well.

How do we position Nigeria’s higher institutions as global centres of learning  in order to attract international students and advance the globalisation of higher education in a way that will profit Nigeria?  That should be the preoccupation of  the people managing our higher education at all levels. What are we marketing to the rest of the world about Nigeria’s higher education? If our products are as bad as we describe them to the world, how come these countries continue to attract our medical personnel, businessmen, tech experts and even our academic staff through all kinds of schemes and programmes? It’s time to think!

My sincere condolences go to the family of Fadlullah Agboluaje. May his death not be in vain!


Olabisi Deji-Folutile (PhD) is the editor-in-chief, franktalknow.com and member, Nigerian Guild of editors. Email: bisideji@yahoo.co.uk


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