International student mobility is a growing expression of internationalisation. Research has shown that close to 3.7 million international students travelled across the borders of their own country to study in 2009, representing a 77% increase since 2000 (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development [OECD], 2011). Historically, the mobility was one-dimensional from South to North, but of late there is evidence of North-South and South–South mobility. Despite being viewed as victims of a brain drain, there is emerging evidence that there are some African countries that play increasingly vital roles in receiving the world’s top higher education students. It is within the context of this emerging evidence that this study examined the phenomenon of student mobility to Nigeria. This study addressed two main research questions, namely: Why do international students choose to leave their country of origin to study in Nigeria? How did international students in Nigeria choose the institution they are currently attending?
This study adopted a qualitative approach using semi-structured interviews and document analysis. The highest ranked public university and the highest ranked private university in Nigeria, according to the Webometrics ranking of 2015, were purposively chosen as the sites for the research. A total of thirty-five international students were involved in face-to-face interviews at both universities. Institutional documents as well as national documents - mainly from the National Universities Commission (NUC) – were consulted in collecting data. This study used the push-and-pull theory of migration to fully understand the phenomenon being studied.
The empirical findings reveal that international students are attracted to Nigeria and the two selected universities for reasons ranging from scholarship opportunities and quality of education offered by Nigerian institutions to parental influence in the choice of Nigeria and the institution at which they study. The study also gave an indication of the impact and influence of terrorism that could be seen as push factors in decisions to study in Nigeria. The study further highlighted the challenges students face both at national and institutional levels as well as making known the improvements that they would like to take place. It was also observed that regional hubs are an emerging trend of student mobility in Africa. It is believed that the recommendations made - if adopted - will go a long way towards enhancing internationalisation strategies for Nigeria and much more for the continent of Africa as a whole.
The study makes a contribution to the body of knowledge regarding the phenomenon of academic student mobility.
Keywords: Internationalisation; student mobility; Africa; Nigeria; push-and pull factors; regional hub; brain drain; international students; university and higher education.