The realities of self-funding a Masters degree abroad

“Sincerely, the idea of student loans makes me anxious.

Africa’s “Japa” epidemic is in full swing. Hundreds of thousands of young Africans on the continent are moving abroad for better economic opportunities. For many of these people, education is the easiest route to move abroad; and we’ve seen a global rise in education tourism since the pandemic.

The increased popularity of education tourism may suggest that it’s a cheap route to follow, but that’s not the reality. While scholarships are sometimes accessible, foreign students often have to pay expensive tuition fees to study abroad; they also often have to show that they can afford the living cost of their new cities. How do many young Africans fund these costs?

*Adeola, 24, a Nigerian who’s studying for a Masters degree program in Canada, talks to us about self-funding her degree and the financial realities of studying abroad. “I’ve had plans to move abroad since 2020,” she tells me. The more she thought about it, the clearer it was to her that school was the easiest route. “When I thought about it, the priorities were furthering my studies and leaving Nigeria for greener pastures.”

Deciding to study abroad is one thing, but funding it is the major consideration; in 2019/2020, the average postgraduate tuition fee for international students was CA$17,744. It’s a lot of money for most people and Adeola says she considered applying for scholarships. “I tried to apply for internal scholarships, but most schools need you to be a current student on campus with strong academic standing to get financial aid.”

So Adeola applied to other foreign scholarship organisations and received multiple rejections. It became clear that she would need to fund her dream of studying abroad without any financial aid. For her tuition fees and living expenses, she was looking at a cost of $26,000.

Read also: Is loneliness abroad overrated?

Raising $26k to study abroad

Woman in graduation cap on self-funding

Adeola is still in the process of paying for her Masters progress and she received a big boost from her father who supported her by paying her first tuition fee. For the balance of her tuition, she tells me, “I currently work two jobs in my city with excellent organisations, so that’s where funds come from.” Her experience highlights how difficult it is for self-funded Africans to raise the money they need to study abroad.

What doubles this difficulty is that many Africans have to juggle rigorous Masters programmes with working long hours in order  to survive abroad. “International students put in a lot of effort, and I'm incredibly encouraged by all of the self-funded students here; some even arrived with little to no money. But as long as they have decent jobs, I've seen many international students here support themselves.”  With this level of financial pressure, why don’t international students consider taking loans to support their studies?


Why are loans a no-go for international students?

Student loans abroad are often only available to citizens of those countries. International students have to look to other sources for loans, and for most people, this means family and friends. “While researching in Nigeria, I noticed it was difficult for students who plan to study abroad to get loans from banks. There were barely any plans except for people who decided to take loans from family and friends.”

Today, some startups are springing up to provide loans for international students at fair interest rates. But even with the presence of these startups, taking a loan to study abroad can be anxiety inducing. According to Adeola, “The idea of loans makes me anxious. I contemplated doing it when I was still in Nigeria and did some research, but I always knew I couldn't do it and that it wasn't the right course of action for me. I've heard various success stories, but not everyone can handle the loan application process; it's not simple.”

But in the end, despite the difficulties, Adeola has no regrets. “I’d do this over and over and over again. I’m just praying for a consistent flow of funds, grace and support from loved ones.

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