To: Simplification of the Rules Taskforce (SORT), Migration and Borders Group, Home Office, United Kingdom
From: Policy Shapers and 72,000 supporters
Date: February 14, 2022
Subject: Making a case for Nigeria’s inclusion in the Majority English Speaking Country (MESC) List
There is public evidence to support Nigeria’s demand for inclusion in the Majority English Speaking Country (MESC) list. Some of these include a top 30 global ranking and a top 3 Africa ranking on the annual Education First English Proficiency Index over the past five years; the United Nations projection that 62% of Nigeria’s population is under 25 years, a tech-savvy generation with 75% literacy in English; and a 62.5% pass rate in the West African Senior Secondary Certificate Examination (WASSCE) with nearly 5 million English credits recorded between 2016 and 2021. Although the response from the Home Office to our inquiry on its MESC list indices was ambiguous, current data proves beyond reasonable doubt that Nigeria should make the list in line with the UK’s simplification of immigration rules project.
Context & Analysis
Amongst 19 countries on the Home Office’s MESC list, there is none from Africa; despite the fact that 25 African countries use English as an official language – a legacy of British colonial rule. Thus, when Anglophone Africans wish to study or work in the United Kingdom, they are mandated to take English language proficiency examinations that cost as much as thrice the minimum wage, in Nigeria, and the result expires after two years.
Many of the countries on the MESC list have several dominant languages in addition to the English language which further highlights the disparity in the measurement indices stipulated by the Home Office for ascertaining countries with majority English speakers.
Figure 3 below shows the following:
- 19 countries currently on the MESC list speak a combined 82 indigenous and other major languages.
- Guyana has 18 additional languages while Australia has 13.
- Even in countries that speak only one or two additional languages, these languages were preferred to English.
- In Malta, English is often referred to as the second language as about 98% of the population speaks Maltese.
- In Jamaica, even though it appears they speak only one additional language, Babbel.com reports that about 2.7 million Jamaicans speak Jamaican Patois compared to only about 50,000 who speak English.
If these countries deserve to be on the MESC list regardless, why are their African counterparts in the Commonwealth not accorded the same right?
In analysing your response to our official inquiry on the criteria for including countries in the MESC list, we found some metrics you highlighted to be ambiguous and subjective including:
- “We rely on publicly available evidence such as official censuses to make this determination along with other academic sources…” ‘Public evidence’ was used loosely as your response only highlighted official censuses and academic sources without much clarification on what form of data is processed from these academic sources. Do they include schools in the UK? Schools in the home country? The annual English proficiency index? There’s a need for specificity as we believe the public evidence required per country should be standardised in line with the same metrics used to validate the 19 countries already on the MESC list.
- “We must have evidence that most people in the country (more than half) speak English as a first language...” A Home Office spokesperson told the BBC in July 2021 “We must have evidence that at least 51% of the population speaks English as a first language…” The use of ‘most people’ and ‘more than half’ are very subjective and fluid as they could mean 60% or 99% at the same time, and we find this to be in direct conflict with the 51% earlier quoted in the Home Office statement which we are working with.
- “The MESC list is periodically reviewed and updated, and new countries are added if they are found to meet the requirements.” When was the MESC list last reviewed? Which countries were recently added? Also, what form of public evidence was used to validate their inclusion?
- We also thought to highlight that the Ecctis platform, which was recommended for student visa applicants who wish to verify that their degree was taught in English, seems to us like a substitute for the IELTS/TOEFL as opposed to a remedy. It currently costs £140.00 (exclusive of VAT and delivery cost) to verify your English proficiency on Ecctis while the IELTS costs about £150 in Nigeria. Could you clarify this, please?
Our recommendation to the Simplification of the Rules Task Force (SORT) of the Home Office is to include Nigeria in the MESC list during the forthcoming immigration rules review slated for April 2022 as recommended by the Law Commission. Find useful public evidence below to support our argument.
- Nigeria’s ranking on the Education First English Proficiency Index (EF EPI)
Over the past five years, Nigeria’s average ranking in the EF English Proficiency Index is #30.6 globally and #2.6 in Africa. Published annually, the EF EPI is the world’s largest ranking of countries/regions by adult English skills. In the 2021 EPI, Nigeria ranked 29 out of 112 countries falling within the High Proficiency band. EF EPI 2021 scores have been found to correlate strongly with TOEFL iBT 2019 scores (r=0.81) and IELTS Academic Test 2019 scores (r=0.73). These correlations show that, while these tests have different designs and test taker profiles, they reveal similar trends in national English proficiency.
2. 75% of Nigeria’s youth are proficient in English, 62% of the population under 25
According to population projections by the United Nations for 2020, about 62% of the Nigerian population are below 25 years of age. By contrast, less than 5% are aged 60 years and above. This makes Nigeria a youthful population with a median age of about 18 years, which is lower than African and world estimates of 20 and 29 respectively.
Furthermore, as of 2019, data from Statista shows that around 72% of young women and 78% of young men in Nigeria were literate in English (75% combined). This means they could understand, read, and write a short, simple statement, for instance, on their everyday life in the English language.
Mathematically, bringing both datasets together:
If 62% of Nigeria’s population is under 25 and 75% of young people under 25 are literate in English
Therefore, 75% of Nigeria’s 62% population represents the total percentage of young people proficient in English
Answer = 46.5%
Knowing that we already have 46.5% English speakers from the youth population alone, it is statistically safe to estimate that the extra 4.5% required to attain the Home Office’s MESC benchmark of 51% can easily be extracted from the other 34% of the population aged 25-64 years, as they primarily make up the working population, and the language of upward mobility in Nigeria’s labour market is English.
3. 62.5% pass rate in the WASSCE (2016-2021)
The central examination that tests students’ readiness for higher education in West Africa, the West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE), has a fundamental requirement that successful candidates must pass the English Language subject no matter their area of concentration, and many tertiary institutions in the UK, Canada, and the US recognize the WASSCE examination as part of their admissions process. In 2021, 81.7% of the 1.5 million students who sat for the exam attained the minimum benchmark, with five credits including the English Language subject. During the WASSCE examinations, Nigeria’s major indigenous language subjects, Hausa, Igbo, and Yoruba are considered electives – the same way students can choose to learn French or not – and they are not requisites for graduation from secondary school, unlike English.
Figure 7 shows a rise in the WASSCE pass rate in Nigeria, growing from 52.97% in 2016 to 81.7% in 2021. Similarly, the number of English language credits also increased from 878,040 in 2016 to 1,274,784 in 2021, bringing the total number of English credits obtained by students within five years to 4,955,253. This rise occurred irrespective of the fact that the total number of students sitting for the exam within the period has remained largely the same (See Figure 8).
Interestingly, all institutions of higher learning in Nigeria have a compulsory requirement that all enrolled students must take the general university ‘Use of English’ course. This is a requirement for graduation, thus it is safe to infer that all graduates from Nigerian universities (millions of them) passed this basic English requirement. Therefore, it is ridiculous that these same individuals are made to write an examination testing their proficiency in a language they have been required to pass at every step of their academic journey.
4. Academic and Professional track record of Nigerians in the Diaspora
According to 2017 data from the Migration Policy Institute Nigerians are the most highly educated of all groups in the US, with 61% holding at least a bachelor’s degree compared with 31% of the total foreign-born population and 32% of the US-born population. This means the number of Nigerians with a degree (61%) in the U.S. is almost equivalent to a summation of the foreign-born population and the US-born population with a degree (63%). These courses are taught in the English language.
Similarly, Nigerians are also excelling in the UK across several sectors. As of 2021, there are more than 8,737 Nigerian-trained doctors strengthening the health ecosystem in the UK. These are legitimate tax-paying migrants who are contributing to the UK’s growth and development.
A 2021 research briefing from the House of Commons reported that Nigeria is 5th on the ranking of foreign nationalities with the most health professionals working in the National Health Service (NHS) in England. With 10,494 professionals, Nigeria is only behind India, the Philippines, Ireland, and Poland.
5. Many Universities waive the IELTS requirement
At least 103 universities across the US, Canada, the UK, Germany, and Australia currently waive the IELTS/TOEFL requirement for student applicants. The University of Mississippi in the US recently included Nigeria in its English proficiency test exemption list at both the undergraduate and graduate study levels, and the data from Foreign Admits also reveals that Nigerians can secure admission in about 20 UK universities without having to write the IELTS/TOEFL. The University of Plymouth, University of Sussex, University of Hull, the University of Manchester, and University of Leicester are just a few examples who currently accept the WASSCE or NECO (National Examination Council) result in lieu of the IELTS.
We also see this as a moment of realisation for big institutions joining the movement to end language inequality and systemic discrimination against Africans. We hope that the Home Office does not waste this rare window of opportunity to cause real change.
The UK’s recently updated International Education Strategy lists Nigeria as a priority recruitment market, but increasingly, the UK is in strong competition with Canada and other countries in Europe for Nigerian students, and the number of Nigerian students in UK schools and universities has been declining over the past several years. Overall Nigerian enrolment in UK universities has fallen from 18,020 in 2013/14 to 10,540 in 2017/18 – a 41% decrease – and the latest HESA numbers indicate that the trend continued through 2019/20 as well.
We believe that the Home Office’s plan to simplify the immigration rules in a bid to attract the world’s best talent and the establishment of the Simplification of the Rules Taskforce (SORT) will go a long way in repositioning the UK as the choice destination for skilled and passionate migrants. However, the exclusion of Nigeria and other Anglo-African countries from the MESC list does not only exclude an entire section of the Commonwealth, but it also signals to the world that the UK is not ready to let go of its colonial hold on Africa, especially because these English proficiency tests have been required from Anglo-Africans for the past 33 years despite the wide availability of data proving they deserve to be on the MESC list as much as Jamaica, Malta, Guyana, Ireland, Australia, Trinidad & Tobago, to mention a few. The time to act is now. It is time to add Nigeria to the Majority English Speaking Country (MESC) list.
Download the PDF version of the brief below to view the Appendix
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