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Promoting Good Governance.

How Erasmus is helping Nigerian students achieve career goals

CYRIL Chukwudi Dim became a Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the College of Medicine, University of Nigeria, in 2014, only five years after his employment—a rare achievement, especially in Nigerian tertiary institutions.

He is also an honorary consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at the University’s teaching hospital and the director of its Institute of Maternal and Child Health.

All of this did not happen with sheer luck. Chukwudi believes he owes much of his success to the European Union. In 2009, he received an Erasmus Mundus Scholarship to study Health Research Methods at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark; University College London, UK; and University of Bergen, Norway. He was awarded multiple degrees at the end of the programme.

“It was in fact a dream come true,” he says.

“During my senior residency training at UNTH Enugu, I gained admission into a health-related M.Sc. programme in the United Kingdom but I could not undertake it because of lack of funding. However, in 2009, my prayer was answered through the European Commission that offered me the Erasmus Mundus Scholarship for European Master of Science in International Health.”

If he is asked to describe the experience, Chukwudi has three ready words: unforgettable, positive, and life-changing. While delivering his inaugural lecture back in June, he described the scholarship as the springboard to his current professional status within the academia. He has since consistently encouraged his students and other eligible academics to apply for the postgraduate programmes under the scholarship.

Erasmus Mundus is a programme managed by the European Commission and launched in 2009 to support education, training, youth, and sport in Europe. One of the early phases, implemented between 2009 and 2013, had a budget of €1 billion, while the ongoing phase, tagged Erasmus+, which will last till 2020 has a budget of €14.7 billion.

The programme offers joint masters and doctoral programmes, including a scholarship scheme, as well as mobility flows of students and academics between European and non-European higher education institutions.

Between 2014 and 2018, Erasmus+ has awarded scholarships to 85 Nigerians out of 7,259 awarded worldwide and has funded the movement of 143 students and academics to Europe.

Oluwanisola Olotu, like Chukwudi, also had a huge career boost following the scholarship. The skills of networking, critical reflection and communication that he learnt were crucial in securing for him the position of a Global Mobility Intern at the Central and Eastern Europe Region of PwC, one of the Global Big Four companies.

But the scholarship was not merely an opportunity to get better career-wise, it also offered him the chance to learn new languages, meet new people, and understand other cultures.

“I spent my first week in Poland meeting a lot of people from different regions of the world. I became conscious of what it is to be “Black” in a typical white homogeneous society as there are rarely people from my continent or my race even in the university I attended,” Olotu says.

“This might be challenging to some, but for me, it presented a chance to embrace my culture while at the same time share and learn from other people. It was an eye-opening opportunity for me to learn, unlearn, and relearn a lot of things about other people’s cultures through cuisines, languages, arts, music, friendships, and histories.”

Joyce Anthonia Ojokojo, another beneficiary under the 2018/2020 programme, says the programme has advanced her intergroup relations, intercultural contact, and communication skills.

“Initiating contact with locals, professionals, and international students by joining associations, academic, social, and community events taught me lessons regarding accepting and adapting to the host’s cultures,” she adds.

“In answering the question, ‘Where are you from?’ my reply is now: ‘I am a global citizen’. Thanks to Erasmus, I more strongly than ever identify myself as a member of humanity prepared to act with extraordinary allies in tackling global issues like gender inequality, poverty, refugee crises, and climate change.”

Most of the Erasmus alumni testify to the conduciveness of the environment and the strong support system available to them during the programme. Olotu confirms, for example, that the tutors and colleagues he had also served as mentors who have helped shape his career path.

Ernest Ifeanyi Obetta, a 2016 Erasmus Scholar at the University of Valladolid Spain, recalls that employees of the International Relations office “were cooperative, helpful, and so wonderful that they organised a Christmas party for the scholars”.

“The Centre de Idiomas (Language Centre) arranged excursions for us to Madrid, Leon, and Palencia. The lecturers and students of the host university were also very wonderful as we always found help wherever we turned on any issue,” he notes.

“We had a good landlady who always cared for us and showed us around; and my Spanish lodge-mates, David and Alvaro, are the best of friends one could ever hope for on an international trip.”

Chinonye Onah who participated as far back as 2007 and received an M.Sc. in Geospatial Technologies in Spain, Germany, and Portugal describes the people at the Universitat Jaume as hospitable and the academics as rigorous. He was treated to lots of dinners, parties, and tours to Bennicasim, Barcelona, and Madrid. He also attended language classes in all the countries he studied.

“It is an experience that will be part of me for the rest of my life. It was a fulfilling adventure,” he concludes.

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