AFRICA: Lag in Sub-Saharan participation

Tertiary education enrolment ratios in Sub-Saharan countries continue to lag far behind all other regions of the world, with only one in 20 young Africans entering formal study after school, according to Unesco's Education For All Global Monitoring Report 2008. But participation rates are rising and there was a dramatic hike in student numbers in Sub-Saharan Africa in the six years to 2005: from 2.1 to 3.5 million. Mauritius has the highest gross enrolment ratio in the region, 17%, followed by South Africa, while Nigeria's tertiary student numbers nearly doubled to 1.3 million during the six-year period.

In North Africa, where countries are classified under the Arab States region, Egypt dominates with a total tertiary enrolment of nearly 2.6 million students and a gross enrolment ratio of 34%, followed by Algeria with 755,000 students and a 20% participation ratio. Libya had the highest enrolment ratio, 56% or 375,000 students, though its latest statistics were from 2003. Next was Morocco with 367,000 students and a gross enrolment ratio of 11%.

Around 138 million students were enrolled in tertiary education worldwide in 2005, the EFA Global Monitoring Report 2008 reveals - some 45 million more than in 1999: "The vast majority of new places in tertiary institutions were created in large developing countries such as Brazil, China, India and Nigeria, where the combined total of tertiary students rose from 47 million in 1999 to 80 million in 2005," the report states.

The world gross enrolment ratio, or GER (the proportion of school-leavers in tertiary education), was 24% in Sub-Saharan Africa to 70% in North America and Western Europe. In developing countries as a whole, the participation ratio rose from 12.4% in 1999 to 16.8% in 2005.

Nigeria and South Africa account for more than half of all tertiary students in Sub-Saharan Africa - 57%. Nigerian student numbers rose from 699,000 in 1999 to 1.3 million in 2005, while in South Africa an additional 102,000 students entered tertiary education to raise the total student population to 735,000. The next biggest countries in terms of numbers were Cameroon and Ghana, with estimates of 100,000 and 110,000 students respectively.

Mauritius achieved the highest gross enrolment ratio, at 17% (17,000 students) followed by South Africa on 15% and Nigeria with 10%. Other countries with GER of 5% or above were Cape Verde (7% with 4,000 students), Cameroon (6% estimate), Namibia (6% in 2004), and Botswana, Ghana and Senegal on 5%. Gabon had a 7% GER in 1999 but no figure for 2005.

In terms of gender, there were proportionately more male than female tertiary students in Sub-Saharan Africa in 2005 - a 6% GER for men against 4% for women. One of the biggest gaps is reported in Nigeria where GER for men is stated to be 13% against 7% for women (2004).

But the story is different in several other African countries where the female ratio outstrips that of males - including in the two sub-Saharan countries with the highest participation ratios. In Mauritius, the GER for women is 19% against 17% for men while in South Africa it is 17% for women against 14% for men.

Other countries where the gender gap has been reversed are Lesotho and Namibia whereas equal proportions of men and women are enrolled in Botswana and Cape Verde. Interestingly, in the North African country of Algeria, the GER for women is 24% against 17% for men.

The report says that between 1999 and 2005, gross enrolment ratios worldwide rose from 18.3% to 24.3%: "Participation rates in higher education were on the rise between 1999 and 2005 in about 90% of the 119 countries for which data are available."

Increases of more than 10% occurred in more than 40 countries, mostly developed and middle income nations and those in transition, as well as large increases of more than 25% in several developing countries, including Cuba and the Republic of Korea. But, as the report notes: "Despite the continuing expansion of tertiary education worldwide since 1999, a relatively small share of the relevant age group has access to this level."