International mobility of African students – Report

How many African students go abroad to study? Where do they choose to go? What higher education projects are China and other non-African countries doing on the continent? What is the state of Africa’s intra-regional student mobility?

The French government’s Campus France agency answers these and many other questions in its Note La Mobilité des Étudiants d’Afrique Sub-Saharienne et du Maghreb, which focuses on the international mobility of students from Sub-Saharan Africa and the Maghreb – with emphasis on France’s contacts and activities.

There were 380,376 African students on the move in 2010, representing about a tenth of all international students worldwide and 6% of all African students, says the note. France was the destination for the greatest share with 111,195, or 29.2% of the total.

Next were South Africa, with 57,321 (15%); the United Kingdom, 36,963, and the United States, 36,738 (9.7% each); Germany with 17,824 (4.7%); and Malaysia with 14,744 (3.9%). They were followed by Italy, Australia, Morocco and Angola.

The countries of origin of the greatest numbers of Africans studying abroad were Morocco, with 39,865 international students (10.5%); Nigeria with 34,274 (9%); Algeria with 22,465 (5.9%); Zimbabwe with 19,658 (5.2%); Cameroon with 19,113 (5%); and Tunisia with 18,438 (4.8%). Then came Kenya, Senegal, Egypt and Botswana.

As well as wanting to “widen their cultural and intellectual horizon, or find knowledge and skills to give them a competitive advantage in the job market”, African students typically leave their countries because the universities there have insufficient resources or do not offer the required education, says the note.

Those going to France represented 43% of all foreigners studying there in 2011-12. Most were from the Maghreb – led by Morocco – and French-speaking Sub-Saharan countries. Only 2.6% of Africans studying in France came from non-francophone countries.

The report notes that between 2006 and 2010 there was a fall of 1% in the number of African students enrolled in France, but a 28.8% increase in those choosing South Africa and 19.3% more studying in the UK. The US and Germany both showed a decrease, of 2.3% and 4.8% respectively.

Intra-regional influences

Within the region “three countries emerge, each exercising its influence on the countries that are geographically and culturally close”, says the note. These are:
  • • South Africa, which principally caters for students from English-speaking countries such as Zimbabwe, Namibia, Botswana and Lesotho. Advantages include less bureaucracy to obtain a visa than for European and American countries; it is less expensive than Europe; and it is “accessible, dynamic and stable”.

    Its level of development, close to that of European countries, offers interesting professional prospects for students. Its public universities are of high quality. At the University of the Witwatersrand, which specialises in engineering and technologies, 20% of students are from another African country and they include a high proportion of Francophones.

    South Africa has also developed massive online open courses, or MOOCs, and distance education programmes represent 40% of education dispensed by its universities.

  • • Morocco, which catered for 6,996 African students from abroad in 2010, has been aware for some years of the importance of attracting more foreign students. It hopes to do so by offering a high quality system, including properly accredited private institutions and branches of French and other foreign universities, at lower cost to students than in Europe, and with high potential for attracting students from Francophone countries.

    Courses are diverse, and the disciplines that are mostly chosen by students from other African countries include medicine, engineering and administration. The Agence Marocaine de Cooperation Internationale awarded grants to 6,500 students from 42 African countries in 2013.

  • • Angola, with 6,530 foreign students in 2010, caters mostly for those from its Portuguese-speaking neighbours Cape Verde and São Tomé and Príncipe, followed by students from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea-Bissau and Mozambique. It serves to fill gaps in students’ domestic higher education systems, says the note.
Mobility patterns dependent on region

Campus France divides the continent into three regions – the Maghreb and Francophone Sub-Saharan Africa, which both retain strong links with France, and the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa, which is closer to English-speaking countries such as the UK.

According to UNESCO, 10% of Moroccan and 5% of Tunisian students study in a country other than their own; “a very high rate”, says the note. By contrast, Algerian students are less mobile, their rate of 2% equal to the world average. France is their biggest destination, catering for 57% of Maghrebians studying abroad, ahead of Germany (7.7%), Spain (3.4%) and the UK (2.7%).

In 2011-12 France hosted 69,193 students from the three Maghreb countries, representing 24.1% of all international students in France, according to the French Higher Education Ministry.

Nearly 40% were enrolled for a licence (bachelor equivalent), just over half for a masters and 11% for a doctorate. More than half of the international students in France receiving a grant from the French government were from the Maghreb.

According to UNESCO, the biggest share of students from Francophone Sub-Saharan Africa – 53,814 – chose France as their study destination in 2011-12. They represented 35% of students from the region studying abroad, and 20% of foreigners studying in France, according to the ministry, with 47% registered for licence courses, 44% for masters and 9% for doctorates.

Sub-Saharan countries influenced by English-speaking countries have a very different pattern of student mobility, says Campus France. They mostly choose South Africa, the US, the UK and Australia.

The French ministry figures show that 3,279 students from non-Francophone Africa were studying in France in 2011-12, representing only 1% of foreign students there – although there was an 8.8% increase between 2009-10 and 2011-12.

Recent trends in Sub-Saharan African higher education show high growth rates in the numbers of students going to study in Italy (+54% between 2005-06), Canada (+42%) and Morocco (+50%).

Cons and pros of African university systems

While warning against generalisations, Campus France notes weaknesses in higher education common to many African countries. These include:
  • • Mismatch between the education on offer and social needs.
  • • Chronically inadequate state budgets.
  • • Blatant disparities between the provinces and urban centres.
  • • Old, dilapidated campuses coupled with expansion of student numbers.
  • • Demotivated, ageing teaching forces.
  • • Obsolete study programmes that are not adapted to the needs of society or developments in science and technology.
  • • Unplanned growth of private educational institutions.
  • • Absence of research policy.
But it also lists assets of the African university system:
  • • A wide network of higher education institutions and universities throughout the area.
  • • A high level of educational cooperation between universities.
  • • Establishment of computerisation plans in many countries.
  • • Adoption of strategic development plans in several universities.
  • • A tradition of cooperation between African universities and those in other countries such as France, Germany, Britain and America.
  • • A genuine desire by people to acquire a quality university education, leading to communities getting involved in creating and operating private institutions.
French higher education in Africa

France has strengthened its policy of higher education cooperation with Maghreb and Francophone Sub-Saharan African countries since the 1990s, with bilateral agreements between universities and internationalisation of French higher education.

A 2005 decree lays down rules and conditions under which local institutions can award diplomas to students who have studied under an international partnership.

Several kinds of partnership can be organised, with varying degrees of involvement by the state and institutions concerned:
  • • French-language courses within local universities leading to a double degree.
  • • French universities installed in Africa to strengthen political and academic links between the countries. An example is the University of Tunis Dauphine, opened in 2008, which awards diplomas recognised in France and Tunisia and benefits from contributions on campus of lecturers from Dauphine University in Paris, and the École Supérieure des Affaires d’Alger, following an agreement between the governments of Algeria and France.
  • • Distance education provided by countries including Cameroon and Senegal under the FOAD – Formations Ouvertes et à Distance – initiative of the Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie, enabling students to follow courses through digital campuses.
  • • Installation of French business schools abroad, such as l’École EuroMed in Marrakesh and BEM in Dakar, a branch of BEM Bordeaux, which saves students having to move to France to study.
  • • Universities formed by public-private partnerships, such as the Université Internationale de Rabat, a consortium of French public and private institutions and Moroccan public institutions, and the engineering institute 2IE in Burkina Faso, a public-private partnership between African states and technical, financial, scientific and academic collaborators, which specialises in water and the environment.
The presence of China

Cooperation between China and African countries started in the 1960s, but has grown in the academic and scientific fields during the past decade to become an “investment for the future” in the 2000s, says Campus France. China is Africa’s biggest economic partner, followed by France and the US.

In 2000 China announced, among other measures, the creation of cultural and linguistic centres in Africa – the Confucius institutes – and a doubling of study grants for Africans, principally in the areas of medicine, agriculture, languages, education, economics and management.

University and scientific cooperation intensified in 2009 with the adoption by China and 49 African countries of an action plan for 2010-12. This increased Chinese government grants, to 5,500 African students in 2012, established 100 joint research and development projects and strengthened the teaching of the Chinese language in Africa.

A further action plan was signed in July 2012 to cover 2013-15, providing for 18,000 student grants and development of the Confucius institutes.

There are now 387 Confucius institutes in 94 countries, 31 of which are located in universities, in Benin, Botswana, Cameroon, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Madagascar, Mali, Morocco, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa, Sudan, Togo, Tunisia and Zimbabwe.

The institutes’ priorities are to promote the Chinese language with introduction of diplomas, extend their action to primary and secondary schools, and combine Chinese language teaching with vocational education, says Campus France.

The UK and Germany in Africa

The UK and Germany are also active in Africa, says the note.

Priorities for the British Council by 2015 are to make science a common platform for collaboration and debate. It has set up the Africa Knowledge Transfer Partnerships, an action programme to promote science and innovation.

The council is also developing student skills through working in partnership with national and multinational enterprises, and professional and community bodies. An example is its work in Ghana for Tullow Oil on the company’s scholarship scheme for students from the Côte d’Ivoire, Mauritania, Senegal and Gabon.

For DAAD, the German Academic Exchange Programme, which intends to attract 350,000 international students by 2020, Africa is a region where it plans specific actions, says Campus France.

These include exchanges of personnel with universities in Sub-Saharan Africa to improve the quality and quantity of education and research in these universities, and to promote the mobility of teachers. DAAD also works with UNESCO; for example, on setting up an initiative to promote quality assurance in African higher education.

African students in France

Campus France also reports on the 126,286 Maghreb and Sub-Saharan African students who studied at French higher education institutions during 2011-12, according to the ministry. The disciplines in which most study was undertaken by these students were sciences (31%), economics (24%), arts and humanities (19%), law and political science (11%) and medicine (10%).

The note supplies country data about students and their studies in France, from Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Senegal, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon, Madagascar, Angola, Nigeria, Ghana and South Africa. It also gives details of Campus France scholarship programmes available to African students.