Very low numbers of African graduate students in US

Only some 4,600 students from Sub-Saharan Africa were admitted to postgraduate courses in the United States last year, according to the Council of Graduate Schools. Students from the region comprised only 2% of 215,156 foreign students offered postgraduate places in 793 universities and colleges across America.

By contrast, 6% of international postgraduate students in the US were from the Middle East and North Africa.

The survey released last month and titled International Graduate Applications and Enrollment: Fall 2015 was conducted by Hironao Okahana, the Council of Graduate Schools’ director of statistical analysis, and Jeff Allum, policy research and assistant vice-president of research and policy analysis .

It provides a snapshot of the ongoing global competition to acquire skills and knowledge at the highest level – with Sub-Saharan Africa not about to catch up with race leaders China, India and South Korea.

The African and Arab participation was in sharp contrast to the large 38% of postgraduate students from China and 33% from India. “Overall Asia accounted for 81% of all foreign and migrant students that joined postgraduate studies in the US,” reported Okahana and Allum.

The 4,596 students from Sub-Saharan Africa offered positions to study for masters, PhD and other postgraduate diplomas and certificates compared to 74,317 from China, 64,440 from India, 11,831 from North Africa and the Middle East, and 5,971 from South Korea.

The Council of Graduate Schools' study is designed to capture information about application counts and offers of admission, as well as first-time and total graduate enrolment of international students for each autumn admission cycle.

The researchers defined an international, foreign or migrant student as a person who was not a citizen, national or permanent resident of the US, was in the country on a student visa or on a temporary basis, and did not have the legal right to remain indefinitely. It did not count undocumented students, individuals with deferred action status or refugees.

Myth busting

The survey bust the myth that international students in search of postgraduate education in the US are mostly in doctoral programmes.

Of the 215,156 foreign and migrant students offered postgraduate places by participating institutions, only 40,892 qualified for admission to doctoral studies, accounting for 19% of all admitted students compared to 81% for masters degrees and postgraduate certificates.

According to Okahana and Allum, graduate institutions that participated in the survey received a total of more than 1.6 million applications last year.

“Of those, 786,363 applications, or 47%, were submitted by prospective international students, but only 215,156, accounting for 35% of the total applications, were successful,” they said of the survey administered between 29 September and 26 October 2015.

The large number of international students in masters programmes is the result of a rise in one-year masters that provide lower-cost pathways to postgraduate education in the US.

Although the demand for these programmes is currently being underpinned by increasing applications from students from China and India, there are indicators of growing interest in them among students from Sub-Saharan Africa.

The Africa numbers

According to the survey, 16,724 students from Sub-Saharan Africa applied for postgraduate studies and 64% of them were interested in masters programmes while 34% had shown interest in doctoral degrees.

The situation was different among students from the Middle East and North Africa, where there were 51,791 applicants and 57% were interested in joining doctoral studies.

Finally, 3,630 international students from Sub-Saharan Africa, accounting for the 79% of successful applicants, were selected to join masters programmes and 966 (21%) qualified for doctoral studies. From the Middle East and North Africa region, out of 11,831 successful applicants, 6,980 students (59%) qualified for masters programmes.

According to Okahana and Allum, the rate of growth for international graduate admissions, especially from Sub-Saharan Africa, has slowed down.

“Final applications and first-time enrolment of international graduate students in the US increased by 3% and 5% respectively between the fall 2014 and fall 2015 admission cycles, while in the prior cycle they rose by 10% and 8%,” said the researchers in the current survey.

All international students

According to statistics released last November by the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System, or SEVIS, established under the US Department of Homeland Security, 77% of all international students in the US are from Asian countries, followed by 8% from Europe, 6% from North America, 4% from South America, 4% from Africa and 1% from Australia and the Pacific Islands.

While international student numbers from Sub-Saharan Africa have stagnated, the numbers of students from China and India have been rising. “Thirty percent of all foreign and migrant students in the US originate from China, followed by 12% from India,” noted the SEVIS quarterly review of international students.

What is also not about to change is the small number of students from Sub-Saharan Africa taking degrees in science, technology engineering and mathematics – STEM – fields.

According to the SEVIS quarterly issued last November, 23% of foreign and migrant students from Africa are enrolled in programmes for engineering and health professions and related programmes as compared to 84% of students from India.