Mobility of African students – Europe losing ground

Students from Africa account for more than one in 10 students worldwide studying abroad – a mobility rate twice as high as the global average – with about a fifth from North Africa, and more than a half from countries where French is spoken. Half choose Europe as their study destination, but Europe is losing ground to other African countries and the Middle East.

These are among findings in the Note La Mobilité Internationale des Étudiants Africains by Campus France, the agency that promotes French higher education to attract foreign students.

Campus France drew on existing UNESCO statistics, referring to 2013, and newer 2015 figures from the French government.

African student mobility – The figures

In 2013, UNESCO calculates that 373,303 African students were studying in a country other than their own, representing about 10.5% of global student mobility.

The number of these students fell by 10% from 2011, when they numbered 412,516, while global mobility rose by 2.6%. So the percentage of Africans studying abroad is gradually declining, accounting for 10.6% in 2011 compared with 13.7% in 2003, reported Campus France.

However, it said, in spite of this fall the Sub-Saharan Africa student mobility rate of 3.5% is twice as high as the world average.

For some, studying abroad can result from a wish to be open to the world, while for others it is necessary to find work abroad because there are no opportunities at home.

Middle Eastern countries have recently grown in popularity following a specific offer of study grants at Islamic universities, while in ‘extreme’ cases such as Somalia and Eritrea studies abroad can provide an opportunity to escape economic crisis, famine or armed conflict, says the Note.

The 12 leading destination countries for African students abroad in 2013 were: France (92,205 students, 26.5%); South Africa (33,053, 9.5%); United Kingdom (32,454, 9.3%); United States (32,212, 9.3%); Germany (13,915, 4%); Saudi Arabia (12,728, 3.7%); Canada (11,640, 3.4%); Malaysia (11,270, 3.2%); Ghana (10,009, 2.9%); Italy (8,964, 2.6%); Australia (6,976, 2%) and Morocco (6,958, 2%).

Geographically, 170,432 African students came to the 28 European Union countries (49.1%), followed by African countries other than their own (69,226 or 19.9%); North America (43,852 or 12.6%); Middle East (22,179 or 6.4%); Asia (18,527 or 5.3%); the rest of Europe (9,224 or 2.7%); Oceania (7,386 or 2.1%); and South and Central America (6,496 or 1.9%).

In an inquiry into the home countries of 354,995 African students, UNESCO found that 76,183 (21%) were from North Africa and 278,812 from Sub-Saharan Africa. And among Africa’s 51 states, more than half of students studying abroad were from just seven countries. These were:
  • • Nigeria’s rate of international student mobility increased by 45% in three years to 52,066 in 2013, equal to one mobile student in every six.
  • • Morocco, with 38,599 students abroad in 2013, lost its former first place following a drop of 6% over three years, and 8% in the last year.
  • • Algeria had 20,695 students studying abroad following a 10% rise between 2009 and 2012 but a 14% fall in 2013.
  • • Cameroon’s student numbers abroad declined by 6% from 20,801 in 2012 to 19,491 in 2013.
  • • Tunisia registered 16,889 students abroad in 2013, a drop of 2% in a year and 12% in three years.
  • • Zimbabwe’s number of students abroad fell sharply by 24%, from 19,965 in 2009 to 15,227 in 2012, but increased slightly in 2013 to 15,885.
  • • In 2013, 12,132 Kenyan students were studying in other African countries (3.4%), down 1% compared with 2010.
The language factor

Campus France reports that 192,829 (54%) of mobile African students are from countries where French is commonly spoken, an increase of 5% in three years; 166,669 (45%) are from Anglophone countries; and 15,393 (4%) are from nations where Portuguese is spoken (the percentages total more than 100% because some countries are multilingual).

English-speaking study destinations are slightly more attractive to students than Francophone ones (41.1% to 37.4%), with Portuguese-language destinations only 1.9%. Other principal study destinations are Germany (4%), Saudi Arabia (3.7%) and Italy (2.6%).

French-speaking and English-speaking destination countries attract between them about two-thirds of African students, with 16% of Francophone students going to an Anglophone country – notably South Africa, the United Kingdom or United States – and 15% of English-speakers choosing a French-language one.

Portuguese-speaking countries, predominantly Portugal and Brazil, attracted only 7% of students.

Of the 187,542 students from Francophone African countries, 63.6% choose a French-speaking country, mostly (48.3%) France. So 98% of African students who study in France are from countries where French is a common language, says the Note.

Of the 153,827 students from Anglophone African countries, 65.3% go to other English-language countries, again essentially South Africa, the UK or the US, and 15% study in a Francophone country, including 6,807 in France.

Preferred destinations

Although the mobility of African students remains concentrated, there seems to be a “rapid movement of diversification” of chosen destinations, says Campus France.

“In 2013, just three countries attracted 45% of these students (France, United Kingdom, South Africa), but there has been a big fall compared with the previous year (54%). Two-thirds of the mobility is concentrated on seven countries, and three-quarters on 10 destinations (compared with five and seven destinations in 2012).

“At the wider level of zones of migration, although it is still the leader, the European Union registered a drop of at least 22,000 students, from 57.4% to 49.1%, between 2012 and 2013,” says the Note.

While North America remained stable at 12.6%, the Middle East benefited from this redistribution, with a “spectacular” increase of 85% in one year, to 22,179 African students, says Campus France.

Another trend is mobility within Africa, with an increase in share from 14.7% to 19.9%, and with internationally mobile students from Lesotho (93%), Swaziland (89%), Namibia (83%), Zimbabwe (74%) and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (57%) studying in another country on the continent.

African countries that are benefiting most from this evolution are South Africa (48%), Ghana (14%), Morocco (10%) and Tunisia (7%).

But students from some other countries – 99% of Moroccans and Algerians, 98% of Tunisians and Somalians, 96% of Sudanese, and 95% of Ethiopians, South Africans and Eritreans – choose to change continents.

Campus France notes that China does not publish the number of African students studying there, though it has created Confucius Institutes in five African countries to develop Chinese language teaching and is encouraging student mobility to China.

* This article is one of two reporting on the new Campus France study. Read the other article here.