International African students in France – A profile

France retains the top position globally for African students studying degree programmes abroad, although numbers have declined sharply with 92,205 enrolled in 2013 compared with 113,936 in 2012 – a drop of 19% – according to UNESCO figures reported in a new study from Campus France, the agency that promotes French higher education globally.

The Note La Mobilité Internationale des Étudiants Africains suggests that a change in counting, especially for non-French students already living in France, explains the sudden fall.

French education ministry statistics, including non-degree courses, “registered a stabilisation of the population of African students choosing France at around 130,000 students between 2011 and 2015, technically reducing the share of African students among the foreign students in France (42.5% in 2015 versus 44.3% in 2010)”, says Campus France.

The study includes a focus on France vis-à-vis Africans going to study there. It finds that:
  • • Africa clearly remains the biggest continent of student mobility to France, accounting for 43.2% of foreign students there in 2015-16, a slight reduction from 44% in 2010.
  • • The majority of students from North Africa remains stable – 53% of all African students in France.
  • • Apart from Algeria and Tunisia, whose international student numbers fell during the ‘Arab Spring’, African student numbers from almost all principal countries rose during the period under review, except for Mauritania which fell sharply, Cameroon which seems to be stabilising after a period of decline, and Senegal which picked up in 2015.
African students are more likely (78%) than other foreign students (73%) to enrol in universities, where fees are much lower than other kinds of institutions; in 2015-16, 104,180 African students were enrolled in French universities.

In comparison, 7,244 (5.4%) attended engineering schools, and 6,514 (4.9%) business schools.

African students accounted for 6.3% of all university students in France; 5.1% of engineering students; and 4.7% of business school students.

But Campus France notes big variations in the kinds of institution attended by different nationalities. Those from Djibouti, Libya, Guinea and Algeria are 90% or more likely to enrol in universities.

Moroccans, Cameroonians and Tunisians are more highly represented in engineering schools than other nationalities; while business schools attract a higher proportion of South Africans, Nigerians and Kenyans – “three ‘Anglo-Saxon’ countries whose students have seen the pioneering efforts of these schools to develop courses in English and develop student exchanges”, noted Campus France.

Nearly one in two African students (48.3%) is enrolled on a masters course; 44% are studying for a licence (bachelor equivalent); and 7.7% for a doctorate.

On courses chosen by African students, Campus France notes that:
  • • Sports sciences alone is taken by 37,639 African students, a 10.6% increase over five years.
  • • About 24,000 (23%) study economics or economic and social administration or management programmes, a drop over five years of 5.6% which is sharpest at doctoral level where they have fallen by a third.
  • • Languages, arts and human sciences courses are taken by 21,322 African students (23%), a 10.6% increase since 2010, highest at masters level (+22.6%) – despite a 22.9% fall in doctoral students.
  • • Law and political science enrolments number 12,272 (11.8%), an increase of 12% since 2010 at bachelor and masters levels, but not at doctorate level (-14.6%).
  • • 8,911 (8.6%) African students have chosen medicine, which has declined by 21% in five years, with an increase only at licence level.
What do African students think of France?

Campus France interviewed nearly 1,800 African students in receipt of grants, two-thirds still in the country and one third who had completed their stay. It found that:
  • • Among those still studying, many were unsure of their future career and only 54% had a good idea of what they hoped to do.
  • • The majority did not think studying abroad meant definitively leaving their home country – only 22% had plans to work abroad, while 17% were firmly opposed. Six out of 10 were open to an international job but only if the offer was really good. Professionally, 63% thought they could succeed as well in their own country as abroad, and 14% thought their own country offered the best prospects.
  • • Reasons why students decided to study abroad included better education (68%) and wanting to follow a course not available in their home country (47%). Half thought that gaining a degree abroad would make it easier to find a job, and had looked for a place at a well ranked, prestigious institution. While 32% said they wanted to travel, very few made it a firm criterion, and hardly any thought studying abroad was a good way of finding a job abroad.
  • • Before they left home, 53% said they were apprehensive about studying abroad, especially women (58% versus 41%).
  • • Although they had managed to do so, 66% thought it was difficult for students from their country to come to study in France – and 16% thought it was very difficult – mainly because of problems getting a visa (64% of all questioned), cost of living (61%) and difficulties preparing the administrative paperwork.
Advantages of France for the students interviewed included the prestige of French degrees; its touristic interest; and family or friends living there. But the country was less successful in satisfying student expectations about finding a job after or during their studies.

Campus France found that 12% of African students thought France was less attractive than they expected, 33% thought it was better and 38% thought it was the same. Just over two-thirds judged their stay in France to be better than they imagined it would be, and 6% were disappointed.

While 28% admitted they had chosen France after being unable to access another country, very few would advise against it as a place to study, even if 39% cited some drawbacks compared with 60% who would recommend it unreservedly, said Campus France.

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