China ramps up support for African higher education

China this week pledged to offer even more support to Africa for higher education and vocational training for development.

At the 2018 Beijing Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), the Chinese government said it will honour its previous promises and increase opportunities for Africa’s young people – and pledged to provide Africa with 50,000 government scholarships and 50,000 training opportunities for seminars and workshops. It will also invite 2,000 young Africans to visit China for exchanges.

China is the second most popular destination for African students studying abroad after France, according to UNESCO. Most of those heading to Chinese universities hail from Tanzania, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Morocco, Eritrea and Cameroon.

Research shows that African students go to China mainly to study Chinese language courses or engineering because of the availability of scholarships, affordability and quality of the programmes. They also have a chance to develop business connections in a country that is becoming a rising power.


During the 2015 FOCAC Summit held in Johannesburg, China pledged to provide 30,000 scholarships to African students by the end of 2018 and financing of US$60 billion to implement 10 cooperation plans, one of which was around higher education.

In his keynote address, Chinese President Xi Jinping said China would “fully honour” the promises made to its African brothers.

“Faced with new developments and challenges, China will continue to improve institution building, develop new ideas and expand areas of cooperation with Africa to bring our cooperation to greater heights,” he said.

He said the future of China-Africa relations lies in young people and China would provide young Africans with more training and job opportunities and open up more space for their development. He highlighted the existing higher education initiatives under the Institute of South-South Cooperation and Development, most of which concern Africa.

African leaders attending the summit included South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, Rwandan President and Chair of the African Union Paul Kagame, and African Union Commission Chair Moussa Faki Mahamat.

The summit discussed the need for more cooperation between Chinese and African universities by improving the capacity of international communication, investing in skills as well as encouraging exchange between the universities of academics and students.

Jinping also announced that 10 Lu Ban Workshops designed by the Tianjin government will be set up in Africa to provide vocational training for young Africans. Lu Ban Workshops are named after the father of Chinese architecture from around the 4th century BCE.

It is a programme designed to provide technical and vocational training, promote modern vocational education reforms, and enhance collaboration among vocational schools around the world. The Lu Ban Workshop involves two-way exchanges such as student exchange and mutual recognition of academic qualifications.

Jinping said China will launch a people-to-people exchange initiative and establish an institute of African studies to enhance exchanges. The China-Africa Joint Research and Exchange Plan will also be upgraded, he said.

Jinping said China will support the opening of a China-Africa innovation cooperation centre to promote youth innovation and entrepreneurship. A tailor-made programme will be carried out to train 1,000 high-calibre Africans.

Confucius Institutes

He urged more qualified African educational institutions to host Confucius Institutes. According to a recent news report, there are currently 50 institutes on the continent.

One of these is at Makerere University in Uganda. The Confucius Institute is a centre for promoting cultural and business ties between China and Uganda. The university recently announced that, starting August 2018/19, it will introduce a Bachelor of Chinese and Asian Studies as a three-year degree course.

Makerere University officials say this is aimed at responding to the increasing national and global demand for personnel with expertise in the Chinese language.

“It will enhance cultural understanding and enhance collaboration opportunities between the two countries,” says Lynette Otwori, a senior lecturer and trainer in management communication, protocol and etiquette at the Kenya School of Government.

Professor Oswald Ndoleriire, the Ugandan director of the Confucius Institute at Makerere University, says the programme will provide students with a certified proficiency in Mandarin and competence in understanding its linguistic, cultural and literacy aspects.

“In addition to language and intercultural competence, the programme will expose learners to the intricacies of the fastest growing region in the world, and their application to the Ugandan context,” he said.

“There is undoubtedly a heavy presence of China in Africa. The road network and other business opportunities have ensured that. Going forward, any new developments in curriculum will only help to cement the relationships being established for ease of working conditions,” said Otwori.

Students in China

Reports show that increasing numbers of African students are headed to China after receiving scholarships.

Available figures suggest that 2,400 Kenyan students are studying in China. Last year 169 Kenyan students received Chinese scholarships and departed for various Chinese cities and universities. Sun Baohong, Chinese ambassador to Kenya, said that China is one of the most favourable destinations for Kenyan students.

Last month, 69 Ugandan students won Chinese scholarships to pursue academic studies in various disciplines in China. Chinese Ambassador to Uganda Zheng ZhuQiang said that about 500 Ugandans take short-term training courses in China every year.

Since South Sudan became a nation in 2011, Beijing has offered its citizens at least 4,100 scholarships and short-term training programmes. In August 2017, the Chinese government awarded scholarships to at least 240 South Sudanese students to study undergraduate and postgraduate programmes at various Chinese universities.

Zhejiang Normal University last year set up the China-Africa Business Institute which was the first to combine training of professionals and personnel with academic research and business counselling, committed to training ‘Africa hands’ for China and ‘China hands’ for Africa.

A total of 1,019 trainees from 48 African countries have since 2007 been trained at Ningbo Polytechnic's campus in east China's Zhejiang province, which offers programmes on port and shipping management, education, and automobile maintenance.

In an online article, researchers from Michigan State University observed last year that scholarships to Africans are an extension of China’s soft power, cultivating the next generation of African scholars and elites.

“The experience that these students get in China can translate into a willingness to work with China and view China’s internal or external policies favourably in the future,” they said.

However, they observed that even then Africa stands to gain since these students must return to Africa due to the strict Chinese visa rules that do not allow them to stay. Therefore, their skills come back to Africa.