Sub-Saharan Africa leads enrolments in professional courses

The Sub-Saharan African region has the highest year-on-year average growth rate in the world in the number of people enrolling for professional certificate courses, a new study by a global trainer has found.

In what could position the region as the next digital skills learning hub, the survey by United States-based training and skills company, Coursera, says that demand for professional courses has been growing rapidly, at an average of 80% in the past few years.

The region, according to the 2023 Global Skills Report, witnessed the highest average growth ahead of the Asia Pacific region with growth that stands at 69%, and North America at 53%. Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, has enrolled 142,000 learners, behind the United States with 1.3 million and India with 654,000 enrolments.

The report reveals that learners in the region sought courses in business skills, noting that regional leaders needed to prioritise investments in technology and data science skills.

Some 4.9 million Africans with a median age of 34 years were enrolled in Coursera courses during the period under review, between 2019 and 2023. A total of 35% of this group were women, with access to the internet standing at 36%, while 60% of the learners were using mobile phones to study, the survey established.

Skills preferences

“Learners in Sub-Saharan Africa are more likely than learners in other regions to invest in business skills like auditing, followed by entrepreneurial skills like innovation, risk management, and investment management,” it adds.

Leading in proficiency in the courses are students from Botswana, followed by those from Rwanda, the report explains, on average scoring 100% and 94% respectively. However, it observes that technology and data science skills “present the largest opportunities for improvement throughout the region”.

The report finds that Africans are also most likely to invest in technology skills like web development and user experience and data science skills like geo-visualisation or data visualisation software.

Learners in Cameroon lead enrolling for courses in technology, while those from Zambia lead in seeking studies in data science skills, the study reports.

It praises Rwanda for investing in broadband and digital skills training in partnership with the private sector, observing that governments have the potential to “unlock new remote job opportunities for locals without them ever having to leave home”.

It explains: “Rwanda’s Ministry of Information and Communications Technology and Innovation launched the MTN Skills Academy in partnership with MTN, Africa’s largest mobile network operator, and Coursera. This programme aims to provide people in impoverished communities across Sub-Saharan Africa with free internet devices and online training for digital jobs.”

Country scores

In sampling countries, it found that Nigerians posted a “competitive” score in entrepreneurship of 51% in business courses, but performed poorly in strategy and operations courses, scoring an average of 13%, 22% in finance, and 25% in leadership and management. Nigerians also did not post impressive scores in technology and data science.

Compared to learners in other countries, the learners were mostly enrolling in business skills courses such as audit, brand management and advertising, and in leadership skills such as conflict management.

On the other hand, South Africans were achieving “competitive scores in business skills across the board”, except in finance, human resources and communication, in which they scored below 50%.

“Data science skills present an opportunity for improvement, with the highest learner score being in data management at 42%. While technology is another opportunity for improvement, here learners achieve a cutting-edge score in computer networking 84% and a competitive score in security engineering 56%.”

Like most Africans, the South Africans were found to be fond of business skills courses such as audit, investment management, innovation and risk management, and of technology skills like network architecture and computer programming.

In terms of skills proficiency, Uganda, Somalia, Sudan, Ghana, Kenya and Nigeria are at the bottom 10 of the 100 global list, while Botswana, Cameroon, Rwanda and Zambia are the highest-ranking countries at positions 29, 48, 52 and 58 respectively.

Upskilling and reskilling

“The proficiency rankings are based solely on the skills scores of learners that have completed assessments on the Coursera platform in a given country. Moreover, for inclusion in this report, a country must have at least 250 learners in at least three skill competencies per skill domain,” Kais Zribi, the general manager for the Middle East and Africa at Coursera, told University World News.

He further explained: “It’s important to note that the total number of learners per country varies, so any direct comparison of skill scores between countries should not be taken as a definitive assertion of one country’s population being more or less skilled than another.

“Nevertheless, the report offers one signal and dimension to understand the current skills proficiency and talent market in a given country. We encourage looking at reports from diverse sources to draw a holistic conclusion,” he said.

While the ranking methodology considers learners’ performance on tagged assessments, the learner skill score on the platform serves as an indicator of their proficiency in the assessed skills, he explained.

The projected drop in Sub-Saharan Africa’s economic growth to 3.1% this year, he noted, may affect the pace of skills development, and recommended prioritising the “upskilling and reskilling” for workers as an important first step in taming the effects of the slide.

By proactively investing in workforce development programmes and fostering collaboration between educational institutions and industries, employees can be equipped with the necessary expertise to adapt to changing market demands,” he added.

The strategic effort, he said, will not only enhance employability, but will also contribute to long-term economic sustainability and growth in the region.

Overall, the report is based on a study conducted in 100 countries worldwide, relying on Coursera’s registered learner base of about 124 million learners, which also found that, while low-income countries experience the greatest enrolment growth, high-income countries record the highest overall enrolments.

Skills proficiency and human capital

It established the existence of a strong correlation between higher skills proficiency and economic advances like human capital potential and innovation. Countries where learners have competitive and “cutting-edge overall skill proficiency scores also have higher average internet scores, than countries where learners have lagging and limited scores, highlighting the role of internet and online learning in driving economic growth,” it added.

“There are strong correlations between higher skill proficiency and economic advances like human capital potential and innovation. Notably, the combined average GDP per capita of countries where learners have demonstrated cutting-edge proficiency scores is roughly four times higher than that of countries where learners are falling behind in skill proficiencies.”

Online learning makes it possible for more individuals to access educational opportunities that lead to better job prospects, more so in the rising world of remote working, appreciating the role of internet and online learning in driving economic growth, it further notes.

It clarifies: “While the skill proficiencies of learners in countries correlate with positive economic indicators, they are not necessarily representative of a population within a country, given that this data can only [represent] surface trends among those who are registered learners on Coursera.”

An individual’s ability to access and use Coursera is influenced by factors including internet infrastructure, educational background or past training, and local culture or norms, it further explains.