Burkina, Niger ready to support students rejected by France

Students in Burkina Faso and Niger, who have been blocked from studying in France through that country’s withdrawal of visa facilities, are being urged to consider alternative higher education options for the upcoming academic year.

With the French government standing firm over its closure of consular services in these countries, as well as neighbouring Mali, all run by military governments having poor relations with Paris, their students are running out of time to take up their places in universities in France.

The chief official of Burkina Faso’s Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research has told University World News that his government is working hard to help students whose planned university courses in France are now on hold.

This follows the French government suspending visa services for Burkinabé students who have yet to travel to France, amid declining diplomatic relations between Paris and the military government in this francophone West African country.

Other friendly countries sought

Samuel Paré, the ministry’s lead permanent official (secretary general), said that the ministry was looking to re-register Burkinabé students seeking overseas studies with “another friendly country”, with which visas can be secured.

Priority will be given to students who have been awarded scholarships by the government for overseas higher education courses, he said. “If the agreement is reached and students agree with this possibility, then they will be able to avoid losing their scholarships and spending a ‘white year’ of no education.”

As for Burkinabé researchers and lecturers planning to work in France, “we do not have the number of teachers affected, but we assure you that this kind of cooperation is not done in a vacuum. We have the opportunity to turn to the Italian, German and English laboratories,” claimed the secretary general.

Another possibility for Burkinabé students unable to take up courses in France is to switch their scholarships to higher education courses within Burkina Faso.

He said the ministry’s General Directorate of the Council for University Orientation and Scholarships (Direction Générale du Conseil à l’Orientation Universitaire et des Bourses) was ready to help such students.

Paré added that Burkinabé students seeking to study in France, who were already studying in a third country – such as Tunisia and Morocco – should not be affected and would be able to secure visas.

Relations between France and Burkina Faso have deteriorated since Captain Ibrahim Traoré seized power as a transitional president in September 2022, with French troops being withdrawn from this West African country, which has been struggling with an Islamic insurgency.

Burkina Faso expelled a French military attaché on 15 September and closed the French military mission in the capital, Ouagadougou.

Meanwhile, with the visa row further worsening relations, Paré said the higher education ministry was ready to finance Burkinabé students wanting to take courses in other countries.

“Each year, we offer scholarships for students who wish to continue their training outside, whether in African countries (Morocco, Tunisia), Canada or France. Regarding this country [France], we only issue scholarships from the masters level or the doctoral level,” he said.

Diplomatic relations collapse

In Niger, students are also being urged to consider alternatives to their planned studies in France, as this West African country also sees diplomatic relations fray because of a military takeover of the government.

A Collective of Nigerien Students Admitted to French Universities has been formed in Niger to advise students blocked from securing French visas needed to take up higher education courses in France.

One leader of the group, Hamza Issaka Uzefe, who had been planning to study law at the University of Côte d’Azur in Nice, told University World News: “We have asked each admitted student to think of a plan B so as not to miss this current year.”

The collective is warning that students should not bank on a swift agreement between the French and Nigerien authorities to resolve the problem.

With Niger still being run by Abdourahamane Tchiani, as president of the National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland, and France still refusing to recognise his government, the coalition said that a diplomatic resolution will “not happen soon”.

‘No hope’

This advice is being taken with reluctance by students in Niger. Speaking to University World News, Mahamane Eli Mahaman, a Nigerien student who had been admitted to France’s University of Grenoble Alpes, said: “Faced with the decision of the French authorities to suspend the activities of embassies, therefore to block the authorisation of visas, admitted students have no other choice than to ... think about enrolling in a university in Niger, elsewhere in West Africa or other countries which are ready to welcome us.”

Even if these tactics succeed, damage has been done, however, Eli Mahaman added, saying it was tough to talk about the consequences because each admitted person had invested time and effort in finding financial means – and energy, “because students spent an entire year working on the admission procedure”.

He told University World News: “At the beginning, we did everything to ensure that there was a diplomatic solution to our situation but, with the development of the situation, personally I have no hope,” including for any positive outcome from the Niger authorities pressuring France “to resolve this matter”.

But, he added: “We are ready to study in any foreign country if their training suits our study and professional projects.”

Fany Ouédraogo reported from Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso and Brah Souleymane from Niamey in Niger.