France eyes students outside traditional African markets

Some of the French universities that are recruiting students in Africa will accept them based purely on merit, irrespective of the region they come from or the international language they speak back at home.

These universities are indiscriminate about whether the students come from French- or English-speaking regions of the continent, instead going only after those with excellent qualifications, as they seek to spread their source markets deeper into anglophone Africa.

The institutions operating under the auspices of Campus France, a public agency that promotes international study in France, have changed their approaches to Africa, marketing themselves equally as ideal destinations in anglophone and francophone regions of the continent.

This is a shift from previous recruitment practices when French institutions preferred students from West and Central African countries, plus the former North African colonies of Morocco and Algeria as the main source markets for students, said Matthieu Bragato, the marketing manager of Campus France’s African unit.

Now, universities are rather going after quality students, choosing the most qualified, irrespective of the region of the continent they came from, he explained.

This, he said, was the number one priority for the universities, followed by the need to grow the numbers of international students choosing France as their study destination.

By insisting on prioritising excellence over other considerations, including regional international languages, all students get an equal chance to enrol in French universities, he told a ‘Choose France’ event on 7 and 8 November in Nairobi, Kenya, attended by 12 French universities. This also applied in terms of obtaining study visas, he said.

The institutions represented at the event provide engineering, business and science education.

Visa rejections

The shift also comes at a time when France has fallen out of favour with many countries previously in its sphere of influence. Some of these weakened diplomatic relationships deteriorated further when, in September, France suspended student mobility with Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso, citing security concerns, and told new students from those countries who were about to start studies in France that they may not come, after all.

In addition, murmurs of rising visa rejections for francophone African students have been another concern for prospective international students.

However, according to Bragato, visa rejections (in general) can only be blamed on the shift in favour of quality and excellent students over language and numbers. It can also be blamed on rising numbers of applications, as “international study got more popular”, he noted.

While the majority of African students who choose the European country as their study destination still come from francophone Africa, making the destination better known and understood in English-speaking countries of the continent was among the top priorities of the state agency, he explained.

“Currently, we want to reach more English speakers; we want them to know us better and this is a priority for us, but may not have been the case 20 years ago. The message we are sending is that you do not have to speak French to study in our universities,” he remarked.

“We are not saying that it is not important or necessary to know or be proficient in French, it is good for everyday [communication] while studying in France, [but] what we are saying is that you can still study, even if you do not know the language, and there is a wide range of programmes to choose from. Studying in France is a great opportunity to also learn the language,” he told University World News.

In addition, French universities were charging ‘attractive’ fees of as low as €2,770 (about US$2,966) a year for bachelor degrees, €3,770 for masters degrees a year, and €380 a year for PhDs. On the other hand, tuition fees in private institutions ranged from €5,000 for a year of study.

This was besides having some of the top-ranked universities globally in France – with at least four of them being consistently ranked in the top 100 list by various rankings.

These were some of the French institutions’ attractive features compared to the North American destinations of the United States and Canada, or the United Kingdom and Australia, preferred by English-speaking speakers.

France, he said, was also keen on developing partnerships between its universities and those from English-speaking Africa, for purposes of diversifying collaborations. It was also keen on “cross mobility” partnerships, especially with regard to students.

Reciprocal recognition

According to the French ambassador to Kenya, Arnaud Suquet, besides being more “affordable than many places”, France also offered various scholarships and partnerships that helped with the burden of tuition fees.

“We are looking forward to reciprocal recognition of qualifications between us and Kenya and for opportunities for growth between local universities and French institutions such as SciencesPo. We are glad that, so far, 50 different partnerships currently exist between our institutions and Kenyan ones,” he further disclosed.

With 250 Kenyans studying in the country, he said, there was a chance for improvement and to raise the numbers by “making our case better understood by local students”, he told the event.

According to Mike Kuria, the CEO of Kenya’s Commission for University Education, Kenya was keen on reciprocal partnership with France with regard to student mobility going both ways.

It was also keen on making the transfer and exchange of credits, drawing on its experience for driving the process of the East African common higher education area, and the preceding harmonisation and recognition of qualifications.

During the 2021-22 academic year, some 400,000 foreign students were studying in France, 23% or about 92,000 from the Sub-Saharan Africa region.

Overall, Morocco has the highest number of students (46,371) who are studying in France, followed by Algeria with 31,000 students, ahead of China and Italy. From Sub-Saharan Africa, Senegal has the highest number of students in France, ranking number five globally. Tunisia, Ivory Coast and Cameroon are also in the top 10 global list of countries sending students to France.

Campus France operates 275 offices in 134 countries, 35 of them in Sub-Saharan Africa, and managing to reach some 60,000 students annually.

As part of its mandate in 2022, it issued some 25,000 different categories of scholarships globally – 4,900 going to students from Sub-Saharan Africa.