A quick look at the top source countries for international education in most Anglophone destinations reveals the African continent substantially lags behind its Asian and European counterparts.
With a collective population of over 1.3 billion, a median age of 19.4 years, burgeoning middle classes, and developing higher education systems that have yet to match demand or need, however, Africa should be in the sights of the major destination markets.
And yet it’s not the UK or the US seeing substantial growth. Instead, China has seen a 34-fold improvement since 2003, increasing from 1,800 African students to 61,600 in 2016.
“The appetite for higher education in Africa is big, and continues to grow”
But the number of African students choosing China is only one small part of a much deeper relationship, and increased investment and collaboration will only see that develop further.
“The appetite for higher education in Africa is big, and continues to grow,” explains Stuart Rennie, managing director of SJ Rennie Consulting.
Through his UK-based consulting firm, Rennie says the past 15 years has seen distorted development throughout the continent.
“One of the key things across most of the African countries as they develop is that there’s a lack of money going into higher education and going into infrastructure,” he explains.
The lack of education investment, as well as a growing 18-to-25 year old demographic, is contributing to a growing desire from Africans to undertake overseas education. While major markets like the US or UK have always been popular, Rennie says they have lost ground recently as students become more focused on their future goals and career ambitions.
“[Students are] looking at many other options depending on what the outcomes are from their degrees, which are largely employment focused,” he says, adding China’s presence in the region through trade and infrastructure has led many students to perceive a Chinese education will improve their job prospects.
That recognition of the opportunities that stem from a Chinese education, in part, saw it overtook the US and the UK in 2014 to become the most popular English language study destination for African students, according to analysis from Michigan State University.
Additionally, Chinese government scholarships have pushed student growth, and Africans perceive China as value for money.
“The most important point is affordability,” attests Stella Kinyanjui, head of marketing at Kenyan education consultancy UniAbroad. “If you compare what African students pay in the US or UK, it is incomparable to what they pay in China,” she says.
These factors have rocketed the cohort at a rate of growth almost seven times that of total students. Representing a meagre two per cent of total international students in China in 2003, Africa now represents 14 per cent.
There are economic goals behind China’s interest in Africa which lie well beyond the immediate benefits of hosting international students.
Read more : Anton Crace : The PIE News : 30 August 2019