Throughout most of the African continent there is a need for international education, mainly owing to a lack opportunity in their home countries. Describing the situation in South Africa, Antony Ceruti at OVC Stellenbosch in South Africa, says, “Education standards appear to be deteriorating in South Africa and study abroad will always remain of interest to those who can afford to travel.” Nosa Evbuomwan at Virtue Consultancy Services in Nigeria paints a similar picture, saying that the “poor state of our educational system in [Nigeria]” is driving demand for international education elsewhere.
Bayo Francis Ibitayo of Franice-Fort & Associates in Nigeria adds that a lack of education places at home is causing students to turn their attentions to other countries. “Many students are willing to travel abroad for study because of their inability to secure admission locally and a craving for international education is very common among the youth.”
When it comes to selecting an education destination, two major factors come into play, says Terence Ewane, Director of Alpha Study Group International in Cameroon: budgetary restraints and visa access, he explains.
“The course fee is one of the top determinant factors in choosing a study destination,” agrees Olayinka Yomi-Edun at Stephill Consults in Nigeria, “as well as security, followed by living costs.”
While financial considerations are one of the main concerns for African students looking to study abroad, the ease with which students can gain visa entry is crucial. Indeed, Ibitayo puts the blame for the 15 per cent drop in enrolments at Franice-Fort & Associates over recent years squarely on the shoulders of changes in visa policies, as does Yomi-Edun at Stephill Consults.
Ewane in Cameroon reports a downward spiral in UK enrolments, as well as France, because of visa issues, while other countries with more liberal visa regulations have benefited. “[In] September 2012, there was a drop [in demand] for the UK. The UKBA gave the list of [approved] banks for Cameroon, and students had to take time moving to recognised banks. Canada increased, over time, because of the two recent Canadian education fairs organised in Cameroon every January. UK enrolments dropped to about 25 per cent, while Canada increased to about 15 per cent. The USA is always constant but fluctuates, while France had a sharp decrease due to new ‘selective immigration’ laws,” he says.
For South African students, work rights are another major incentive for choosing one destination over another, and the changes in regulations for the UK has had a detrimental effect on demand among South Africans. Ceruti explains, “Since our currency is really weak in comparison to first-world countries, it is expensive to study and live abroad, sometimes four times as much as studying locally.” According to Ceruti, most of their students are drawn to countries where they are permitted to work while studying. This has meant that those destinations with liberal work regulations have gained in the African market, while demand for those that do not allow African students to work is almost non-existent. Because of the restrictive work regulations, OVC Stellenbosch does not partner with any Australian or US colleges.
In contrast, those countries with more liberal work regulations have gained. For example, demand for Ireland and New Zealand has grown; Ireland because of the relatively cheap cost of living and studying, coupled with the ability to obtain work rights to supplement living expenses; and New Zealand as it has similar work rights for students, and it allows those who graduate at a certain level to apply for a work visa which can lead to residency. “This is the main attraction for South Africans, who are drawn to New Zealand because of the cultural similarities and the offer of a future in a more secure country,” continues Ceruti. “Saying this, 2012 has seen a dramatic reduction in the number of students we are sending to New Zealand for two main reasons: Immigration New Zealand changed their policy in April 2012, requiring students to study for two years - previously it was one year - at diploma level before they are eligible for the graduate work permit. New Zealand is also expensive and the rand has recently weakened significantly to the NZ dollar.”
Confirming the sensitivity of the African market, Jorge Baron at Destination Australia, based in South Africa, reports that the strength of the Australian dollar and changes to migration laws have had a “big impact” on recruitment from Africa. This comes at a time when African enrolments, albeit making up a relatively small part of the Australian market, have been showing some growth. “Nigeria did have an increase in commencements over last year and I know there has been steady enrolments from Kenya, Mauritius, Zimbabwe and South Africa,” reports Baron. “I think there has also been growing interest in the mining-related course areas offered by many Australian institutions on the West Coast.”
As a direct result of difficult visa entry regulations and restrictive study costs, alternative destinations are catching the eye of African students. While 85 per cent of Ewane’s students are French-speaking, some do meet the English language requirements to study in the UK, Canada and the USA. But increasingly they have been favouring Hungary as a study abroad destination. “The reason is their ease to enter the Schengen region, which has easy visa [regulation rules] and a low cost of living and tuition.”
Ibitayo reports that their top destinations last year were Turkey, Cyprus, India, Russia and the Ukraine, as well as the UK, Canada, USA and Australia. The newer destinations have benefited because of the ease of obtaining a visa and the low cost of living, says Ibitayo. While Yomi-Edun notes the Ukraine has benefited as a study destination, while demand for the UK has declined.
In terms of course demand, as well as mining-related courses, Ewane mentions that there has been a surge in interest in courses relevant to international business, particularly the oil and gas industry. “Many oil wells have been discovered in African countries recently and many western companies coming to Cameroon need highly trained [employees].”
Ibitayo in Nigeria highlights computer science, engineering, business administration, medicine and information technology as being most popular among their students.
Although hampered by visa regulations in some countries and economic issues at home, the African market holds considerable potential. “I do believe that as economics grow in resource-rich countries in Africa like Angola and Nigeria, for example, there will be more demand for education abroad in the future,” says Baron.
African agent usage
Whether African students use education agents or book independently is largely dependent on Internet connectivity and reliability, according to a British Council report entitled, ‘Why students use agents’, published at the end of 2011. If they had access to a reliable Internet service they were more likely to book directly.
Another issue that dictated whether students would use an education agent was the reputation for agents in the region. There has been considerable negative publicity in recent years surrounding the high number of fraudulent applications from education agents acting on behalf of students from African countries, who have allegedly been trying to gain access to loans and benefits fraudulently or gain residency through the back door. “The reputation of education agents has suffered as a result of this controversy, and institutions and students are reportedly wary of having applications denied as a result of being suspected as fraudulent,” the report said.
None of the African agents interviewed for this article dealt with scholarships directly. Olayinka Yomi-Edun at Stephill Consults says, “We do not arrange scholarships apart from reductions given by the institutions, rather we ask students to contact the British Council on available scholarships.”
A slightly higher proportion of Kenyan, Nigerian and Ugandan respondents said they were more likely than not to use an education agent. But a slightly higher proportion said they would not among Zimbabwean and Ghanaian students. Interestingly, in Nigeria, a relatively high proportion over 60 per cent of students wanting to study veterinary science said they would use an agent, much higher than the 40-to-50 per cent of students applying for other subjects.