UK should refocus recruitment efforts in Africa

20, October, 2014

Refocussing student recruitment efforts in particular African markets, partnering with in-country agents, and competition in non-English speaking destinations were some of the issues discussed between delegates at this year’s African Student Recruitment Conference in London, UK.

Delegates come together for a group photo after a successful conference

Agents from across Africa attended the sixth annual event, organised by Worldview International Group and MGH Educonsult, with many representatives participating from schools and universities in the UK, as well as Sweden, Canada and the USA.

A recent report from the British Council, Postgraduate student mobility trends to 2024, predicted that Nigeria will become the UK’s second largest source country, but Matthew Hornshaw, Managing Director of MGH Educonsult, said he believed that UK HE institutions need to realign their strategy to Nigeria and that providers should work closely with agents and in-country partners to establish and sustain a more consistent presence in the market.

Folabi Obembe, Managing Director of Worldview International Group, also stressed that Africa is unpredictable and external factors, such as visa regulations and the Nigerian election next year, can affect source markets.

“Nigerian students will always want to come to the UK,” Obembe said. “But if the UK visa rules remain the same, where students have to return back home after they study, it's not going to help.”

Canada, which offers post-study work rights for international students, is a rising destination for students from Africa, with Obembe explaining that students stand a better chance of getting a good job if they have work experience on their CV as well as qualifications.

“Seventy per cent of students who go out to Canada would prefer to work after they study, so they can go back home with some international experience which gives them an edge over their peers,” Obembe stated.

Meanwhile, Hornshaw highlighted that the US is favoured above the UK as the most popular destination for Ghanaian students for historical reasons and due to favourable scholarship schemes that are available, and that there is a growing demand from Africa for transnational education, with an increase of approximately 50 per cent over the past four years.

Students in Africa are also beginning to look East for education towards countries such as China and India. “We've seen China competing now in West Africa for education because China has almost everything,” said Obembe. “They have the biggest industries and that’s what students have started to look at, particularly in terms of subjects like engineering.”

Although many UK schools and universities are currently imposing travel bans on West African countries due to the Ebola outbreak, Lebari Ukpong, former Nigeria Manager at London Metropolitan University, said it is becoming increasingly important for HE institutions to build their in-country presence for student recruitment by having “a mix of different types of agent”.

“If you don’t visit, you’re not going to get returns,” agreed Hornshaw, a former agent in Africa, who emphasised that schools should be open and honest with the agents they work with and to exercise “due diligence” in a two-way partnership. Other strategies for student recruitment discussed included digital marketing and alumni in Africa.

Overall, both schools and agents reported a successful event, while Obembe said, “It has been an interesting conference. We always give room for networking because we know we can't talk about the African market from one person's perspective, you have to hear from your colleagues as well. That's how you can validate whatever you've heard about Africa.”

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