This week Folabi Obembe, Founder of Worldview International Group and pioneer of Findadmission.com online student recruitment portal, discusses student recruitment in Africa.

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Understanding the motivations behind African student mobility is key to successful marketing in this region.

As Africa’s economies continue to develop at rapid rates, the demand for international education in Africa too has continued to grow and Africa has become an increasingly attractive market for international student recruiters. While more and more institutions choose to engage with the African market, marketers and recruiters cannot forget to pause and ask why: Why are an increasing number of Africans choosing to study abroad rather than at home? What is the driving force behind this mobility and what are the factors affecting it? Where does the future lie for African student recruitment?  Not until we understand the whys can we truly understand, predict and therefore be properly prepared for the African market.

Africans choose to study abroad for many reasons, ranging from the inability of developments in the education sector to keep up with the economic development in some countries, leading to a shortage in quality education; to a lack of stability in a particular country; to limited access to domestic universities; to a quest for better prospects in their desired industry through gaining instruction and experience abroad and more. Recruiters are reaping the benefits of the challenges facing African students and their continent, but not all of them have a full understanding of why these students are choosing to leave home.

We cannot take it for granted that Africans will always seek a better education in the traditionally popular study destinations. As destinations like Asia and Canada (which has seen a 42 % increase in African students since 2006 while the UK saw a 19% increase and the US a 2% fall, according to a recent Campus France study) begin to grow in popularity among African students, and Africa itself continues to be a competitor (South Africa is still the number one study destination for Anglophone international African students), institutions must take a look at their marketing strategies. They must research the African market and understand the motivations behind African student mobility in order to ensure that they are meeting the demand and adapting their strategies to the changing landscape of the African market.

An interesting question was put forward at the African Student Recruitment Conference in Wembley last year; recruiters were asked if they could list at least four unique selling points for their institution other than the usual quality and ranking, location and facilities. Surprisingly, only a few were able to mention four truly unique selling points and only a few of those points were specific to the needs of African students. It is important, for example, for a recruiter to be aware of how the oil and gas sector boom in Africa (and the subsequent booms in accompanying sectors) has affected African student mobility in order to use that knowledge to their marketing advantage. It would also be important for a recruiter to know that there are job shortages facing even the well educated in Ghana, for example, and know that what many students need is more than just a degree from a well-ranked institution, but real-world experience as well. In fact, many consider having real-world experience as more important than the popularity or ranking of the school which they attend. Such a recruiter will know to emphasise work placement opportunities, corporate partnerships and adept career centres over facilities and ranking when recruiting in these areas.

There is no doubt the African market is a valuable one which will surely continue to grow over the next few years. As competition in this market continues to intensify, understanding these students’ motivations and needs as practical decision makers within a dynamic landscape and adapting one’s marketing strategies to those dynamic needs is one way to stay ahead in Africa.

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