France remains the top destination for students from sub-Saharan Africa. 14% of students from the region study in France, ahead of the United States (10%) and South Africa (7%). This is true even despite the increasingly lively competition between old and new host countries. A new study by Campus France, “The major trends in sub-Saharan African student mobility”, deciphers the latest developments in this key region which has 430,000 students (7% of the world total).
A highly mobile student population
Students from sub-Saharan Africa are particularly mobile: 4.8% of them study abroad, compared to 2.7% on average worldwide. Sub-Saharan students abroad represent nearly 7% of all degree-seeking students abroad, while they constitute only 3.7% of all students in the world. Currently, only 9% of the college-age population is in higher education, and demographic forecasts estimate that this population will double by 2050, so the stakes involved in these issues of higher education are becoming ever more pressing.
What are the primary countries of origin for sub-Saharan students studying abroad?
Students from Nigeria are the top cohort among sub-Saharan African students studying abroad, with 71,700 students in 2020, 17% of all sub-Saharan students abroad. This number is down by 24% since 2015, however, in contrast to the general trend. Nigerian students overwhelmingly chose English-speaking countries (United States, United Kingdom, Canada).
In second and third position are students from Cameroon (27,000) and Zimbabwe (19,100), which represent 6% and 4% of sub-Saharan students respectively. Students from Cameroon generally go to Germany and France, while those from Zimbabwe go largely to South Africa. Each of these contingents has slightly increased in the last five years: +13% for Cameroonians and +13% for the Zimbabweans, which is less than the average increase of 21%.
The number of mobile students from Ghana, which has increased sharply since 2011, and from Côte d’Ivoire, which has increased substantially, grew +62% and +87% respectively in the last five years. These countries thus make up the fourth- and fifth-highest cohorts. Ghanaians study abroad mainly in the United States, while Ivorians favor France.
France, the world’s top destination for Sub-Saharan students
In 2021-2022, France welcomed nearly 92,000 students from sub-Saharan Africa, which represents 14% of international students from the region and 23% of foreign students in France. The country is particularly attractive to French-speaking students: the top 20 countries of sub-Saharan African students in France are countries where French is the language of instruction. The Senegalese remain the most numerous of sub-Saharan students in France, followed by students from Côte d’Ivoire and Cameroon. The growth in the number of sub-Saharan African students in France (+40% between 2016 and 2021) is twice as fast as that from other regions (+21% on average). These 92,000 sub-Saharan students are a majority men (56%), study at university (70%), choose scientific disciplines (32%), and enroll above all at the undergraduate level (56%).
The attractiveness of other host countries
In 2020, the United States became the second most-favored destination, overtaking South Africa and the United Kingdom thanks to a growth of 20% in five years. With 41,700 sub-Saharan students, they host 10% of the total of 430,000 degree-seeking study abroad students.
South Africa and the United Kingdom, the 3rd and 4th host countries with 30,300 and 27,800 sub-Saharan students respectively, have fewer students compared to 2015: down 14% and 9%. In the UK, this is mainly due to the drop in the number of Nigerian students (-27%). In South Africa this is due to fewer students arriving from Southern African countries.
Study abroad within sub-Saharan Africa is quite low: only 20% of sub-Saharan students choose to stay in the region. This has generated an interest in policies to promote co-constructed campus development, in order to diversify the available courses of study and offer top-quality diplomas in multiple countries. Today there are more than 400 double degree programs linking French and African universities. The goal is to double this number again, through four joint campuses created since 2018: the Franco-Ivorian HUB for education (October 2018), the Franco-Senegalese campus (June 2019) and the Université Française d’Égypte (2019).
The increased demand for studying abroad among sub-Saharan students has led to the emergence of new destinations: Canada, Morocco, Turkey, Germany and Portugal. Canada and Morocco have seen their number of sub-Saharan students increase sharply: +67% and +61% respectively in five years.
Turkey has almost tripled the number of sub-Saharan students it hosts and is experiencing the strongest growth: +183% in five years. It has thus become the 7th most-popular destination, hosting 19,700 study-abroad students in 2020. Germany and Portugal, with 18,900 and 14,900 sub-Saharan students welcomed respectively, are the 2nd and 3rd countries of the European Union.