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Recruiting Intelligence

International Student Recruiting in Africa Part I: Africa’s Competitive Edge


Have you been to Nairobi? Vibrant city there. International student recruiting options? Yeah, worth evaluating.

There are a number of African countries that interest us as potential international student recruiting pools. Like other regions of the world, many countries here are experiencing very recent economic pain due to dropping oil prices. In addition, competition is growing from a number of higher education institutions within Africa – primarily in South Africa.

This continent is a difficult territory to navigate as a student recruiter. And given some of the recent increases we’ve seen in international student mobility from some regions on this continent, we wanted to see what we could learn. And of course, we wanted to share that with you.

Today and for the next two weeks, we share insights in our three-part series about recruiting from select markets in Africa. Part I, below, provides a larger picture of Africa and the trends of international students studying abroad. Parts II & III will take a deeper dive country focus on Nigeria and Kenya and the potential for recruiting international students from those countries, as well as tips on how to reach them using the most promising marketing channels we could identify.

The Bottom Line: The reality is that many other destinations are more sought by your U.S. recruiting colleagues. African markets are less so. And therein lies the opportunity. The less traveled path represents the less competitive path. Consider how nice it would be to be among the top ranked universities at a college fair. Is that possible for your institution in Beijing? There are market opportunities and then there are market opportunities. Depends on who you are and what you are willing to put into the hunt for international students.

Let’s find out what Emily, our American international student stationed in Leiden, Netherlands, can teach us about this vibrant part of the world.

When considering student recruitment in Africa, it is essential to look at the mobility trends. Though it may come as a surprise, in Africa, the U.S. is falling far behind. Not a trend matched in other regions of the world.

According to Wittenborg University in the UK and Campus France research, in 2010, 380,376 African students chose to study abroad. These students account for almost 10% of the world’s international students. France holds a solid share of this market. The 2010 research indicates that 29.2% of students from African countries elected to go to France. Fifteen percent of these African students were from South Africa alone. Of course language skills are a significant factor here. With so many African regions relying on French as one of their primary languages, France is an obvious destination for continued and advanced studies.

U.S. and UK universities rank third in attracting African students to their campuses. Both hold around 9.7% share of the market. We can certainly see some room for improvement here. Industry growth in select African markets make skills in English as well as business, engineering, medicine, sciences and other degree paths attractive and valuable. That said, China is an ever increasing business partner to many African nations and while still a small percentage overall, a growing number of international students from Africa are seeing career opportunities by studying in China and learning Chinese. While we don’t yet have any figures on this, it is a trend worth watching.

Let’s take a closer look at the U.S. as a study destination for African students. Competitive disadvantages: competing with France for French-speaking students and the difficulty in getting a student visa as compared to highly popular student destination: South Africa. So what is a U.S. university to do to attract students from African countries?

First, let’s look at the figures available. The U.S. Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) is a great indicator of international student interests. There’s only one reason an international student takes this exam and that is to support an application to a U.S. university. The College Board reports that from 2010 to 2015, there was a compound annual growth rate of 3% in Sub-Saharan African students sending their SAT scores to U.S. universities and a 9% growth rate among Middle Eastern and North African students. Increasing student interest suggests opportunity to us. Are there lists worth buying here? Something to consider.

The College Board also reports that North and Sub-Saharan African students’ SAT scores closely rival, if not pass, those of students in many other common recruiting regions including Europe and South and North America. Based on these test results, the academic abilities of applicants from African countries are on par with the rest of the world. Checkmark number two: academic ability.

North and Sub-Saharan African countries have great potential for international student recruitment. IIE’s 2015 Open Doors regional fact sheets tell us that the number of students from North Africa in the U.S. increased by 7% to nearly 7,000 students and the number of students from Sub-Saharan Africa increased by 8% to nearly 34,000 students.

In the next two weeks, we will explore recruiting from the two largest sending countries in Africa:

  • Nigeria -- 9,494 students to the U.S. in 2015
  • Kenya -- 3,072 students to the U.S. in 2015

These two countries have very different stories and their pace of sending students to the U.S. differs dramatically in recent years.

There are opportunities here and we want you to find them for your institution. Let us know what your past experience has been when recruiting from African countries. And stay tuned for more insights…