Is Africa the future for recruiting international students?

In June Akinwumi Adesina, President of the African Development Bank, delivered a statement at a meeting in Equatorial Guinea. He said: “Together and united, Africa will be unstoppable.”

New African’s editor Baffour Ankomah recently wrote: “Africa’s vast oil and mineral reserves will prove to be a conduit for investments in infrastructure, improved healthcare and educational opportunities.”

The statistics seem to back such statements up.

In 2018, six of the 10 fastest growing economies worldwide were in Africa.

Africa has the fastest-growing middle class in the world. Despite recent revised forecasts, the African economy is predicted to grow at a faster rate than many other regions.

More than 1.2 billion people currently live in Africa. By 2030, the continent’s population is estimated to be 1.7 billion and 2.2 billion in 2050. Sixty per cent of the African population (250 million people) are under the age of 25.

Despite these statistics, less than 10% of Sub-Saharan African youth are enrolled in post-secondary education.

Higher education recruitment in Africa

Twenty years ago I was enjoying breakfast at the Le Meridien hotel in Dakar and realised that I was the only non-Chinese person in the room.

China has invested heavily in Africa for decades and has continued investing through its Belt and Road Initiative. China’s African infrastructure projects include building educational infrastructure. For example, in July 2019 nine African universities signed agreements with several Chinese universities and think-tanks to conduct joint research projects and increase academic and student exchange programs.

China has overtaken the United States and the United Kingdom for the number of anglophone African students studying there.

China is not the only country investing time, talent and resources in Africa. There are approximately 25,000 African students currently studying in 500 universities in India.

However, according to a recent UNESCO report, an increasing number of African students are choosing to remain in Africa for post-secondary education. South Africa is the preferred destination. Living conditions in South Africa, along with favourable living costs and simplified visa regulations, are among the reasons for increased African enrolment in South African universities.

Eleven African recruitment recommendations

For 10 years I managed the recruitment and admission functions of Suffolk University’s satellite campus in Dakar, Senegal. We recruited students from all over Africa, enrolled students from more than 40 African countries and after two years the majority of students transferred to complete four-year undergraduate degrees either at Suffolk University in Boston or at other colleges and universities in the United States and Europe.

The students on the Dakar campus were among the best students we enrolled. My administrative experience in Dakar, while the most challenging in my career, was also the most rewarding.

However, I was often frustrated because the strategies used to implement successful international recruitment programs in other countries simply did not apply in Senegal. My African colleagues would caution: “It’s Africa.” I gradually began to realise that another set of recruitment and enrolment strategies, specific to Africa, had to be developed.

Before investing in an African strategic international recruitment plan I suggest the following:

• Be certain you know why your college or university is recruiting in Africa. Why should African students enrol in your school? Trying to communicate your differentiating value proposition is difficult. Think from the end before investing staff and financial resources.

• Select one, maybe two, countries for recruitment. Do your homework. Research the selected countries. There are education indices for every African country that can provide a useful framework to begin your research on the issues and challenges for higher education enrolment in each country. Be certain your information highlights the African country best suited for the courses or degree programs offered by your school. African graduates, like all graduates, want to leave university with a degree that can translate into employment after graduation.

• Seek the advice of your African faculty, enrolled students, parents and alumni. Why did they enrol in your school? Why do they teach at your school?

• Be certain that there is one person on your administrative team that will ‘own’ your African international strategic plan; a person who is capable and willing to travel to Africa several times a year to supervise staff, monitor progress and adjust recruitment strategies when necessary.

• Be certain you have considered the competition from all other international colleges and universities already recruiting in Africa. What can you offer African students that your competitors cannot?

• Be certain that your institution is prepared to realise no immediate financial return and be prepared to offer scholarships as part of your recruitment plan.

• Be certain that you have accurately and adequately articulated to the president, trustees, treasurer, academic deans, faculty and staff why a decision was made to recruit in Africa and what can reasonably be expected from the initiative.

• Be certain that you have developed a relationship with staff in the ministry of education who can assist you with navigating local education laws and degree regulations.

• Be certain to collaborate with a local college or university and consider two-plus-two or three-plus-one agreements as part of your recruitment strategy.

• Be certain that there is an online or MOOC component in your international strategic recruitment plan for Africa.

• Be certain to develop strategic partnerships with some multinational organisations to create a robust internship program.

Marguerite Dennis

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