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Africans Look Beyond Borders for Tertiary Education

Many Africans are choosing to study abroad rather than within the confines of their country or the continent. The reasons range from lack of relevant study solutions, economic or educational needs related to employment opportunities and local political, social or economic instability. But the costs are rising at a rapid rate… 

According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Africa’s population is currently estimated to be 1.1 billion inhabitants and is forecast to rise to 2.4 billion in 2050. More than 60% of the population are under the age of 35 and less than 10% of Sub-Saharan African youth are enrolled in tertiary education.  

Although there has been an enormous increase in online education (especially in the aftermath of Covid-19) and many students are choosing to remain in Africa for tertiary education (with South Africa the preferred destination), interestingly, a study by Development Reimagined shows that a lot of Africans are choosing China for tertiary education. According to the study, between 2011 and 2016, the number of African students choosing to study abroad grew by 111% and the number of African students going to China to study grew on average 14% faster than the number of Asian students. By 2018, over 60 000 African students were enrolled in Chinese tertiary institutions, second only to France. India also showed growth with 25 000 African students studying there, according to an article published in University World News. The same article revealed that the number of South Africans deciding to study abroad was not as high as those from countries such as Nigeria, Kenya and Ghana. Nigerian students tend to favour the UK and US, with Ghana being the African country most represented by students in China. While the Development Reimagined report predicts that by 2022 Nigeria will favour China more than the UK or the US, this remains to be seen post-Covid as governments change policies on visas and entry.  


While France continues to attract many francophone Africans, China certainly represents an affordable alternative to the traditionally sought-after UK and US universities and colleges. According to the US News Best Global Universities World Report, while the bulk of the top universities are in the US and UK (institutions from over 80 countries were ranked “based on 13 indicators that measure their academic research performance and their global and regional reputation”) the costs are already exorbitant with minimum annual undergraduate course fees at a university such as Harvard, Stanford or Oxford, in the region of $30 000 to $50 000.  

If the financial implications are too severe, consider universities that offer tuition-free admission for international students. has compiled a list of 10 respected universities that currently offer admissions without tuition fees (this status may change in the future) although there are some expenses such as semester registration fees and text books, and living expenses are excluded. These include the University of Bergen and University of Oslo in Norway, University of Helsinki and Aalto University in Finland, RWTH Aachen University, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Freie Universitaet Berlin, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Heidelberg University and Technical University of Munich, all in Germany. 

The bottom line is if you’re considering sending your child overseas to study further, you need to plan well in advance. The rate at which education costs are outpacing inflation and both are outpacing increases in average salaries, and the weak currencies on the continent, means that tertiary education is already expensive and will become prohibitive in the next decade and beyond. You simply cannot start planning and saving early enough.  

  1. Do your research. Find out about the fees now and take inflation into account. Consider flights,the cost of living and other extras. Many of the university websites supply estimated costs of extras on their websites, in addition to tuition fees. 
  2. Align assets with liabilities. As you will need foreign currency to pay for tuition, it makes sense to align your assets with future liabilities, and therefore to invest offshore. Consult a financial advisor to assist in this process so that you make the best possible investment for your needs.  
  3. Investigate scholarships. Some universities and colleges are trying to attract international students. While the criteria are often demanding, it’s worth doing your homework on what is on offer. 
  4. Start early. According to Duncan Parsons, representative of Crimson Education in South Africa, which helps local learners get into the world’s top universities, you should be researching your options from Grade 9 or 10(ages 15/ 16) and planning your applications based on the institution’s requirements, for your best possible chance for acceptance. Extracurricular activities and leadership traits play an important role in applications for many of the universities too, he says.  

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