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How (And Where) To Study Overseas

Studying abroad may seem like an unachievable dream, but more and more African students are doing it. The secret to affording an overseas education lies in saving – and starting that saving early. 

The list of Sub-Saharan Africa’s major exports has a surprising (if overlooked) inclusion: students. The region’s tertiary students are the most mobile in the world, with 5% of the continent’s 8,1 million studying in a foreign country (compared to the global average of 2.4%). A recent report by Campus France suggests that that number will continue to rise as the total student population reaches 22 million by 2027. 

Most of those outbound students come from countries like Nigeria, Cameroon, Zimbabwe, Ghana, Angola, Sudan, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Kenya.  

Where are they going to study? According to Development Reimagined, China is now the most popular overseas destination for Africa’s international higher education students, followed by France, the United States and the United Kingdom.  

China’s increase in popularity is quite startling. In 2003 there were fewer than 2 000 African students there; by 2021 that total is expected to be as high as 175 000.  

There are multiple reasons for China’s emergence as the top destination for foreign students. On one level, there are the usual attractions of experiencing a new culture, a new environment, and a new way of learning – all of which give the student a global mindset. 

What also helps is that China recently relaxed its work permit laws for post-graduates, in part for purposes of diplomacy and to improve the international ranking of its universities. This has enabled some African students to stay in China after their studies to live and work. In countries like the UK and United States, meanwhile, that’s became a lot more challenging in recent years.  

Many African students who study abroad stay in Africa, with many attractive options to choose from. While most of the continent’s top universities are based in South Africa, other regions have plenty to offer, too. According to the 2021 QS World University Ranking, Africa’s top varsities were the Universities of Cape Town (global rank 220), Wits University (403), The American University in Cairo (411), University of Johannesburg (439) and Stellenbosch University (456). Uganda’s Makerere University, the University of Ghana and the University of Nairobi also featured on the list, albeit much further down the rankings. 

In 2019, UCT’s BA degree cost R56 320, their BCom R68 135, and their BSc R62 186 per annum – and that’s before you factor in residency fees (which are about the same as those tuition costs) and the cost of living as a student overseas. By comparison, depending on the institution and the subject, students at Chinese universities can expect to pay between CNY11 500 to CNY21 000 (about R26 500 to R48 000) per academic year. 

For many African parents, sending your children to study at a top overseas university is an ambition that seems too expensive. “Most people think it’s such a big hill to climb that they just don’t start,” says Mike Fannin, Senior Wealth Specialist at Carrick. His advice is to simply start climbing that savings hill, step by step. 

“Start with taking some of the money you currently spend on luxuries and put it aside towards your savings plan,” he says. “It’s often the small adjustments you make along the way that can mean the difference between having enough or falling short when the time comes to pay for education. There’s a lot to get ready for, and the best time to start is now.”

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