A recent study released by Campus France predicts that the number of outbound Sub-Saharan African students could double to more than 850,000 by 2050.

The Campus France report highlights that the number of outbound students from Sub-Saharan Africa increased by 21% between 2016 and 2021. While Europe is the destination for 27% of these students, at a country level, France plays host to the greatest number of students from Sub-Saharan Africa, with 92,000 students.

According to Campus France, the number of Sub-Saharan African international students in France increased by 40% between 2016 and 2021. Currently, with 15,264 students, Senegal has the highest number of outbound students from Sub-Saharan Africa in France followed by Côte d’Ivoire (10,725) and Cameroon (9,037). Other countries with more than 5,000 students studying in France are Congo (6,864), Gabon (5,687) and Benin (5,072).

After France, the next most popular countries for students from Sub-Saharan Africa, are the United States (41,700), South Africa (30,300), and the United Kingdom (27,800). However, Turkey and Morocco are fast becoming popular destinations with both countries experiencing significant growth. Turkey, with 19,700 students, had a 183% increase between 2016 and 2021, and Morocco, which hosts 19,874 students from Sub-Saharan Africa, had an increase of 67% in the same period.

Why France?

Campus France suggests that France is an attractive destination for students from Sub-Saharan Africa because of the quality and lower cost of the country’s universities and other tertiary institutions. France’s ties with its former colonies mean that many countries in the region share the French language, so students are less likely to have to navigate language barriers.

What’s driving this growth?

Capacity issues in home countries are a driver of much of this growth – there are high levels of unmet demand for higher education in many countries in the region.

With 70% of Sub-Saharan Africa aged under 30, Africa has the youngest population in the world and the world’s fastest-growing university-aged population. A World Bank report highlights that more than half the global youth population in 2035 will be in Sub-Saharan Africa. While there is significant investment in tertiary education in the region, there is some evidence that students and families place a high value on degrees from foreign universities which are perceived as being better quality and a means of improving competitiveness in the labour market.

In addition, some African countries are allocating significant resources to scholarships to enable students to study abroad given the challenges around improving local tertiary infrastructure at speed and scale. Campus France reported in 2020 that “nearly 40% of outbound Nigerian students hold scholarships, most of which are funded by oil revenues”.

Others more cautious

However, some experts are more cautious, suggesting that economic conditions and students’ socio-economic backgrounds are likely to constrain growth in the number of outbound students from Sub-Saharan Africa. A University World News report highlighted that studying at a tertiary level, either at home or abroad, is likely to remain out of reach for many young people and that growth is likely to be “skewed towards economically endowed regions”.