Students from Africa remain dominant in French universities

Students from Africa remain dominant in French universities


African students constituted nearly half of all foreign students in France in 2023, well ahead of those from the more mobile and populous European and Asian countries, including India and China.

The Africans constituted 47% of the total number of 412,087 foreign students enrolled in French institutions and nearly 7% of all students in the country – a substantial figure, considering that foreign students accounted for 14% of all students in the country’s tertiary institutions in the academic year 2022-23.

The Sub-Saharan African region led with 95,285 students, almost 24% of all the foreign students (412,087) in the country. The 95,285 figure represented an increase of 34% over the past five years.

On the other hand, the North African region had 91,865 students representing 23% of all international students in the European destination, according to the latest statistics by Campus France, the public organisation promoting France as a study destination.

The North African countries led in terms of individual country numbers, with the top four countries of origin for students being Morocco (45,162) and Algeria (32,147) ahead of China and Italy, in a trend that has remained unchanged over the past three years.

Other African countries, including Senegal with 15,521 students, Tunisia with 14,291, Ivory Coast with 10,691 and Cameroon with 9,767 students, are ranked in positions five, six, nine and 10 respectively in terms of countries where African students in France come from.

“Morocco, Algeria and China are still the three main countries of origin of international students in France, and 21 of the top 25 contingents of international students are increasing in 2022-23, with a particularly strong rise in the number of Italian, Spanish, Lebanese, Congolese and Indian students,” said Campus France about the released data.

France’s popularity

The reasons for the popularity of France among Africans seeking university education in the European country is attributable to a number of factors, including language and the search for quality education abroad, a Campus France spokesman said.

“The number of mobile students over the past five years coming from Sub-Saharan Africa has been progressing more quickly (+34%) than the number of students from North Africa (+10%). This may be partly due to the demographic boom in Sub-Saharan Africa,” he added.

“In 2020, for example, there were around 92 million people in the age bracket [that typically pursues higher education, usually 18-22 years] ready to pursue higher education,” the spokesman told University World News.

“For North Africa, I would say, above all, that the cultural links between the region and France are very strong. The majority of students in the region are educated in French, therefore France is, in many cases, a natural destination for Algerian, Moroccan and Tunisian students. Here, there is naturally an important francophone influence,” he added.

Despite the good in-France mobility figures, the body was not taking things for granted, as students from North Africa were increasingly selective with regard to choice of their study destination.

This is because, apart from Arabic, many also speak French and English “perfectly”, widening their choices of study-abroad destinations, putting pressure on Campus France to continue receiving talent from the region and strive to meet their demands and expectations, the spokesman added.

“In France, we are aware of the challenges of the importance of higher education in the African continent, which is why, in recent years, we have worked on the development of delocalised cooperation programmes such as the ‘Franco-X’ campuses, in conjunction with the ministry of foreign affairs and the ministry of higher education.

“These programmes allow young Africans to benefit from the quality of French higher education in their countries. We are happy to be able to welcome the talents of Africa, but we are also aware of the importance of providing all the tools so that the continent, itself, is self-sufficient and can be able to train its own student population,” he added.

On the other hand, the influence of the “francophonie” in this region cannot be denied, he explained, as there are about 20 countries whose official language is French.

Increase in English students

Africans were also some of the most mobile students in the world, and many preferred the European Union as their first study destination.

At the same time, he noted that student numbers from English-speaking African countries, where France hopes to begin more aggressive recruitment, are still “timid”, but students of Nigerian origin stood out.

During the review period, there were some 1,142 Nigerian students in French universities, an equivalent of a 111% growth in five years.

The strategy to recruit in English-speaking countries as aggressively has worked well in India, where about 7,000 students from that country were studying in France. This translated to an increase of 11% compared to the previous year and a growth of 64% over the past five years, the spokesman observed.

“Interest on the part of English-speaking African students is increasing. One of the main axes of our communication campaigns is to remember that, in France, there are more than 1,600 programmes offered in English and that French, although useful, is not essential to obtain a diploma,” he said.

“We still have work to do to consolidate our positioning in these countries. In the future, we want to reinforce this message: ‘English-speaking African students, France is open to you even if you are not fluent in French’,” he further noted.

Quality-cost ratio

Comparatively, the cost of tuition in France where, on average, a non-European Union bachelor degree student paid about €2,800 (US$2,991) a year, contributed to the popularity of the destination. This was in addition to efforts to ease study visa procedures.

“Without a doubt, the quality-price ratio of our universities and schools, compared to other universities in countries such as the United States, Canada, Australia or the United Kingdom, make it easier for international students to identify and select France for their higher studies,” noted the spokesman.

“We are aware that there are still many efforts to be made to improve the administrative procedures linked to obtaining visas,” he observed.

As a result, some 31,553 visas were granted in 2023 for Sub-Saharan African students representing a growth of 9% while, for the Asia-Oceania region, 29,109 visas were granted, a growth of 21% compared to 2022.

It is not clear yet what the impact of France’s suspension, in 2023, of student visas for Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso will have on mobility from Africa to France.

Last year, Campus France disclosed that its universities will be recruiting students from Africa based purely on merit, irrespective of the region they come from, or the international language they speak back at home.

The universities will, instead, be going only after those with excellent qualifications, as they seek to spread their source markets deeper into anglophone Africa, diversifying from the traditional francophone Africa markets, and take advantage of the availability of English-taught programmes in France.

The change in approach to Africa will see them market themselves equally as ideal destinations in both regions of the continent away from the previous practice of seeking students particularly from West and Central African countries, plus the former North African colonies of Morocco and Algeria, according to Matthieu Bragato, the marketing manager of Campus France’s Africa unit.

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