African students outnumber others in seeking higher education abroad – UNESCO

31 May 2006

Students from sub-Saharan Africans seeking higher education are the most mobile in the world, with one out of 16 studying abroad, according to a new study carried out by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Students from sub-Saharan Africa seeking higher education are the most mobile in the world, with one out of 16 studying abroad, according to a new study carried out by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

By contrast, only one out of every 250 North American students goes overseas for higher studies, which the UNESCO Institute for Statistics considers as the “least mobile group.”

Published in the Institute’s Global Education Digest 2006, the report presents the latest education statistics from primary to tertiary levels in more than 200 countries. It also tracks the flow of “mobile” students, who are defined as those who study in foreign countries where they are not permanent residents.

Between 1999 and 2004, the number of mobile students worldwide surged by 41 per cent from 1.75 million to 2.5 million, according to the Digest, which says this “reflects the rapid and overall expansion of high education.”

“What this report shows is that the real dynamic in tertiary education is coming from African, Arab and Chinese students,” says Institute Director Hendrik van der Pol. “They are the driving force behind the internationalization of higher education.”

China sends the greatest number of students abroad – 14 per cent of the global total – to the Untied States, Japan and the United Kingdom. This, according to the report, has dramatically changed the global distribution of mobile students. In 1999, East Africa sent about as many students abroad as Western Europe. And just within four years, students from the region outnumbered those from Western Europe by a third.

In relatively terms though, sub-Saharan African students are still the most mobile in the world as several countries in the region have many or more students abroad than at home. Most of them have no choice but to go abroad because of limited access to domestic universities or the poor quality of instruction, UNESCO said.

Yet such students are rarely counted in national statistics. For example, in Cape Verde, just 6 per cent of the university-aged population is reportedly enrolled in higher education institutions. But this figure would double if students abroad were taken into account. Similarly, in Mauritius, the gross enrolment ratio would rise from 17 per cent to almost 24 per cent and from 6 to 11 per cent in Botswana.

To help provide a global perspective, the Digest has developed new indicators to monitor the flow of students in and out of more than 100 countries. It also lists the top five destinations for students from each country and region.

For sub-Saharan Africa, for example, the top destination is Western Europe. Students mainly go to France (21 per cent), the United Kingdom (12 per cent), Germany (six per cent) and Portugal (5 per cent).

According to the report, about 23 per cent of the world’s mobile students go to schools in the United States. About 12 per cent study in the United Kingdom, 11 per cent in Germany, 10 per cent in France, 7 per cent in Australia and 5 per cent in Japan.

The Digest also evaluates the extent to which the universities of these host countries cam absorb more mobile students. They already account for 17 per cent of total tertiary enrolment in Australia, for example, and 13 per cent in the United Kingdom. But this figure falls to 2 per cent in Japan and the Russian Federation and 3 per cent in the United States and Canada.

The Arab States have seen a steady rise in student mobility over the past five years and now account for 7 per cent of the global total. In Djibouti, for example, there are three students abroad for every two at home. Mauritania, Morocco and Qatar also have high ratio of students abroad, with 22 per cent, 15 per cent and 13 per cent respectively.

For their part, Western European countries, mainly France, Germany, Greece and Italy send more than 400,000 students abroad or 17 per cent of the global total. Also, there are as many or more students abroad than at home in Cyprus, Andorra and Luxemburg.

South and West Asia accounts for 8 per cent of the global total, with two thirds of students coming from India, according to the report. The region sends the highest proportion – 50 per cent – to North America, mainly to the United States. Some 25 per cent of students from this region get enrolled in British and Australian universities.


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