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Mazaher Kassam, Global Education Placement, Tanzania

The number of students going to China is increasing. The bigger factor is of course the cost involved. The total cost for tuition fees, food and accommodation would be between US$5-7000 per year…
December 4 2015
5 Min Read

Mazaher Kassam works for a successful education agency in Tanzania. He talks about evolving business opportunities in Africa, including closer education links with China.

The PIE: So first of all tell me how you got involved in the industry.

MK: When I finished my O Levels, my Dad was like “what am I going to do with you now”, so eventually he found a university for myself and my brother. He then started Global Education Placement so it is actually a family-run enterprise.

The PIE: So he found you a school, where?

MK: In Malaysia, I studied in Malaysia, I did my A-levels there as well as my degree in Accounting and Finance at Taylor’s University. We started off the company in 2006, December, so we started off with Malaysia for a few years and then moved onto Canada, Turkey, UK, Australia, so right now we do a wide range of destinations.

The PIE: And you were telling me that China is pretty popular now…

MK: Right, so we started sending students to China about three years ago and we have of course gradually seen that the number of students going to China are actually increasing. The bigger factor is of course the cost involved. The total cost for tuition fees, food and accommodation would be between US$5-7000 per year…

The PIE: And that is to study at what level?

MK: At Bachelor’s Degree level. In addition to that of course we have the great Chinese influence in Tanzania and the level of business that they are doing in Tanzania.

“The US dollar is getting weaker so we are seeing a rise of students going to Canada”

So ten years ago if you were to go for a safari, you would be surrounded by white tourists, but today if you go for a safari about 60- 65% of these tourists are actually Chinese. That just shows the dynamic global shift impacting locally.

So a lot people want to go to China to be able to learn the language, learn the culture, learn the education system and then be able to come back and not only use the practical education that they have but also use the language skills that they have too.

The PIE: What sort of Chinese investment are you seeing in Tanzania then?

MK: So we have all kinds of investments the Chinese government is doing at the moment, they’re building roads, the new sea port is being built by them, the new airport is being built by them, so they’re doing a lot of investments. Of course a lot of these investments are in terms of loans, so they would loan out the money to the Tanzanian government and get the infrastructure built up, some of them will be done by themselves.

In addition to that we have the Chinese individuals, of course some of them are going into big businesses, but most of them are going into small businesses, so they are going into wholesaling, retailing, they will buy goods from China in bulk at a much cheaper price than what a normal Tanzanian would buy it for and they will come back and sell it in Tanzania.

“We have all kinds of investments the Chinese government is doing, the new airport is being built by them”

In fact they are planning [to build] a big mega market, so that people will come to Dar es Salaam, buy Chinese goods from Dar es Salaam, and then they will be delivered to you, so they will be cutting out the middle man altogether. They are really growing their influence. The Chinese airline, China Southern, they fly all the way to Nairobi and they are planning next year to start Dar es Salaam.

The PIE: So would you say China is your number one destination?

MK: In terms of student volume, yes.

The PIE: So where else are you students keen to study?

MK: Currently we are seeing a rising trend for Canada as well, because of the Post Study Work permit as well as the currency advantage, the Canadian dollar versus the US dollar is getting weaker so we are seeing a rise of students going to Canada. Malaysia has always been a reasonable study destination as well, we have Turkey as well and of course the UK. But the UK numbers are not that encouraging with all the different regulations coming in.

The PIE: What about other neighbouring African countries, do you consult for students in nearby countries…

MK: We do not do any active marketing out of Tanzania but we do have students who have probably heard of us and they look for us by themselves, so we service those students but don’t actively market.

The PIE: Where might they be from?

MK: So we have people from Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Zambia, again those are probably a handful of students every year.

The PIE: And what are the types of programmes you sell most, is it pathway plus degree or…

MK: It is a mixture, it is mostly undergraduate and pathway plus degree, so in fact Navitas is actually a very strong partner of ours, especially the Canadian division.

The PIE: Ok and in China do you also sell Chinese language as well as degrees? Just to clarify the degrees are normally in English right?

MK: Yes. We do both actually, language as well as non-language, so some of the programmes are Chinese as well, so students would have to study one year language and four years degree. Other programmes are English taught so students would go straight for a four year Bachelor’s Degree. Other students are just going for Chinese language, so then they can determine what they do, they can study for one semester, one year or even three years for Chinese language.

The PIE: Wow, so Africans who speak Swahili and Mandarin. Do you have students who don’t speak English, who only speak Swahili and Mandarin?

“I definitely sense that the number of universities in China offering English programmes will be higher as well as the number of students studying these programmes”

MK: No, because definitely once they arrive in China they need to have some level of English. But speaking of the Chinese influence in education, the Chinese government has what they call the Confucius Institute and what they are doing is installing these institutes in different universities, especially in Africa. So in Dar es Salaam, you have the University of Dar es Salaam, University of Bagamoyo where in the campus they have a dedicated Chinese learning centre. So a Mandarin learning centre which really enhances that language factor, so I think we are seeing a rise in Mandarin speakers.

The PIE: So how do you see your industry in the next five years’ time, what do you think it will be looking like? Your business, agency and…

MK: Well definitely over the next 3-5 years the number of universities in China would also expand their offerings in English. I am sensing that a lot of Chinese students want to study abroad and they have all these great universities with declining rates of enrolments so they would want to open this up to international students, get more Africans to study in China. So I definitely sense that the number of universities in China offering English programmes will be higher as well as the number of students studying these programmes.

The PIE: And what about being able to work, does that opportunity exist in China? Can they stay and work?

MK: Well, you can work, of course the precursor is being able to speak good English, good Mandarin and of course having the relevant level, therefore they have the HSK which is similar to the IELTS for the Chinese language.

But a lot of students don’t wait to get a job, what they do is whilst studying they get into the business of buying and selling. So I had a student who just texted me the other week, saying that if I need anything from China I should send him a message and he will get it for me.

The PIE: And what sort of things might you want?

MK: Everything and anything. From phones, laptops, clothes, shoes. For $100 you could probably get 20 handbags and good handbags. So a lot of students are doing that now, making money off that.

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