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Africa buoys French international education as security concerns remain

The route from Africa to France is a path well-trodden by students seeking overseas degrees and funnels in more than 40% of the international students at French education providers. This route has also served as a reassuring lifeline to France in 2016 as concerns around security impacted mobility from other student source countries.

Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia have largely driven the rise in African students studying in France in the last five years. Graphic: Campus France.

70% of African students perceive France to be a safe country to study in

The latest figures from Campus France show that student mobility from Africa has increased 6.7% in the last five years, driven largely by students from Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia.

“The perception of security after the attacks impacted students still at home more than the students in France”

In total, French higher education institutions hosted 133,893 African students in 2015/16 – 43.2% of all international students in the country – up from 126,986 last year.

According to Campus France stakeholders, international student visa applications to France took a hit after the November 2015 terror attacks in Paris and the attacks in Nice in July. Fewer students from the US and key Asian countries sought out France for university education. Africa, however, bucked the trend.

In October 2016, Campus France launched an ongoing survey of African students at home and in France to discover their motivations to study overseas and their perceptions of France as a study destination.

Initial results from the 1,800 respondents show that 70% of African students perceive France to be a safe country to study in.

Didier Rayon, head of Campus France’s studies and research department, noted that students already in France perceived it to be safer than students in African countries.

“The perception of security after the attacks impacted students still at home more than the students in France,” he said in a presentation of the statistics at Campus France Rencontres in Paris last month. “We have progress to make to make students feel more welcome.”

Although official 2016 figures haven’t been released, Olivier Chiche-Portiche, director of Campus France’s marketing and mobility department, told The PIE News security concerns had impacted mobility from Western countries, including the US, Brazil and major Asian markets like Korea and Japan.

Campus France report: international students from Africa up

Top destinations of African students in 2013. Data: UNESCO. Graphic: Campus France.

But, he argued, other factors could have contributed to the drop in visa applications from these markets. “You have to include also problems of economy from these countries. Brazil used to send a lot of students to France and it’s true that this year it dropped quite a lot.”

Historically, students from Western countries, especially the US, have pursued short-term study programmes, which could have made it easier for them to cancel or postpone study, he conceded.

“When you’re talking about a long academic programme, obviously they’re still going because it’s something that’s been maturing for many months and years and they will not stop for that,” said Chiche-Portiche.

“Because of this increase in African and Maghreb mobility from Africa there hasn’t been any effect on the total [number of students in France] but if you look at different countries and areas yes you can see that.”

Language plays an important role in France’s attractiveness in Africa, with 2015/16 figures showing francophone countries account for the largest share of students from the continent in France. Students from the Maghreb alone account for 23.2% of all international students in the country.

“Because of this increase in African and Maghreb mobility from Africa there hasn’t been any effect on the total number of students in France”

In five years, the largest gains have been seen in students from the Ivory Coast, up 49.6% to 6,283 students; Comoros, up 45% to 2,535; and the Democratic Republic of Congo, sending 1,563 students, up 74% since 2010.

The country attracts 85% of outbound Algerian students, 62% of mobile Moroccans and 57% of mobile Tunisians.

More than three-quarters (77.8%) of African students in France study at universities, mostly on undergraduate degrees, but the country’s famed Écoles de Management, Commerce and Écoles d’Ingénieurs are growing at a quicker rate, attracting 4.9% and 5.4% of students respectively.

In a bid to combat residual worries around security, Campus France has a special budget from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to launch a global campaign promoting France as a safe destination for tourism and study that could roll out next year.

“We also try to work specifically with every country, giving some information about what is important,” said Chiche-Portiche. “For the US, for example, the French Embassy asked us to give a recount of all the security measures being taken in France inside the university because that’s what’s of most concern to the parents.”

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