During the NAFSA Conference in Washington DC, World Education Services CEO Esther T. Benjamin said that the data shows the demographics in Africa are changing fast – and the sector must realise it.
“We all know in this room that there are a million international students that come through [the US] and only about 4% of those students are from sub-Saharan Africa,” said Benjamin.
“But with the population dynamics that we will experience in the coming decade and beyond, 4% is really likely to increase – colleges and universities that get ahead of this recruitment process with the population dynamics shift will be well positioned,” she explained.
“If you go into any average African university, there are many, many more students than there are opportunities on the continent,” said Lydiah Kemunto Bosire, founder and CEO of 8B Education Investments.
Bosire also touched on the concern about brain drain, which is another issue the continent consistently faces.
“[It] typically tends to start from a place of scarcity; an assumption that Africa does not have enough brilliance – and you can take a few who will leave a hole in the economy.
“That is simply not true… when you have access to global universities, what you’re doing is enabling potential to be realised. Given how many young people there are on the continent, those numbers are really quite large,” Bosire explained.
Part of the student recruitment stall, according to Munya Chiura, director for business development in Africa for MPOWER Financing, is the ongoing visa denial issue.
He said that in bigger source countries like India, enhanced visa processing and efforts have been made to get them back on track. However, the African continent sees a lot more problems that create roadblocks to better recruitment.
“In places like India, Brazil, even China, the approval rates have been becoming healthier, more like at 70%. When you look at African countries, it drops to 40%. These are the realities of what we are faced with,” he said.
Additional data also given on the breakfast panel hosted by The PIE was that on average, in Abuja, Nigeria, students will wait 205 days to get a US visa appointment.
In China, the wait is 10 days, in India 56 days (however, this varies from city to city and appointments have been hard to come by recently), Kenya is 235 days. In Brazil, it’s just one day.
Chiura noted that the State Department specifically said that the US is putting “every ounce of energy into eliminating the long visa wait lists”, but that this is only really happening for countries like India.
“The US has increased the number of visa offices processing visas in India. We have a different scenario in Africa. By the US’s own admission, they have a backlog of cases, so these are the challenging aspects for our students on the continent,” Chiura explained.
Some 66% of students who get MPOWER loans are studying STEM courses – US Bureau of Labor Statistics has previously said there is around a 25% shortage in STEM jobs in the US.
“I think we really need to mention the disconnect in policy,” Chiura added.
Bosire at 8B – a company seeking to help African students get loans – agreed that the visa issue was extremely prevalent, but pointed out that HEIs “have agency and can highlight what discrepancies we are seeing”.
Before that change can be enacted, Bosire is guiding students who have visa issues to go down the route of applying for an emergency date, more often used in medical emergencies or exceptional situations, but that doesn’t work for everyone.
“Kampala and Kigali have some really good flexibility for dates… so sometimes we urge the students to take a flight to either city and try and get a date there,” she said.
“I think we really need to mention the disconnect in policy”
“[A Brazil visa appointment wait time is] one day? That means that there can be an increase in consular officers,” Bosire said during the panel.
“But who are the people who can push on this? Us. We are the ones who want more students in our classroom and we see it up close. We must reach out to the public policy spaces telling them what the problems are.
“[The discrepancy] is very, very stark and we can’t just sit and wait for it to change,” she warned.
The gallery from the PIE’s breakfast briefing with WES, MPOWER and 8B can be found here.