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Visa settings a “significant barrier” for Africans seeking to study abroad

International educators need to prepare for ‘The Africa Decade’, where enrolment growth rates of African students globally are expected to hit their fastest rates over the next 10 years.

Photo: pexels

The Navitas Global Student Flows Model indicates that future growth will come from “relatively modest numbers of students in a large mix of countries”

Modelling suggested African students will account for one in eight international students by 2050, but visa rejections are seriously hampering efforts to enrol students from across the continent.

The statistics are from Navitas’s Global Student Flows Modelling.

“We are starting to call the next 10 years ‘The Africa Decade’,” Global head of Insights & Analytics at Navitas, Jon Chew, said.

“Universities in Australia are waking up to this huge potential,” Chew explained, adding that Africa has always been an important market for Navitas and that it “continues to contribute to the diversity of our student cohorts”.

One pillar at the heart of the Australian international education strategy, launched in 2021, is a focus on diversifying student cohorts and source countries as well as growing education offerings to “capitalise on digital and offshore opportunities”.

Universities Australia was one body to acknowledge the plan notes major source markets will shift away from China and India, with Africa and southeast Asia rising as centres of population growth.

“There is certainly increased levels of interest in, and discussion about, the opportunities for student recruitment in Africa amongst our university partners and the sector more broadly,” Chew continued.

Photo: Navitas

However, he added that some destinations have established leads in key markets.

The May 2023 Navitas Agent Perception Survey found that  71% of agents from Africa rated Australia as an attractive destination, compared with 89% for the UK, 88% for Canada and 83% for the US.

Data compiled by The PIE found while Australian universities have several key agent partners in Nigeria and Kenya, other countries have fewer agreements in place.

Tanzanian students seeking to study in Australia are served largely by two key agents – Uniserv Limited with some 20 institution partners and S3 Education with at least eight Australian university partners.

Global Education Placement and Study Beyond Borders Limited each also have several agreements in place.

Only the University of Canberra lists an agent partner in Ethiopia with Aceonline Center in Addis Ababa.

Around seven agents in Uganda have partnerships in place with Australian universities.

BaDa Education Centre is the agency with agreements publicised by six universities, including Australian Catholic University, Australian National University, Bond University, Charles Sturt University, CQ University and University of New South Wales.

No universities have agreements with partners in Democratic Republic of Congo or Niger and only the Universities of Southern Queensland and Wollongong have a partner in Sudan.

Both work with International Group for Educational Consultancy in Khartoum.

The Economist has previously reported just eight countries globally will account for more than half the rise in population expected by 2050. These include the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines and Tanzania.

In Nigeria, only Macquarie University currently says it has no agent partners.

Among the agencies in Nigeria with the most partnerships are IDP with whom 32 Australian universities say they work with, Options Education Agency with 23 Australian partners, Expert Education & Visa Services with 19 and GOAJO with 17.

BCIE says it works with 15 Australian universities, in addition to TAFE International Western Australia.

Kenya is similarly well served by agencies, with Charles Darwin University the only university (not including the University of Divinity which lists no agent partners anywhere in the world) without Kenyan partners listed among its agent list.

In Ghana, eight Australian universities – including Charles Darwin, RMIT, Sydney and the Sunshine Coast – do not list any agent partners in the country.

According to senior vice president of University Partnerships at SCU Ventures, Adam Roberts, Australian universities have invested across the large African growth markets such as Kenya and Nigeria “in an attempt to divert students away from their traditional destinations to the North”.

“These markets are much more expensive and time consuming to develop due to the distance, time zones and comparative lack of brand awareness of Australia,” he told The PIE.

“The demand is there however visa grant rates have been the main concern”

“The demand is there however visa grant rates have been the main concern. There are relatively high visa refusal rates across the main African source markets which acts as a disincentive for institutions to invest.”

Chew added that the Navitas Global Student Flows Model indicates that future growth will come from “relatively modest numbers of students in a large mix of countries”, including Nigeria, Egypt, Morocco, Cameroon, Algeria, Kenya, Uganda, Zimbabwe and Ghana.

“This will pose a challenge for countries and institutions looking to tap into Africa – they will need a multi-pronged approach to the continent,” Chew said.

“One recruitment office in Nigeria is not likely to be able to capitalise on the opportunity that other countries in the region present.

“When it comes to pursuing this opportunity for diversification, visa settings can be a significant barrier. A quick look at Australian visa acceptance rates for the countries mentioned above shows that they range from 14% (Cameroon) to 67% (Algeria), with Nigeria currently sitting at 39%. The higher risks of visa rejection make Africa a challenging set of markets for institutions particularly when they consider the flow through impact to their risk ratings.”

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