However, that figure climbed 26 fold to about 50,000 students thirteen years later. The UNESCO Institute for Statistics indicates that the US and UK host around 40,000 African students a year, a figure that China exceeded in 2014, making it the second most popular destination for African students studying abroad. France is at the top position hosting over 95,000 students, especially from West Africa. Over the years the numbers have grown and keep growing till date. Statistics from China’s Ministry of Education reveal that as of 2018, Africa alone accounted for over 81, 000 students, after Asia with 295,043 from a total of 492,185 international students from 196 countries pursuing their studies in higher education in the Asian country.
Today, the number of African students, at 16.57% of all international students, is up from 2% in 2003—growing faster than any other region. Proportionally more African students are thought to be moving to China each year than students from anywhere else in the world. What then explains this overflow of African students into China in the past decade?
Reasons Why Africans are Flooding the Chinese Educational Milieu
In recent times, China has had a lot of influence on the African continent ranging from development to education. Many African governments have signed deals with the People’s Republic of China in various sectors such as transport, health and education towards the construction of roads, bridges, hospitals and schools. One can say the enthusiasm that the Chinese government exercises towards the construction of schools in Africa is the same passion that African students are putting forth in furthering their studies in the Asian country. There exist several reasons why many Africans are invading China to pursue their studies in higher education.
- The Availability of Scholarships
The surge of students from Africa to China can be explained in part by the Chinese government’s targeted focus on African human resource and education development. China’s Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, FOCAC summits beginning in 2000 promised financial and political support for African education at home and abroad in China. Since 2006, China has set scholarship targets to assist African students coming to China for study. For example, during the fourth Ministerial Conference on FOCAC held in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt in 2009, the Chinese government pledged to build 50 China–Africa friendship schools and train 1,500 school principals and teachers for African countries and increase the number of Chinese government scholarships to Africa to 5,500 by 2012, as well as train a total of 20,000 professionals of various fields for Africa over the next three years. Also at the 2015 summit, China pledged to provide 30,000 scholarships to African students by 2018. During the most recent 2018 FOCAC summit in Beijing, China promised to increase this number to 50,000 as well as provide an equal number of training opportunities. One of such opportunities is to have 2,000 Africans invited to China for cultural exchanges.
- Mutual Benefit
The Chinese government perceives providing education to Africans as an extension of China’s soft power, that is, cultivating the next generation of African scholars and elites. Usually, the experience that most of these African students get in China can turn into a willingness to work with China and view China’s internal or external policies favourably in the future. However, the visa rules of China do not permit students to stay back after completion of their studies, thereby helping to prevent brain drain. Thus, after gaining the knowledge and skills, Africans can always return to their respective countries to contribute in its progress in one way or another.
- The Opportunity for Business Connections
According to China-Africa scholars, students head to China for many reasons, ranging from simply pursuing an education that is inexpensive, even without a scholarship, to grabbing the chance to develop business connections or learn the language of a country presumed to be a rising power. Many African students are moving to study in China as they will establish business connections, which will help them in the future, even after their studies. Experience has shown that several African students that return home after completion of studies in China easily integrate in the business environment. Given the influx of Chinese businesses in Africa, this gives them an upper hand in dealing with them. China’s education push for Africa does not limit itself just to university students, as the Asian country is placing itself as the go-to training center for all types of African organizations. In terms of extending ties between the academic world and business, in 2011 the China-Africa Think Tank Forum was launched – funded by China Development Bank – in order to bring together Chinese and African think tanks. The forum in its latest edition that took place in May 2019 in Lusaka, Zambia, under the theme: ‘Rebranding Africa as a Premier Destination’ sought to promote Africa’s Global Economic Cooperation through sharing knowledge and research objectives on infrastructure, economic development and trade facilitation amongst other things.
- The Presence of Confucius Institutes
As China continues to mark its footprints in Africa, so does the demand for Mandarin language learning. The fact that China is one of the world’s rising powers at the moment has spurred many Africans to want to learn the country’s local language, Mandarin. To this effect, the Confucius Institute, which is a public educational organization under the Ministry of Education of China, whose stated aim is to promote Chinese language and culture, support local Chinese teaching internationally, and facilitate cultural exchanges, has now spread across Africa. Recent reports indicate that the continent now hosts 50 of such centres with another seven planned for 2019. The first Confucius Institute in Africa was established in 2012. During the last FOCAC summit in Beijing in 2018, Chinese president Xi Jinping urged more qualified African educational institutions to host Confucius Institutes.
It is worth mentioning that the many scholarships from the Chinese government down through to cultural institutions and businesses aimed at African students continue to rapidly expand. China is taking this lead as increasing tuition costs and the rise of nativist political trends in the United States in particular have played a role in discouraging many African international students from studying there. On the contrary, China offers a less costly alternative, as well as the opportunity to become familiar with the inner workings of Africa’s largest international partner.
Article from AFRIC Editorial
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