Numbers of African students in China expected to grow as ties increase

Published 01/03/2024

The number of African students studying in China has witnessed tremendous growth over the past decade, partly attributed to growing economic and cultural exchanges between the regions.

A growing interest in learning Chinese language, informed by the country’s economic transformation, has turned the country into a popular destination, that could potentially overtake a number of European destinations in the coming years.

The rising volumes of Chinese investments in Africa has created opportunities for local youth, making learning the Chinese language and culture attractive, to help them take advantage of China-created opportunities at home.

Affordability for Africans, many of who come from low and lower-middle income countries on the continent, has also been a factor. US$3,000 in some universities is enough to cater for both tuition fees and living expenses for a year, according to some past students.

Post-pandemic figures for African enrolments in Chinese institutions are scarce. The country’s Ministry of Education data shows that over 81,000 African students were studying in the country in 2018, representing 16.5% of all the international students in the country.

This was 61% growth in the numbers when compared to three years earlier in 2015, when only 49,792 of the students were in China.

A planned launch of a China-Africa cooperation program could boost the figures even further, and allow a pre-pandemic pace, boosted by a number of education cooperation initiatives by China, industry experts now believe.

They say the expected launch of the Plan for China-Africa Cooperation on Talent Development later in 2024 will spur growth in the number of African students in Chinese universities and colleges, through the commencement of a number of initiatives designed to boost education ties.

Under the plan, degree courses taught in English and tailor-made courses for African students to learn both Chinese language and vocational skills will be introduced.

This will appeal to a bigger number of students from English-speaking regions of the continent, noted Rebecca Ma, operations manager, UK education company, NCC Education’s China.

It could also have the possible impact of decline in students seeking non-degree education such as short courses on Chinese language, a trend that has grown in the past decade as China sought to internationalise the language.

In accordance with the initiative, China plans to train 500 principals and “high-calibre teachers” of vocational colleges every year, and 10,000 technical personnel imparting them with both Chinese language and vocational skills. In the next three years, China will also provide opportunities for 300 young African scientists to come and work in the country.

At the same time, it will start another initiative, the China-Africa Universities 100 Cooperation Plan and 10 pilot exchange programs of China-Africa partner institutes aimed at supporting the continent in strengthening education and innovation, she further noted.

It will train qualified African teachers to teach Chinese in African institutions, allowing them a more flexible opportunity to learn Chinese without going abroad, complementing efforts led by the Confucius Institute.

“I will name China as a popular destination for Africans in the near future, but I don’t think China should be categorised and compared to Europe and North America. China’s actions and policies to foreign students, especially to students from Africa, are totally different from the other destinations,” she said.

“To Africa, China is not a competitor, not a threat, but rather a constructive partner and an active facilitator”

“China is dedicated to work with Africa to make joint contributions for shared benefit not only in the world economy, but also in science, technology, education and sustainable development. To Africa, China is not a competitor, not a threat, but rather a constructive partner and an active facilitator,” Ma told The PIE News.

She said the country had a unique relationship with African that had set it to becoming a top destination for Africans, partly due to its willingness and ability to “share its fruits of on technology, education and talents with Africa”.

It was also willing to work together with Africa to build a world economy where developing countries are better involved.

“That’s why Africa has chosen China, why African students will choose China as a favourite destination in the near future,” she added.

Away from state-led initiative, individual Chinese universities have been taking their own initiative to recruit students in different countries.

One such is a group of universities from Liaoning Province in the northeast of the vast country, where African students have a notable presence, and who have embarked on a campaign to popularise themselves as an ideal destination for Africans, in the past few months.

The universities have capitalised on “top quality education offered, the availability of good learning infrastructure”, and the region’s reputation as an industrial and manufacturing hub.

The universities started with a “Belt and Road” Overseas Promotion of Liaoning Universities in South Africa in January, in which a delegation from five universities pitched for students to pick the region home to 114 universities and colleges as their study destination.

The delegation included representatives from Shenyang Normal University, Liaoning University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Liaoning University of Technology and Liaoning Economy Vocational and Technical College.

As of 2020, a total of 6,659 Africans were enrolled students in Liaoning institutions, accounting for 46% of the total international students in the province, studying in 43 different colleges and universities.

Research shows the rate of growth of African students travelling to China to study abroad grew by a whopping 258% between 2011 and 2017, compared to a growth rate of 30% for the US and declines of -2% for France and -24% for the UK.

On a global scale, China’s Ministry of Education says the number of international students in the country in 2018 stood at 492,185 coming from 196 “countries and regions”, and studying at 1,004 universities and colleges.

Out of the number, 63,041, some 12.8%, included thousands of Africans were on Chinese government scholarships.

The African students are largely sponsored through different bursary programs, including the Chinese unilateral grants to developing countries, China-Nigeria bilateral agreements and multilateral deals such as the 2018 Beijing summit of Forum On China-Africa Cooperation.

Overall, the largest number of internationally mobile students from Africa live in lower-middle income countries such as Nigeria. By 2019, there were 6,845 Nigerian students studying in China and 512 of them, according to China Admissions, were on Chinese government scholarships.

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