What took them there? Educational aspirations and intra-African scholarship

Late last year, I sent out a single question ‘why did you choose to study in South Africa?’ to a network of South African students. What I found was quite interesting, and something I might want to pursue once I complete my degree. See abstract below.

Narratives of African students studying internationally often focus on young Africans who travel to Europe, North America and more recently to Asia. However, increasingly, intra African scholarship is growing, and more African students remain within the continent in pursuit of higher education. For example, it has been reported that more than 71,000 Nigerian students are studying in Ghana. On the African continent, South Africa has the possibly the most diverse range of international students, with many Universities in the country having substantial numbers of non-South African students.

There were an estimated 64,000 international students in South Africa, accounting for 7.5 percent of the University student population in 2010, up from 12,600 in 1994. A substantial proportion of those numbers – over 70 per cent, are students from countries within the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in addition to nearly 20 per cent from other African countries. What factors motivate these students to attend South African Universities rather than Universities in their own countries’ Universities? What took them to South Africa?

In order to explore and understand the motivations of African students studying in South Africa, I sent by email a single question: ‘why did you choose to study in South Africa?’ to international students who are either currently studying or have completed their degree studies at a South African University. A total of nine individuals (3 males and 6 females) from four countries responded to the question by providing their varying motivations.

In responding to the question posed in the title, four broad categories of responses emerged: quality, opportunity, ethical conduct of lecturers at home Universities and development of competence. Within these narratives are buried respondents’ biographies and life trajectories. For example, within the category of opportunity are a range of themes which include migration, language, convenience and scholarships to study at South African Universities. Further, the theme of ethical conduct at home universities includes narratives of non-supportive lecturers and intimidation. In addition, there are themes related to studying at prestigious Universities with qualifications that are accepted globally.

There are two interesting strands to the narratives of the respondents/ participants. Firstly, it demonstrates that young people recognise that globalisation is not only an interaction between Africa and the rest of the world, but also intra-African interaction with attendant opportunities. Secondly, it also demonstrates that young people have clear aspirations and are able to explore opportunities to enable them achieve those. They recognise that to achieve their life goals, they need to have the best possible competencies and they also recognise that such competencies are within their reach in a manner that is cost-effective and yields the best returns on investment.

The foregoing provides the basis for a future study, which could explore the aspirations of international students in African countries, their motivations and what they plan to do when they complete their studies. A further step could include a comparison of the aspirations of African students studying within Africa, and those of their counterparts studying in Europe or North America.

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