Market intelligence for international student recruitment from ICEF
12th Apr 2023

Inbound and outbound student trends for South Africa, Egypt, and Morocco

Short on time? Here are the highlights:
  • Western universities are increasing their investment and recruiting in Africa, but they aren’t the only ones competing for African students
  • Along with being important sending markets, South Africa, Egypt, and Morocco are also regional study destinations, and they are much more affordable for price-sensitive students

Universities and colleges in the West and Eastern Europe are competing intensely for students in Africa to further diversify their campuses. Outbound mobility is soaring in Nigeria and increasing steadily in countries such as Morocco, Egypt, Cameroon, Zimbabwe, and Ghana. Popular overseas destinations include Canada, France, Australia, the UK, the US, Germany, Georgia, Hungary, and Ukraine (before the invasion). But African students are also attracted to options in their own region.

Here's a look at both outbound and inbound trends in three important African markets: South Africa, Egypt, and Morocco. These countries offer competition to major destinations given their relatively low tuition rates and proximity. Egypt may become even more compelling given the Egyptian government’s new interest in partnerships with foreign institutions and embrace of branch campuses.

South Africa: Demand for study abroad is growing

South Africa has long been the major education hub on the continent, enrolling close to 41,000 international students in higher education in 2019, the vast majority from Sub-Saharan Africa (especially Zimbabwe). But internationalisation has lost some steam within South African universities. Tasmeera Singh, manager of international relations at Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT), reported in 2022 that:

“The percentage of international undergraduates registered in South Africa’s public higher education system had dropped from 5.93% to 3.09% at the end of 2020. The percentage of international postgraduates had dropped from 15.82% in 2015 to 12.94% in 2020.”

Writing in University World News, Ms Singh explained that for several reasons – from COVID to natural disasters to political turmoil – “the leadership of all South African universities are besieged with crisis management, responding to the multiple daily challenges.”

Number of international students in South Africa by sending region, 2018 and 2019. Source: Statista

Business Tech estimates that the average tuition cost of the first year of an undergraduate degree in South Africa is about US$3,000, making South Africa an affordable option for students from the region.

The presence of good universities in South Africa has kept outbound mobility relatively low over the years. According to QS, seven of the top ten universities in Africa are in South Africa. The University of Capetown almost made the global Top 200 in 2023 (coming in at #237), and the University of Johannesburg, the University of Witswatersrand, and Stellensbosch University are in the top 500.

Currently there are about 12,000 South African students abroad. However, a 2022 study of over 30,000 higher income households by South African Internet research firm Brandmapp indicates that demand for overseas education is ticking upwards. Fully 12% of respondents said they were considering study abroad, and this intention rose to 48% of those aged 25 and under.

Growing interest in study abroad – and emigration - among young South Africans is linked to conditions within South Africa:

“Seeking residency in other countries with better economic prospects is becoming increasingly attractive, especially for young South Africans faced with stagnant growth, rising living costs, and rampant corruption.”

According to UNESCO, the UK, the US, and Cuba (for medical studies) are the major hosts of South African students abroad. The US hosted 2,375 South African students in 2021/22, up 14% compared with the previous year. Canada hosted 1,370 South African students in 2022, up 36% y-o-y and up 86% from 2019. And the UK hosted roughly 2,000 in 2020/21.

Egypt: Expanding higher education through branch campuses

In 2020, there were more than 43,700 Egyptian students studying outside of the country, making Egypt the fourth largest sender of international students in the MENA region (Middle East and North Africa) after Saudi Arabia, Morocco, and Syria. Roughly a third of Egypt’s outbound students choose to study in UAE (5,260) or Saudi Arabia (4,890). In addition, close to 4,000 Egyptians are studying in the US, and between 2,000–3,000 are studying in Canada, the UK, France, Germany, and Malaysia. Most of those countries enrolled record numbers of Egyptians in the past two years.

At the same time, Egypt also attracts many international students from an eclectic assortment of countries – more than 34,000 according to UNESCO. Top sending countries are UAE, Germany, Turkey, the US, Saudi Arabia, and Ukraine. In a bid to boost the quality of its education system, the Egyptian economy, and Egypt’s attractiveness to international students, the Egyptian government has been welcoming a record number of foreign branch campuses to set up shop. University World News reports that the new Administrative Capital in Egypt now hosts:

  • Two branches of the University of Prince Edward Island in Charlottetown, Canada, and Toronto Metropolitan University, hosted by the Canadian Universities Foundation;
  • The Coventry University in the UK’s branch hosted by the International Knowledge Universities Foundation;
  • A British University of Hertfordshire branch hosted by The Global Foundation;
  • A branch for the University of London and the British University of Central Lancashire hosted by the European University Foundation.

International students now have a wider array of quality institutions at which to study in Egypt, and this should boost Egypt’s reputation as a preferred regional destination. The cost of a degree programme in Egypt ranges from US$7,000-US$15,000 a year, and students can choose from roughly 20 public universities and higher institutes of technical and professional training and the same number of private institutions. Two Egyptian universities are ranked in the QS top 1000: Cairo University and Ain Shams University in Cairo.

Morocco: More than 20,000 international students and growing

Morocco is a priority student market for both Canada and France, and both destinations have seen a surge of new Moroccan students in recent years. More than 31,000 Moroccan students were enrolled in France in 2021, up 3% y-o-y. Canadian institutions hosted a smaller number in 2022 – 7,220 – but this represents growth of 23% over 2021 and an increase of 60% since before the pandemic in 2019. Before the invasion, Ukraine hosted about 7,000 Moroccan students, and Germany hosts a fair number as well (3,000+). Overall, there are at least 63,000 Moroccans abroad.

Like South Africa and Egypt, Morocco is also a regional education hub for North Africans. Students from Gabon, Mali, Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea, and Senegal are the top nationalities represented in Morocco’s roughly 23,500-strong foreign enrolment.

Morocco’s Minister of Higher Education Abdellatif Miraoui has said Morocco’s growing popularity among African students reflects “the effective involvement of the kingdom in favor of strengthening its cooperation links with partners on the continent, within the framework of student mobility programs and teacher researchers.”

Most Moroccan degree programmes charge less than US$10,000 a year. There are courses available in Arabic, French, and English. Université Mohammad V de Rabat, Cadi Ayyad University, and Universit Internationale de Rabat rank in QS’s Top 100 Arab University Rankings.

For additional background, please see:

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