African students the most mobile in the world

African students the most mobile in the world
Source : Unesco
Editorial Contact: Amy Otchet, UNESCO Institute for Statistics, tel: 1 514 343 7933, fax: 1 514 343 6882 – Email

31-05-2006 10:00 am Tertiary students from sub-Saharan Africa are the most mobile in the world, with one out of every 16 – or 5.6 percent – studying abroad, according to a report from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS). At the other end of the scale, only one out of every 250 North American students (0.4 percent) studies overseas, making this group the least mobile. The Global Education Digest 2006 presents the latest education statistics from primary to tertiary levels in more than 200 countries. It also tracks the flows of foreign or mobile students. Mobile students are defined as those who study in foreign countries where they are not permanent residents.

Between 1999 and 2004, the number of mobile students worldwide surged by 41 percent from 1.75 to 2.5 million, according to the Digest. This does not mean that more students are travelling. Rather it reflects the rapid expansion of higher education overall, with tertiary enrolments also increasing by about 40 percent during the same period.

“What this report shows is that the real dynamic in tertiary education is coming from African, Arab and Chinese students. They are the driving force behind the internationalization of higher education,” says Hendrik van der Pol, UIS Director

China sends the greatest number of students abroad – 14 percent of the global total – primarily to the United States, Japan and the United Kingdom. This has dramatically changed the global distribution of mobile students. In 1999, East Asia sent about as many students abroad as Western Europe. Just four years later, students from the region outnumber those from Western Europe by a third.

In relative terms though, sub-Saharan African students are still the most mobile in the world. Several countries in the region have as many or more students abroad than at home. Most have no choice but to go abroad because of limited access to domestic universities or the poor quality of instruction.

Yet these students are rarely counted in national statistics. For example, in Cape Verde, just 6 percent of the university-aged population is reportedly enrolled in higher education institutions. But this figure would double if students abroad were taken into account. In Mauritius, the gross enrolment ratio would rise from 17 percent to almost 24 percent and from 6 percent to 11 percent for Botswana.

To help provide a global perspective on these students, the Digest has developed new indicators to monitor their flows in and out of more than 100 countries. It also lists the top five destinations for students from each country and region.

For sub-Saharan Africa for example, the top destination is Western Europe. Students mainly go to France (21 percent), the United Kingdom (12 percent) and to a lesser extent Germany (6 percent) and Portugal (5 percent).

Six countries host 67 percent of the world’s mobile students: 23 percent study in the United States, followed by the United Kingdom (12 percent), Germany (11 percent), France (ten percent), Australia (seven percent) and Japan (five percent).

The Digest also evaluates the extent to which the universities of these host countries can absorb more mobile students. They already account for 17 percent of total tertiary enrolment in Australia, for example, and 13 percent in the United Kingdom. But this figure falls to two percent in Japan and the Russian Federation and three percent in the United States and Canada.

The Arab States have seen a steady rise in student mobility over the past five years and now accounts for seven percent of the global total. In Djibouti, for example, there are three students abroad for every two at home. Mauritania, Morocco and Qatar also have high ratios of students abroad, with 22 percent, 15 percent and 13 percent respectively.

The most popular destination for this region is France (43 percent), followed by the United States (ten percent) and Germany (nine percent).

Western Europe sends about 407,000 students abroad or 17 percent of the global total. Most are from Germany, France, Greece and Italy.

There are as many or more students abroad than at home in Andorra, Cyprus and Luxembourg. Student mobility is also high in Iceland (23 percent), Ireland (ten percent), Greece (nine percent), Malta (eight percent) and Norway (seven percent).

The top destination is the United Kingdom, followed by Germany, the United States and France.

South and West Asia accounts for eight percent of the global total, with two-thirds coming from India. The region sends the highest proportion – one-half – to North America, mainly the United States. Another quarter go to the United Kingdom and Australia.

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