What matters most to African students who are considering their study abroad options? 

African student's university choices

In the QS International Student Survey 2023, 77% of students in Africa expect to receive a full and complete response to their enquiry within three days – while 44% say it should be within 24 hours.  

To that, Michelle Arikpo, QS Regional Director for West Africa said: “It’s worth noting that the responsiveness and efficiency of universities play a pivotal role in influencing student’s decisions regarding their study destination.” 

Yet, there are other barriers to higher education, primarily financial. 74% of prospective students in Africa regard the cost of living as their primary concern when contemplating studying in another country. 

Furthermore, nearly two-thirds (63%) stress the significance of affordable tuition fees when choosing a course – with 58% specifically seeking universities that provide scholarships.  

So, how can international universities appeal to African students? 

Understanding financial constraints  

Over 50% of respondents to the QS International Student Survey 2023 in Africa have an annual household income of less than $10,000. However, the percentage of students with annual household income below $10,000 is significantly higher for countries including Ethiopia (73%), Gambia (72%), Lesotho (72%), Central Africa (70%) and Uganda (66%). Financial accessibility is key for African students seeking higher education. Universities looking to recruit from this region should review the way that information about funding, scholarships, part-time work and affordability is presented to provide much-needed reassurance to concerned students. 

Michelle discussed more actionable steps that can be taken to provide support in this regard.  

“Understanding that a significant portion of African students come from households with modest incomes, it becomes imperative for universities to review and enhance the accessibility of information regarding funding, scholarships, part-time work opportunities, and overall affordability. This includes transparently presenting available financial aid options, highlighting scholarships and grants, and providing comprehensive guidance on managing living expenses while studying abroad.  

Michelle Arikpo
Michelle Arikpo, QS Regional Director for West Africa

“Moreover, universities can establish partnerships with organisations or government bodies that offer financial support specifically tailored to African students, further easing the financial burden and ensuring that education abroad remains within reach for those who aspire to pursue it. 

“In addition to financial support, international universities can prioritise the development of programmes and initiatives aimed at enhancing the employability of African students. This can include expanding career services to offer tailored support for international students, fostering partnerships with companies that value global perspectives, and facilitating internships or work placements that provide practical experience in students’ chosen fields. By addressing these concerns universities can create a more inclusive and supportive environment for African students, enabling them to access quality education abroad and successfully transition into fulfilling careers upon graduation.” 

Enhancing employability outcomes  

Studying abroad comes with considerable financial and personal sacrifices, making it crucial that the education received leads to meaningful career opportunities. Institutions that can showcase strong career outcomes for their graduates will not only attract more students but also justify the costs associated with international education. 

The QS International Student Survey 2023 reinforces this point, revealing that African students are highly committed to studying abroad – with 44% planning to self-fund their studies. This commitment highlights the importance of ensuring that their investment translates into successful and rewarding careers. 

Michelle suggests several areas that universities can explore to improve their employability outcomes, thereby attracting more African students. 

“First, they should offer comprehensive career services, including job placement assistance, internships, and partnerships with leading companies, tailored to the needs of international students. Financial support must be clearly outlined, with detailed information on available scholarships, grants, and part-time work opportunities to alleviate concerns about financial constraints.  

“Emphasising the affordability of tuition and living expenses is essential, particularly given that many students come from low-income households. Furthermore, showcasing countries with favourable post-study work or migration opportunities can significantly appeal to students seeking international work experience.” 

Student aspirations for a sustainable future 

The QS International Student Survey 2023 also found that 48% of prospective students in Africa are actively researching universities’ environmental sustainability strategy and efforts. 

Furthermore, 87% of the students who researched the level of environmental action being taken by universities say they are somewhat or extremely satisfied with the efforts being made. 

“This interest reflects a broader global awareness of the urgent need to address climate change and its impacts,” Michelle remarked. “For many students, choosing a university is not only about academic and career opportunities but also about aligning with institutions that share their values and commitment to sustainability.” 

“Universities can leverage this information by prominently highlighting their sustainability initiatives and achievements in their marketing materials and communication strategies: 

  • Showcase efforts to reduce carbon emissions,  
  • Implement advanced mitigation actions,
  • Educate the campus community about global warming.  

“By doing so, institutions can attract environmentally conscious students who are seeking to be part of a community that prioritises sustainable practices.  

“Additionally, involving students in these initiatives through research opportunities, sustainability projects, and eco-friendly campus programmes can further enhance their engagement and satisfaction. Demonstrating a strong commitment to environmental sustainability not only meets the expectations of prospective students but also strengthens the institution’s reputation and appeal in an increasingly eco-conscious world.” 

Related QS Insights

What is QS 360?
Read more
The QS 360 logo

Sign up for industry insights

Receive the latest insights, expertise and commentary on the topics which matter most in higher education, straight to your inbox.

Sign up