For those of us involved with identifying, enrolling or educating international students in the U.S., it is an exciting time. To me, this is because of a new global macro-economic boom. More than ever before, prosperity has found (or is beginning to find) its way to new corners of the world, corners which would have been off the proverbial “radar screen” even 5 or 10 years ago.
Of course, the obvious example is China, whose economic growth over the past 10-15 years has been nothing short of historic and jaw dropping. In the relatively near future, China’s economy will pass the U.S. economy as the world’s largest; Forbes reports that China now has 168 billionaires and counting; its per capita GDP is soaring; a report from A.T. Kearney observes that China’s top 2% now purchase 33% of all global luxury goods and services; the Chinese represent the fastest-growing luxury travel segment; there is even talk of the yuan replacing the dollar as the world’s global currency (though this remains unlikely). Let’s not forget, too, that China holds roughly $1,500,000,000,000 of U.S. treasuries. These are just a few statistics that come to mind…I could go on and on (see my recent post on the “China 50” cities, “There’s More To The Story Than The Big 4”). Not surprisingly, there are roughly 25,000 Chinese high school students and 200,000 Chinese college students studying in the U.S.
Other countries are also enjoying either recent or relatively recent prosperity (variously defined): South Korea, Taiwan, many Middle Eastern countries as well as many Latin American countries, India, Turkey and Russia. We can even go to the next level down and cite smaller, more recent success stories such as Vietnam, Indonesia, Mongolia, Peru, Colombia, and Malaysia (often called the “frontier economies”).
But often left out of the discussion is Africa, and one could easily be forgiven for leaving Africa out of the global prosperity narrative. For many decades, dozens of Africa’s 54 countries have been mired in political corruption, economic mismanagement, military coups, poverty, famine, disease, war, displacement, and hopelessness. But the story is changing (the change in message on the Economist’s covers between 2000 and 2011 is revealing), and this could be significant for the future of international student mobility.
Africa sits on a truly massive 12,000,000 square mile patch of land with over 1 billion people and 52 cities with over 1 million residents…and it is far more valuable than many would have suspected until recently (see continental overlay map by going to: www.hbr.org/2013/10/seven-reasons-why-africas-time-is-now). Without going into too much detail, it’s worth noting that Africa sits on 12% of the world’s known oil reserves, 42% of the world’s gold, 80-90% of the world’s platinum-based metals, 60% of the world’s uncultivated arable land and, as reported by the BBC’s Business Daily, Morocco alone sits on at least 75% of the world’s supply of the incredibly important element, phosphorus. Seven of the world’s ten fastest growing economies are in Africa, and according to myweku.com, at least dozen African countries have grown by over 6% per year for the past six years. Impressively, all of this growth has produced 55 billionaires in Africa (including the world’s richest woman), up from only 7 as recently as 2006. Harvard Business Review observes that Africa’s workforce will surpass China’s by the year 2035 and, by 2050, 25% of the world’s workers will be African. Africa’s countries are also increasingly stable, with only 7 coups in the 2000s compared to 21 in the 1960s and 17 in the 1990s (See political stability chart by going to: www.hbr.org/2013/10/seven-reasons-why-africas-time-is-now).
So what does this mean for Africa’s internationally mobile students? The number of African secondary (high school) students studying abroad is challenging to verify, and ISPA is working on securing reliable data, but there are troves of data that describe the tertiary (university-level) market. ICEF reports that in 2010, there were roughly 37,000 African tertiary students studying in the U.S. (9.7% of all African students abroad), most coming from sub-Saharan countries such as Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana, Cameroon, and South Africa. Students from northern counties on the Mediterranean such as Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco are also well represented abroad. Not surprisingly, these students gravitate toward colleges and universities with large African tertiary populations: University of Southern California, New York University, Columbia University, University of Illinois, and Purdue University. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, (OECD) 11.5% of all global tertiary students studying abroad in OECD countries in 2010 were African. And the numbers are growing each year by over 3%.
As Africa’s economies continue to grow, as its political structures stabilize and continue to move toward more stable democracies, as inter- and intra-continental trade grows and matures, as the African middle class rapidly expands, and as African families and students become increasingly aspirational and ambitious, it is likely that Africa will represent an even richer source of international secondary and post-secondary students than it already is. For American institutions that are willing to take the long view and make the investment in time, vision, and funding, the results will likely be worthwhile.
Scott F. Vasey
Director, International Students Preparatory Academy