For millions of African youths and adults, whose countries’ education system is found to be chaotic and seriously underdeveloped, studying in a foreign university is a matter of pride, excellence and a quick passport to getting a good, well-paying job.
In the SADC region, South Africa, Namibia and Botswana appear to be the countries of choice to study for thousands of SADC citizens – undergraduates and post-graduates – the majority of whom hope to stay put in these so-called fine countries for various reasons once the game of study is over.
SADC higher education: figures and facts
A study conducted by the Southern African Regional Universities Association (SARUA) found that the SADC region comprises 66 public universities, 119 publicly-funded polytechnics or colleges and 178 private universities or colleges.
SARUA is an organisation representing vice-chancellors of public universities.
South Africa has 23 of the public universities and 70% of overall enrolments in the region, according to the same report. Five of the 15 countries – Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and Swaziland – have a single public university.
In other countries, numbers range from two in Malawi and Mauritius to nine in Zimbabwe.
Zambia has three public universities, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Mozambique have four, Madagascar has six and Tanzania has eight.
Welcome to the new world
But studying in a foreign university, whether private or public, is not bread and butter as the fees are high, the challenges are enormous and the pressure is tremendous.
Therefore, only the youths issued from the well-off families, financially stable and working people attempt this epic journey.
Caroline Nzoigba, a DRC student who proceeded to South Africa to study for a master’s after graduating from the University of Kinshasa, recounts tales of excitement, sadness, loneliness, xenophobia, shock of cultures, discrimination and violent crime.
“The pasture is not always green on the other side,” Nzoigba says. “Sometimes, you feel that everyone – lecturers, administrators and fellow students – is against you and seems to be plotting your downfall.” “As a foreign student, you don’t get the same treatment as locals in all aspects, and that really pisses you off,” she says, adding that rent, transport, funding, among others, are first of all given priority to locals.
“Jane”, a Zambian student who studied in Zimbabwe for six years and went on to live there for 10 years, says the situation is not always sweet as many people think.
“If I had my way, I wouldn’t send my future kids or any of my family to study abroad, especially in Southern Africa, and in these so-called advanced countries”.
“We all had the same level of study and the same degrees and attended the same institution, but I was discriminated against when it came to jobs.”
“I still believe that I was good enough to get those positions but twice I missed out because I was a foreigner.”
Portrait of postgraduate studies in SADC
There are around 57 700 masters and 10 600 doctoral students in SADC, most of them in South Africa, a SARUA study found, adding that postgraduate registrations were critically low through much of the region, impacting on high level skills available.
However, despite getting the biggest chunk of postgraduate registrations, South Africa is seen to be a hostile land for many foreign students, who nevertheless brave the country’s xenophobic tendencies – both from government and learning institutions – to harvest success.
An eye-opener research conducted by the Academy of Science of South Africa and published by the Mail & Guardian newspaper shows that international students who attend South African institutions tend to finish their doctorates faster (in about 4.5 to 4.6 years) than their local counterparts (who take an average of 4.9 years).
“The quicker the completion rate for a postgraduate degree, the more the institution benefits from government subsidies,” the research added.
“Not so many bursaries are available for postgraduate international students … Yet the research that we do is applicable to South Africa and benefits the same country that denies funding to international students,” the South Africa-based weekly newspaper quoted one postgraduate student as saying.