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Francophone West Africa “untapped market” for UK universities


French is the official language of several West African countries, including Senegal, the Ivory Coast, Benin and Burkina Faso, but there is a growing demand and focus for English language learning in many of these countries.  

New oil and gas projects are expected to boost the already fast-growing economies of both Senegal and the Ivory Coast and the countries are seeing significant investment from multinational companies, some of whom operate in English. 

Agents believe this will increase interest in studying abroad in Anglophone destinations, as young people want to improve their language and academic skills in order to secure jobs in these industries.

But Jamie Hastings, director at MYiO education agency, believes the UK needs to do more to boost its brand presence in the region. 

Some 240 students from the Ivory Coast and Senegal studied at UK universities in 2021/22, according to HESA data. In comparison almost 1,500 students from these countries studied in the US in the same year and over 6,000 in Canada in 2023, where they can choose between English and French courses. 

However, securing visas has been a challenge for African students in both Canada and the USA in recent years. American visa refusal rates for students in West Africa hit 71% in 2022, according to data from Shorelight

Hastings said that the students he had recruited from these countries to UK universities had not experienced any visa issues.

He added he had seen more interest in undergraduate studies among these students compared to bigger African markets like Nigeria and Ghana – a focus area for many UK universities struggling financially.

Due to limited English language skills, he said many are looking at pre-sessional English courses. 

“The numbers are small but they grow and they grow”

Hastings believes Francophone Africa should be a focus area for UK universities looking to diversify both where students come from and the level they are studying at. 

“You have to start somewhere,” he said. “The numbers are small but they grow and they grow.”

Emma Tayou Tarrant, director at Graduate Guidance Group, said students in the region “recognise the academic excellence of British universities and the long-term career benefits which come with having studied in the UK” but felt the application process was “not straightforward”. 

SUB Afrique, an agency operated by Hasting and Tarrant, is attempting to address this by organising a trade mission for British universities to the Ivory Coast and Senegal this November. 

Universities including Oxford Brookes, Portsmouth and Queen’s University Belfast are set to attend. They will meet prospective students, parents and government departments. This is the second trip the agency has organised this year. 

“We are pleased to be able to demystify the process and bring universities to meet students in their home cities,” said Tarrant. 

Catherine Brooker, British Ambassador to Côte d’Ivoire, spoke about the “wealth of opportunities” for the UK’s higher education sector in the country. 

“Students, with the support of their families, are very interested in studying in the UK or achieving UK qualifications,” Brooker added. 

“Universities in Côte d’Ivoire are keen to establish partnerships with British universities so that they can broaden their offer to Ivorian and international students. Although a Francophone country, there are bilingual and English speaking universities in Côte d’Ivoire.”

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