Where will Africa’s students study abroad in post-COVID19 times?

 In analysis, infographic, Social Media

It’s that time of the year when university students move around the world in pursuit of their dreams, including over a quarter of a million African students. But 2020/2021 could be very different because of COVID19.

Students are the world’s future leaders. Where students choose to study can have a profound impact on their future outlook, from what job they have to where they live. This is particularly true for African students, who have been the fastest growing student demographic in the world in recent years, in line with Africa’s youthful demographic and the rise of the middle-class. Africa’s overseas students could be a key driving force of development across the African continent in years to come.

But can this growth be maintained in a world still dealing with COVID19? The US government recently backed down from its policy to revoke visas of international students who will attend only online university classes for the new 2020/2021 year. And while China has managed the COVID19 crisis domestically much better than the US, China is only slowly giving new visas to international students – encouraging many to defer or do studies online. Will this change? Will other popular destination countries open up for Africans? And if not, which students from which African countries could be most affected?

That’s why, as part of our ongoing infographic series, we decided to take a deep dive into African country-level data for the US, France, UK and for China – from China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) and collated by the Center for Srategic International Studies (CSIS), and – for the first time – use these to forecast the 2021 trends that would have been occurring if there was no COVID19, as well as put them in context by comparing them to other international cohorts of students.

The headline results have already been reported by South Africa’s The Mail and Guardian in this article, exploring one of our key findings that China is now the primary destination country for students studying abroad from 24 African countries.

But what else does the data reveal? The infographics below set out the staggering results:


But, why does this matter? Why should African leaders and citizens be interested in these results? Should international development practitioners be interested in these figures?

There are at least four reasons to care about these results, especially in post-COVID19 times, where we have an opportunity to rethink and drive the future of education, as mentioned in a recent UNESCO discussion.

First, university education is important both in terms of quantity and quality. According to UNESCO, across Africa, just over 12% of the population get a tertiary education – well below the global average of 32%. While local provision of university and other vocational education is important, international provision is also helpful – especially through scholarships. This difference could be exacerbated post-COVID19. The UN is clear that the digital divide does not just exist at primary or secondary level – it also exists at tertiary level. Should online classes become the choice for universities around the world, this will disproportionately impact young Africans, who suffer disproportionately from a lack of affordable internet access. This is therefore an issue that the African Union, and it’s Youth Envoy Aya Chebbi, should be taking up at a high level with development partners, to prioritise African access to in-person international courses.

Second, the incentive to study at university level is crucial. China has recently started to open up its work permit laws for post-graduates, enabling some African students to choose to stay in China to live and work. In other countries explored above, however, such as the UK and France, making such conversions is becoming increasingly challenging. If China continues to open up post-COVID19, we can therefore expect larger amounts of trade, remittances, and investment into Africa from China, driven by Africans, in addition to Chinese partners. This is why we work on platforms for African business leaders to engage with China, so that these trends can translate into as much poverty reduction and sustainable development as possible.

Third, as the number of African students studying in China has increased, we’ve also seen a gradual increase in the number African government officials and business leaders with exposure and ties to China. Notable examples are Former President of Ethiopia from 2013-2018, Mulatu Teshome Wirtu, who studied at BCLU and Peking University; Joseph Kabila, former President of DRC from 2010-2019 who studied for 6 months at China’s National Defence University; and the former Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s daughter Bona Mugabe who graduated from Hong Kong University. A study by Chinese Professor Li Anshan found that by 2005, 8 former recipients of Chinese Government scholarships were holding ministerial positions in their home countries, 8 were serving as Ambassadors or consuls to China and 6 were working as secretaries or advisors to their president. This is important because as Africa’s relationship with China becomes more interconnected, it is essential to have Government ministers and civil servants that understand how to work with and ultimately negotiate with China. As a consultancy that works with African governments, our assessment is there is insufficient understanding across the continent at the moment, which is why we are often commissioned to focus on Africa-China cooperation. However, in the future, and again if these trends are able to continue post-COVID19, we can expect stronger bridges with China to be built by the rising numbers of future African leaders studying here.

Finally, in a post-COVID19 world, if more Africans continue to study more in China relative to  other countries, this could extend China’s influence. As an example, back in the 1950s and 1960s, the UK and France hosted numerous African scholars and elites, many of whom eventually drove the push for self-determination and independence across the continent, while at the same time utilising French and British underlying legal and cultural structures. The experience that African students get in China may in future translate into a better understanding of China’s society and structures and definitive views of China’s domestic and foreign policies that may or may not be helpful for China’s future global engagement, and the engagement of other development partners.

At Development Reimagined, we work with many different partners to explore the China- Africa relationship and how it can be improved to deliver more poverty reduction and sustainable development in the future. For more information about how DR can support you with bespoke insights, advice and cutting-edge research, and if your institution is interested in exploring the above data, contact us at: clients@developmentreimagined.com. 

*Infographics produced by Rosie Wigmore

Photo Credit: NESA by Makers on Unsplash


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Research Analyst

Edmond is a research analyst who is passionate about sustainable development, innovation, and the environment. Passionate about climate financing, he firmly believe there is a more reliable system to promote equality, growth, and welfare in societies without affecting the ecosystem. Through his skills, knowledge and experienced gained over 7 years, he wants to make an impact in the world of development. Edmond holds a Master’s Degree in Public Policy from Korea Development Institute and a BA Degree (Honors) in Business from University of Derby.


    Founder and CEO

Hannah Ryder is the Founder & CEO of Development Reimagined. A former diplomat and economist with 20 years of experience, named one of 100 most influential Africans in 2021, she is also Senior Associate for the Africa Program of the Center for Strategic International Studies (CSIS), sits on the Board of the Environmental Defence Fund, and is a member of UAE's International Advisory Council on the New Economy. Prior to her role at DR, Ms Ryder led the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)’s work with China to help it scale up and improve its cooperation with other developing countries, including in Africa. She has also played various advisory roles for the UN and OECD and co-authored the seminal Stern Review of the Economics of Climate Change in 2006.


Deputy Director

Leah Lynch is Deputy Director of Development Reimagined (DR), and head of the China office. Leah has over 10 years of experience in development and has lived in China for over 8 years. Leah has also travelled extensively around Asia and Africa for research. Leah supports the strategic direction of the team across China, with a mission to deliver high quality research on sustainable development and poverty reduction. Leah is also Chair of the Sustainability Forum at the British Chamber of Commerce in China, providing direction on sustainability initiatives for British and Chinese business. Leah has also consulted on various evaluations on UK aid (ICAI) and is a specialist on development cooperation from the UK and China. Leah has also consulted on various UN projects, including providing support to the UN China team during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Prior to DR, Leah was at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) China, supporting the UN’s portfolio on communication strategies, China’s South- South Cooperation and the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Before UNDP, Leah lived and worked in Kenya developing sustainable water policies for the Kenyan government.


China-Africa Policy Analyst

Yike Fu is a Policy Analyst and has been responsible for leading numerous areas of work, including on debt analysis in Africa and beyond, and China-Africa trade and investment logistics and analysis. She is the co-author of “African Debt Guide”, in which she challenged the narrative that Africa is in the midst of a new debt crisis by analysing data back to the 1970s and adopting new metrics to present the real story behind the data. She also developed a benchmark to compare the financial distribution of development partners such as the UK, US, Japan, France and China in Africa. Prior to her role at DR she worked at the International Finance Corporation and African Union Representational Mission to the US. She holds a Masters in International Affairs from George Washington University.


Research Analyst

Judith is a Research and Policy Analyst, where she specialises in Africa-China relations, international development, and diplomacy. During her time at Development Reimagined, Judith has co-authored several articles published in The Diplomat on debt and China-Barbados relations and was quoted by China Daily in a piece on Women Rights in China. Previously, Judith worked as a research analyst for an Advocate and Commissioner and Oats office in Kenya.


Policy Analyst

Ovigwe specialises in geopolitics with particular reference to Africa in a changing Global Order. He is adept at critically analysing the politics of contemporary development processes and providing insight into the geopolitical interests that influence them. His work includes research, publications, tailored briefings and advising on global and regional trends, and issues at the nexus of geopolitics and development. Ovigwe appears frequently in media around the world such as Al Jazeera, TRT World, SABC, CGTN, BBC Radio, and other platforms.


Policy Analyst

Jing leads China-African health and agriculture cooperation research at Development Reimagined, having managed our FOCAC Policy Analysis and Advocacy project. She is also the co-author of “China-Africa Health Cooperation under FOCAC Umbrella”, in which she analysed China’s commitments around health cooperation since the first FOCAC summit and deepdived into four African countries’ health overview, challenges and cooperation with China as cases studies. Before DR, Jing worked at GIZ Cambodia on M&E of a disability advocacy project. She also worked as a translator with Chinese medical team in Benin.


Trade Policy Analyst

Patrick is an International Trade Policy and Trade Law Expert with over 5 years of experience. His expertise includes trade law, trade policy analysis and regional integration. He is currently engaged with Development Reimagined as a Senior Trade Analyst and was the lead author of Development Reimagined's recent Report on Africa-China Relations titled "From China-Africa to Africa- China: A Blue Print for a Green and Inclusive Continent-Wide Strategy Towards China." and “Reimaging FOCAC Going Forward.” Patrick has previously consulted for the East African Community, UNECA and for the Kenya Ministry of Trade.


Senior Policy Analyst 

Rosemary is our Senior Policy Analyst. She is a skilled policy analyst and has previously worked as a UK civil servant. She is studying Human Rights at Birkbeck, University of London with a research focus on international law in the context of health crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic.


Project Manager and Africa-China Communication Assistant

Jade is a Project Manager for Development Reimagined’s flagship project Africa Unconstrained, which focuses on financing needs and debt vulnerabilities of African countries. Her research focuses on China-Africa development finance alongside debt vulnerabilities, infrastructure needs and South-South cooperation. She has worked with a breadth of stakeholders from China, Africa and the wider international community, including governments, private sector, NGOs and civil society. Her writing has appeared in a number of publications, including The Africa Report, The China-Africa Project, The Diplomat and more. Jade holds a Master’s in China and Globalisation studies from King’s College London.


Programme Manager

Rosie is the Project Manager of Africa Reimagined (AR) at Development Reimagined (DR) where she supports high-end African brands with entering the Chinese market by operating services such as trademark protection, Chinese market research, Chinese partnership building, and Africa to China logistical support and import/export services. Rosie has worked with DR for over two years now with proven success in helping high-end African brands navigate the Chinese market. She is extremely passionate about her work because more African brands selling in the Chinese marketplace means African countries can export MORE value-added goods, create MORE jobs and foster MORE innovation in African countries.

Rosie is also alumni of the School of International Studies at Peking University in Beijing where she is also an editor at the Peking Africa Think Tank. PATT is led by a diverse group of scholars who specialise in African Studies within the context of Sino-Africa relations.



Lauren has lived in six countries from the Americas to Europe and Asia and speaks both French and Spanish proficiently. At Development Reimagined, Lauren’s research focuses on climate action both in the Asia-Pacific and in Africa, and how countries are using tools such as SDGs and Covid-19 action to build a more climate-resilient future. She holds a Masters in International Relations from Leiden University.



Etsehiwot holds a Masters’s degree in Development Studies from the London School of Economics. She has diverse experience in humanitarian and development issues by working in both multilateral organizations and international non-governmental organizations. Etsehiwot is currently a consultant focusing on the SDGs and development finance.


Economist Consultant

Dibekulu is an economist by training. He holds an MSc in International Development Studies from Palacky University Olomouc, an MSc in Development Economics from the University of Clermont Auvergne, and an MSc in Economics, Finance, and International Integration from the University of Pavia. At Development Reimagined, he works as an Economist consultant. He has strong data analysis skills, with research interests centring around development finance, impact assessment, food security, and agricultural insurance.


Project Manager

Osaru is a health professional with an MSc in Health Systems Policy and an interest in women’s health and population management. At Development Reimagined, she applies her health sector experience to global health research and collating locally applicable development insights from China.


Research Analyst

Ferdinando’s research at Development Reimagined is centred on South-South Cooperation dynamics, specifically on the analysis of Chinese investment and debt flows in Africa and their linkages to African industrialisation. He is currently a Yenching Scholar at Peking University, after having graduated from the University of Cambridge with an MPhil in Development Studies.


Research Analyst

David is a Research and data analyst at Development Reimagined. His scholarly focus is mostly on interdisciplinary research in demographic economics and development with interests in migration, economic development and policy, education, health and subjective well-being. He is currently a PhD scholar at Nelson Mandela University from which he also holds B.com Economics and Statistics and M.com respectively.


Research Analyst Kenya

Ivory is a Kenyan lawyer with experience in policy research and analysis. She also supports the communications team at DR. Ivory speaks English, Swahili and French.


Research And Data Analyst China 

Joy Ene is a Research and Data Analyst at DR. Joy is passionate about African/global development, poverty eradication and trade policies between underdeveloped and developing countries. She is also a fourth-year student of International Economics and Trade at the  Liaoning University, Shenyang, China. She serves as the President of the Student Union, Liaoning University, International Students chapter.


Research Analyst 

Chensi Li is a research analyst. She has previously worked for local NGOs in Nigeria and Cameroon and think-tanks in China.  Her research areas include Sino-African relations, African foreign affairs, public diplomacy, state-building and national governance.

Yixin Yu

Research Analyst 

Yixin is a Junior Research Analyst and her focus areas is on public-private partnership and entrepreneurship. She has over three years of working experience in both private and public sectors in Ethiopia. She was the China Liaison Officer for project ‘Partnership for Investment and Growth in Africa’ at International Trade Centre, where she accumulated rich experience in investment and trade promotion


Founder and CEO

Hannah Ryder is the Founder & CEO of Development Reimagined. A former diplomat and economist with 20 years of experience, named one of 100 most influential Africans in 2021, she is also Senior Associate for the Africa Program of the Center for Strategic International Studies (CSIS), sits on the Board of the Environmental Defence Fund, and is a member of UAE's International Advisory Council on the New Economy. Prior to her role at DR, Ms Ryder led the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)’s work with China to help it scale up and improve its cooperation with other developing countries, including in Africa. She has also played various advisory roles for the UN and OECD and co-authored the seminal Stern Review of the Economics of Climate Change in 2006.