You are here:   Home/ Opinions

China and Africa: students key to future relations / by Sam Blay, September 28, 2016 Adjust font size:

Growing up as a student and Young Pioneer in Ghana in the early 1960s, we were taught that China and Africa have a "special relationship." But with the many political changes in Africa in general and Ghana in particular, and with changes in the geopolitical focus of China in the 1970s and 1980s, the substance of this special relationship somehow faded.

However, Sino-African relations are now putting down new roots that can take us back to those heady days. China's dramatic economic and trade engagement with Africa rightly receives constant attention, having grown ten-fold in the last decade to exceed US$300 billion. However, to sustain and build on these gains in trade, China needs to invest in the future of Africa by helping to educate today's students and tomorrow's leaders.

Confucius once said, "If your plan is for one year, plant rice. If your plan is for 10 years plant trees. If your plan is for 100 years, educate children." Now, students are the key to the future. In building Sino-African relationships, education will play a critical role.

The Ministry of Education in Beijing reports there were almost 397,635 international students in China in 2015. The average has been growing at a healthy rate of 10 percent a year since 2006. China's stated target for 2020 is to raise it to 500,000.

This is a commendable target that enhances China's position as the third most preferred destination for international students after the United States, and the United Kingdom, and ahead of Canada. However, China needs a strategic focus: instead of competing in traditional markets, it could look at a new one in Africa.

For all universities, financial considerations are critical in the international student market. The issue is whether African students can be seen as good fee-paying clients. The figures suggest yes. For instance, in 2011, approximately 6,000 African students held Chinese scholarships; however, more than double this number (14,000+) paid their own way. For many African students, China is an attractive destination for studies because, apart from any potential scholarships, Chinese universities are increasingly able to offer good facilities and programs in English, and at a fraction of the fees in Western countries.

Another factor is that from Cairo to Cape Town, African countries are also increasingly accepting and embracing the popularity of Chinese degrees. So, China does not have to deal with the problem of "degree recognition" that one sees in the West and indeed several Asian countries.

If planning for 100 years, then, ultimately, one must take account of the strategic value of the international students market and its implications for long-term growth in trade. Africa has the world's highest population growth rate, at a time when most continents are looking at declining populations with adverse implications for labor supply. Indeed, Africa should account for more than half the world's population growth between 2015 and 2050.

It is the market of the future and China has an opportunity to rebuild the foundations of the "special relationship" of the earlier years.

The good news is that at the 5th Ministerial Conference of the Forum on China and Africa Cooperation (Beijing Action Plan [2013-2015]) China undertook to implement the "African Talents Program" to train 30,000 African professionals in various sectors. It also undertook to offer 18,000 government scholarships and take measures to improve the content and quality of training programs.

The "African Talents Program" is a great idea, but its focus is on the bureaucracy and the present or immediate future. Let's not forget the words of Confucius already quoted.

Apart from more scholarships, the Chinese government has made it possible for foreign students to take on part-time work in some areas. It has also simplified visa processes and standardized the assessment of international degrees. The University and College Admission System (CUCAS), the Chinese official application portal for international students actively advertises 20,000+ courses and several scholarships for more than 300 universities.

Yet, CUCAS is hardly known in Africa. We need active engagement with students in the continent to build the relationships between China and Africa.

In the Beijing Action Plan (2013-2015), China and African states agreed to continue to implement the 20+20 Cooperation Plan for Chinese and African Institutions of Higher Education, and to improve the cooperative mechanisms.

They agreed to encourage Chinese and African universities to carry out cooperation in regional and country studies and support African universities in establishing China research centers. All these are important steps in laying the foundations for education opportunities between Africa and China.

Professor Sam Blay is a senior Australian law academic. He is currently Professor and Deputy Principal, Top Education Institute in Sydney and Professor at the Sydney City School of Law. He is a member of the South China International Economic Arbitration and Trade.

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of

About Us | Site Map | Feedback
Copyright © China Internet Information Center. All Rights Reserved E-mail: Tel: 86-10-88828000  
京ICP证 040089号 网络传播视听节目许可证号:0105123 京公网安备110108006329号 京网文[2011]0252-085号