Policy

How many African PhD candidates in Europe?

À la conférence Yase, des doctorants africains en Europe sont venu discuter de leur avenir et d'un éventuel retour dans leur pays.

The African scientific diaspora in Europe is a reservoir of minds for the continent's universities and research centres. But until now, no one had bothered to count it.

Since 2010, more than one million Africans have settled in Europe according to the latest figures from the Pew Research Center. For various reasons: political exile, escape from famine, hope for a better future... or, less dramatically, the possibility of continuing studies at university and getting a PhD. How many of these African PhD candidates are there in Europe? It's hard to tell.

Eurostat, the office for statistics of the European Union, has apparently been concerned about this issue: its website offers a table on this subject. However, it has not yet been completed by the Union's experts. Only Iceland and Ireland lines are up to date, and without distinction between levels of study, from bachelor to doctorate.

France, Germany and the United Kingdom

One must therefore look at each country to try to find answers. For example, France, the first host country for African students in Europe, counts them. Campus France, the government agency responsible for promoting French higher education toward foreign students, published in 2017 a study that counted Africans studying in France, from high school to PhD.

The result: 7,667 Africans were pursuing a PhD in France. That is about 7% of all Africans enrolled in universities in the country.

In Germany, the situation is close. According to the German Academic Exchange Office, 7.8 % of African students enrolled in the country's universities are PhD candidates, i.e. 2,160.

In the United Kingdom, the proportion is much higher: the Statistical Agency for Higher Studies counts 4,110 African PhD candidates in the country, in other terms 13% of students from the continent.

And elsewhere?

Regarding the price accounting, these three countries are unfortunately exceptions: the organisations in charge of university cooperation in Switzerland or Austria, for example, have no idea of how any African PhD candidates work in the laboratories of these countries.

And in many other European countries there is no centralised organisation. In Sweden and elsewhere, the universities themselves are responsible for welcoming and helping foreign students. This makes it more difficult to collect data.

The difference between France and England shows how the situation can vary from one country to another.

An estimate

However, an attempt can be made to make an estimate using figures provided by the States and compiled by the Unesco Statistical Institute. With some additions, it can be calculated that 238,270 Africans were attending university in Europe in 2015. France, the United Kingdom and Germany have a combined total of 174,000. That leaves about 64,300 in the rest of Europe.

If, as in France, about 7% of these students are PhD candidates, there would be about 18,700 African PhD candidates in Europe. This is 2.5% of the 725,000 PhD candidates in the European Union. Using the UK percentage, they are up to 22,000. The uncertainty is still 16%.

Could the issue be solved by counting departures from countries of origin? Some African states such as Senegal, with the Service de Gestions des Étudiants Sénégalais à l'Étranger, have expressed this intention.

Anthony Audureau

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