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Student Migration in South Africa

A Special reference to the Youth from Francophone Africa
Migrations estudiantines en Afrique du Sud : le cas des jeunes originaires de l'Afrique francophone
Gabriel Tati
p. 281-296

Résumés

L’article se propose d’examiner la migration des étudiants de l’afrique francophone (Afrique de l’Est et Centrale) en Afrique du Sud. Les résultats indiquent sans ambiguïté que cette migration d’étudiants fait partie des courants migratoires d’étudiants internationaux que connaît actuellement l’Afrique du Sud. Les étudiants de l’Afrique francophone migrent en Afrique du Sud en raison des coûts d’études moins élevés et de la détérioration des établissements universitaires dans les pays d’origine et aussi, pour beaucoup d’entre eux, de l’échec du remplissage des conditions pour obtenir un visa d’étudiant dans les pays industrialisés. Comme destination, ce pays est un second meilleur choix pour beaucoup d’étudiants. Toutefois, dans beaucoup de domaines concernant la qualité de l’éducation, l’Afrique du Sud est positivement jugée par les étudiants mis à part l’environnement social. Le motif lié à la poursuite des études domine parmi les raisons de la migration. Ce mélange de motifs apparait aussi bien chez les femmes que chez les étudiants de sexe masculin. Les préférences dans les matières étudiées révèlent une diversification entre les sciences naturelles et les autres disciplines. Étudier et travailler ne s’excluent pas même si les étudiants qui travaillent sont en petit nombre. Ceux-là se retrouvent aussi bien dans les tâches liées à l’enseignement, sur le campus, que dans celles développées en dehors, sans aucun lien. Les liens avec le pays d’origine sont maintenus sous plusieurs formes à travers par exemple les visites de courte durée, les appels téléphoniques, le regroupement familial, l’argent envoyé au pays et les dons en nature. Dans leur majorité, les étudiants envisagent de retourner au pays ou d’aller ailleurs après leurs études. Certains envisagent de rester en Afrique du Sud dans l’espoir de trouver un emploi ou de poursuivre les études. Cette incertitude sur le projet de retour montre qu’il est aussi important de considérer cette migration d’étudiants francophones, non seulement comme une fuite des cerveaux ou un gain de cerveaux, mais aussi comme une migration circulante qui pourrait avoir un impact positif sur le développement du pays d’origine.

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Introduction

1The focus of the paper is on the migration of young people from francophone Africa to South Africa. This youth migration is driven by the desire among young people to further tertiary education through self-financing of the costs of study in view of improving their prospects for better employment. Conceptually, throughout the paper the general term ‘young’ (or the related one ‘youth’) refers, in line with the definition conventionally used in South Africa, to any person between 18 years old of age and 35 years old. These terminologies appreciate however that actual experiences of ‘youth-age’ differ across, and within space and time and that being of ‘young age’ does not necessarily mean that the young people concerned are regarded as ‘young’ in particular contexts and situations or see themselves as young people for that matter. On the same definitional line, the term “francophone Africa” refers to those countries in sub-Saharan Africa that have French as the official language used in the working relations. These comprise countries in Central and Western Africa that were colonised by France and Belgium.

2Why study educational migration among the youth from francophone Africa? A quick answer to this question lies in the fact that the most recent years have witnessed considerable migration of young people from francophone sub-Saharan Africa in search of education of better quality in South Africa. A dominant feature of these migrant students is that they are self-funding and therefore lack the traditional financial support from the state. Worldwide student migration is an increasingly important phenomenon which however has received scant attention from both policy and research point of views [Anthias, 2006; Baas, 2007; Balaz and Williams, 2004, Castles and Miller, 2003]. According to Shen (2007), education and migration have now become so closely connected that it is almost impossible to separate them from each other anymore. South Africa along many other rich countries is among the most popular and highly regarded study destinations. Because of the importance it assigns to the so-called “migration of quality” in its immigration policy, the government of South Africa has no other option than to take education policy into account when making changes to its skilled migration programmes. This form of migration is expected to rise due to the deterioration or collapse of educational systems in most parts of francophone Africa and the closure of traditional migratory gateways in Europe. These students come to South Africa from different geographical origins, social trajectories and educational background. The paper provides a critical assessment of some of the challenging problems of adaption and adjustment faced by most of these students in the higher education system and the host society of South Africa as a whole. The paper goes beyond these student’s experiences to gauge the extent to which return to home country is planned after study. Along these lines, specific questions are addressed: What are the perceptions of South Africa as a place of study in the global educational system among these francophone African students? What trajectories do these students follow in the choice of a tertiary institution in South Africa? What are their most preferred study programmes? What kind of learning and working environment does South Africa provide to these students? How does study motive stand out from work motive prior to the migration? What type of relations do students maintain with the community of origin? Is there any element of return migration among these students? The findings reported in the paper are based on secondary data and individuals’ experiences collected through interviews using a survey of students from a purposefully selected university as a case study.

A theoretical framework on youth migration

3The issue of young people as migrant students has emerged as a ‘newly’ discovered social constituency in intra-African migration. But this is not specific to Africa as a similar trend is being observed around the globe [Balaz and Williams, 2004; Baas, 2007; Shen, 2007]. While studying abroad may be seen as relatively benign and may be encouraged, meeting the costs of study through self-employment or casual work in the host country may evoke entirely different considerations. As this paper argues, these two forms of migration often have connections. This paper takes an explicit focus on this linkage. This is all of interest since it has so far received no explicit attention in the context of reduced international assistance to African countries in the training of young people in foreign countries. In the past, students were sent to Europe, especially to the former Soviet Union and socialist republics, to get advanced tertiary education or specialised training. Since the end of the cold war, this has almost disappeared. This migration of young people to South Africa takes place in the context of drastic cuts in public spending on bursaries to study abroad or at home. Students involved in educational migration generally do not receive support from their governments despite evidence of the existence of this migration. Thus, it is mostly through self-sponsoring that costs are covered. The least one can say is that this form of migration is less easily classified as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, and therefore it poses a challenge for analysts to rethink the debate around brain gain regarding young people and migration from the perspective of the host country. For these reasons, this particular form of migration is likely to increase over the years to come, rather than decrease on the Africa continent. Expectedly, for young people, there are many reasons for studying abroad. One can mention the research expertise of the tertiary institutions in the country, the possibility of obtaining financial aid, the exposure to all kind of different experiences (living, studying, working, new culture, language) in a foreign land. These are all important pull factors in a context of globalizing education. On the side of country of origin, the inadequate provision of tertiary education, the shortage of programmes, the lack of higher education institutions and the highly competitive university entrance requirements are some of the push factors that sometimes force African students to seek educational opportunities outside their own country. Moving to a new country can be viewed as an ‘exit option’. The prestige of qualification obtained from prestigious universities is very helpful in securing a decent job at home or elsewhere.

4Along this line migration can be seen as a contributing factor to brain gain from the South Africa perspective and brain drain from that of sending country. Elsewhere, it is has been argued that most of the time students who migrate in developed countries stay and work as skilled professionals [Skeldon, 2005]. Some analysts however have come to challenge the argument around brain gain and brain drain as it is generally recognised that student migration, in some instances, does not necessarily constitute a loss for the sending country. Brain circulation is another prevalent form of student migration which is associated with the developmental impact induced by students returning home after completion [Anthias, 2007]. Asian countries provide telling stories of migrant students who returned to their countries with skills and contributed significantly to the region’s continued economic development.

Data and analytical methods

5This article is based on a combination of primary and secondary information. The literature on student migration was used to build up a theoretical framework and a broader context for understanding student migration from Francophone Africa to South Africa. Coverage of this topic in the press was also examined as this provides a lively perspective on this mobility. A range source of secondary statistical information was used to produce some patterns of foreign student migration to South Africa as well as the academic institutions, fields, courses and provinces most sought after. The primary source of statistical information consisted of a survey of 235 students from francophone Africa to South Africa. Interviews were conducted with students from various departments on the campus of the University of the Western Cape. This institution represents a case study used in this paper to gain deeper insights in educational patterns and trajectories that cannot be captured from secondary information. Few students from the nearby campus of Peninsula Technicom (PenTec) were also interviewed. The design of the survey was of a cross-sectional type and the respondents were selected using a convenient method mixed with snow balling technique. This approach targeted only students from French speaking countries in Central and Western Africa. Both structured and unstructured questions were included in the confidential questionnaire. Information was gathered on the following aspects: current personal details, pre-migratory social situation, migration decision taking, post-migration experience and intention to re-migrate. Informed consent was obtained from the respondents. Two post-graduate students conducted the face-to-face interviews. When requested, some respondents filled by themselves the questionnaire (which was so to speak self-explanatory). As is often the case during any data collection operation, some problems were encountered. These were mainly susceptibility, refusal, tracking the take home questionnaire, not showing up for appointment to name but a few. Despite these problems, minor in magnitude, it was observed a general enthusiasm in participating. There was contentment from them for being given a space to express their voices. The respondents were from a range of countries including Gabon, Cameroon, Rwanda, Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Ivory coast to name but a few.

The continental context of migration of students to south africa

6South Africa is a new destination for most young migrants looking for educational facility. This is particularly the case of the migration of young people from the so-called francophone Africa. Most of them arrived around 2005 though it remains difficult to date or quantify in an exact manner the magnitudes of different waves. Some indications from indirect sources do point however to a population movement that has grown in importance from the inception of post-apartheid South Africa in 1994. One can recall that soon after that date, an intense movement of traders took place between these countries and South Africa with Johannesburg being the main supplying place for goods. This trade-related mobility possibly contributed to the imagery associated with South Africa as a viable destination country for income-generating and educational opportunities. Because of the modern infrastructure in place and the relatively developed economy, the country is seen as an alternative to traditional destinations such as France, Belgium, the United Kingdom or some other northern African countries. This has gained significance with the increasingly selective admission policy of foreigners. In spite of the language barrier and costs involved in the relocation, young people from the francophone zone choose to migrate to South Africa for study-related motives. Nationwide, the number of these young migrants is not exactly known. It is however estimated that in their big numbers, hundreds of young people attempt each year to enroll in South African tertiary educations. Drawing from the literature on this subject, it emerges some sort of unanimity in the motives for migration in that most of them are pushed away from their country of origin by the poor prospects for income, lack of career perspectives, and lack of appropriate tertiary institutions in the countries of departure. Even with the few academic institutions that still operate, the poor quality of education offered as well as some considerations on the fitness to specific jobs based on qualifications are supplementary push factors. Pursuing studies in South Africa or in some other rich African countries (Morocco, Ivory Coast) is one of the major reasons driving migration among the educated youth. This is part of a personal ambition of getting an enabling education to gain access to job in an emerging economy at global level. One can view the educational migration of young people as part and parcel of a lifecycle development in that it combines with a search of employment in the place of destination. In most cases, as said earlier, it is the result of failed attempts to reach Europe. The motivations behind the choice of destination, the trajectories it takes to materialize and the modes of educational and labour market insertion are complex. In their places of origin, young people are pushed to move as they feel deprived with respect to educational facilities, employment opportunities and other items. For these migrant students, social capital and social networks provide the channels through which costs (anticipated and experienced) associated with migration are minimized. At the place of destination, getting better education is not incompatible with participating in the labour market. Some make it that way to legitimize their stay in the country while others choose alternative options. As shown in the paper, it is a common practice among young migrants to be simultaneously involved in the labour market (low segments) and in study at a higher tertiary institution. For some young people migration and insertion in the host society may be facilitated through the support received at home, for others it may not be the case.

  • 1 Sunday Times, 26 July 2009, Foreigners flock to South Africa Universities.

7South Africa is mostly preferred because of its developed educational infrastructure. This does not come as a surprise. Globally South Africa has been rated in 2009 as of the top 10 destinations for foreign students wanting to pursue a university education away from home1. The country, with a proportion of just over 8% international students of South Africa’s total university population of 761 000, is ranked as the eight most-popular study destination for foreigners. According to the Global Education Digest 2009 study (cited in Sunday Times July 26, 2009), one out of every five foreign students from Africa was studying at a South African University. A figure published in The Sunday Times gives a number of 22 658 foreign students (of all nationalities) studying in 12 South Africa tertiary institutions.

  • 2 For geopolitical reasons (serving mainly the interests of South Africa) the DRC has now membership (...)

8Although the figures above do not make distinction in terms of geographical origin among the foreign students, it is believed that a considerable number comes from Africa. In all the universities, students from the SADC (Southern Africa Development Community) outnumber those from outside that region (see table in appendix). The gap between the two geographical origins varies across the institutions, but what is noticeable is the attractiveness of well ranked national universities; the higher the ranking, the bigger the size of non-SADC foreign students. One must also take consideration of students from Democratic Republic of Congo included in the SADC2. In this category, Zimbabwe emerges at the top of sending countries of students to South Africa. The ranking has undoubtedly some relations with the prevailing situation of under-resources universities in that country. Other SADC countries that have big numbers of students in South Africa are Namibia (10 169 students), Botswana (4963 students), Swaziland (2825 students) and Mauritius (1213 students). The presence of Mauritius is quite surprising when one takes consideration of her well established level of development in comparison to the continental part of Africa. The reason could be that students from Mauritius are also attracted by the specificity of courses offered in South Africa. This is also the case of some students from Europe that have enrolled at South African tertiary institutions such as Rhodes University, University of Cape Town and Stellenbosch University.

9As said earlier, the main advantage of South Africa as a place for higher learning can be summarised in the following terms: the availability of relevant courses, the use of English as the medium teaching language, the relatively easiness in getting a study permit (as compared to Western Europe), the relatively healthy economy. As will reflect later in the section to come, the main disadvantage is the relatively unsafe living environment and the prevailing climate of anti-African foreigners. It is apparent that the advantage outweighs the disadvantage side looking at way international students flock in the country. Little doubt that in the South Africa of today education service is probably one of the major growing sectors for export earnings. International students from non-SADC countries are charged higher fees than their South African counterparts. Their financial contribution of foreign students is considerable to the income of South Africa higher education and to local economy as well. Nearly all of them are self-financed from their first to the last year of study. At the moment, the South African educational system has not reached the stage of major industry export, as is the case in the United Kingdom [Shen, 2007] or Australia [Baas, 2007] in the attraction of Asian students. The expectation is however high that the educational sector will considerably grow in that direction with the increased deterioration affecting the performance of tertiary institutions in other parts of Africa. It perhaps in view of that the policy toward the facilitation of students’ entry in the country has relatively become more flexible. From the very restrictive student permit policy, South Africa has gradually introduced a more progressive policy toward the issuing of visas to African students. Refugees and asylum seekers are exempt of getting a student permit but the former are allowed to enroll with no requirement apart of meeting the study costs. Put aside some of the hindrances still in place, the number of students is said to be constantly in the rise. Contrary to Western Europe universities, South Africa higher institutions do not systematically require proof of English proficiency such as the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) score. This really facilitates the admission of students from the francophone Africa who happen to have limited or not at all English language skills. It must be noted that the imperative of increasing the intakes of students has played in favor of the admission of these students. The specific experiences of migrant students from Francophone Africa are now examined using the University of the Western Cape as a case study. This provides insights into their trajectories in the educational system, labour market and as well residential mobility. The empirical accounts are derived from the survey early mentioned.

A case study of the migration of students from francophone africa: the university of the western cape

Motives and educational access to programmes

10In an earlier section of this article, mention was made that South Africa coveys a positive perception when it comes to the quality of education on the continent. This may not be however the only factor inciting African students to move there. There is as well the easiness of getting a visa to enter the country for a study-related motive. Evidently the same consideration applies as well to any country which offers similar visa requirements. In the regulation of the mobility of international students, the visa requirements emerge at the top of prominent constraining factor. For example, looking at the migration of Chinese students in the United Kingdom, Shen (2007) found that one of the major reasons why Chinese students choose to migrate in that country for study lie in the fact that they see the regulations around the UK visa much easier to deal with than those applied in the USA or France. He also pointed out that within the immigration policy framework of the OECD countries; the United Kingdom has greater flexibility in entry procedures and more streamlining of visa services [Shen, 2007].

11In the context of South Africa, flexibility in the granting of visa stands out significantly among the reasons indicated by the African students migrating to South Africa. Probing questions were used in the survey to capture the extent to which the effect the visa issue had in the migratory trajectory. First the respondent was asked to indicate whether he or she had initially any plan of migrating for study to any country other than South Africa and in case of affirmative answer the respondent had to give reason why the decision was taken to migrate to South Africa. Not surprisingly, a substantial number of respondents indicated they first contemplated studying in a country outside the Africa continent. The countries with the highest frequencies were USA (28 preferences), UK (24 preferences), Canada (16 preferences), Australia (6 preferences), the rest of Europe (11 preferences) and Africa (8 preferences). Those who did not mention any preferential name (but planned to go wherever outside Africa) were in the number of seven. This distribution clearly indicates the importance of industrialized countries in the shaping of migratory choices among young people on the Africa continent. For some South Africa was probably a second best option, while for others such an option was not even initially considered. It is also worth noting that most of the countries indicated above are from the Anglophone part of the world. This is quite surprising when one considers that they are nationals of French speaking countries. Thus proficiency in English, as a language of communication, did not really act as a deterrent of the move. This once more suggests a mobility embracing globalisation in which linguistic barriers no longer constrain movement of people. The major determinant remains however the immigration policy regulating the entry in the country where one wishes to migrate. This aspect is indirectly captured in the second part of the question above. As expected, the bulk of the responses to the question pointed strongly to the failure to meet the financial costs which were seen as excessively high. Thus the migratory project to study in Europe did not materialise because of the requirements imposed on entry. Although the visa as such was not mentioned by most respondents who failed to travel, the difficulty of getting a visa and other travel documents was explicitly mentioned by eight (8) of them. Evidently the granting of the visa is inextricably linked to the financial requirements. It is a well known fact that in assessing the eligibility for a visa to study, the consulates and embassies of the countries mentioned above require proof of sufficient funds. This can be demonstrated either by producing supporting documentation of an offer of scholarship or possession of sufficient financial resources (such as an irrevocable deposit in a bank for maintenance together with payment of tuition fees and return-air ticket) among other requirements. These requirements are generally hard to meet for the majority of African applicants. It is not exaggerate to see the requirements for the visa as the main deterrent to the migration of young African wishing to study in Europe or America. Viewed from the side of South Africa, the cumbersomeness in the requirements however plays favorably for this country. From the survey, it emerges that study costs and the procedures for obtaining a visa were strongly considered at the time the migration was made. South Africa is seen by almost all the respondents as a country offering lower cost-education in comparison to the western countries above. The positive assessment about the quality is not however equally shared among the respondents. The perception of lower quality of education as compared to overseas learning institutions is equally present. Thus, while some consider the quality of education as being of the same quality, others think that it is of lower quality. In their majority, students are found in the first category. There is need for caution in attributing any veracity to this subjective assessment on the quality of education as it emanates from the students. It may not be based on real facts as the quality of education is not evenly equal in either South Africa or the country where the respondent initially intended to go. On the same note, though not yet markedly pronounced, there is a certain competition between universities for foreign student recruitment, especially at Masters and PhD levels in the so-called “hard-science subjects” such as physics, biotechnology, chemistry, to name but a few. Most graduates of South African citizenship show little desire for pursuing post-graduate studies at Masters or, more specifically, PhD level. This is mostly caused by the level of indebtedness toward the university among these nationals as they have to repay the study loan granted to them. Family commitments also play a critical role in pushing young South Africans away from post-graduate studies. Their absence is quite palpable in terms of enrolments beyond the undergraduate level. Many post-graduate programmes constantly face with a risk of operating under the required threshold of post-graduate students. With the increased shift to the institutional marketing that currently characterises the tertiary education system, some programmes have heavily to rely on intakes of foreign students in order to sustain their institutional existence. Some departments are lowering the admission requirements in those critical programmes. One aspect of this is for example the non-requirement of an English proficiency test. Prospect of being granted a bursary is another strategic way of attracting students with good academic records. African students who can be used as research assistants are given a particular attention. A practice which is also on the rise is the luring of students to particular courses that fall under the category ‘scarce skills programmes’. South Africa has a problem of skills shortage needed for the economy. Consequently, many under-qualified candidates are recruited because of the tuition fees involved. This is not to insinuate the prevalence of dodgy universities but it is hard to deny the operation of a practice which eventually leads to downgrading the standards of teaching and learning. The methods used by certain universities to attract African students focuse mostly on the quantity not the quality. African students are aware of this practice. Students want courses that offer scarce skills to gain access to the work permit or residence permit. They therefore choose such courses that offer that. For many of them, it is an easy way to a work permit. In the end, only a minority worked in those occupations once they had graduated. Certain universities have tended to play around the amount of tuition fees in order to increase their attractiveness toward African foreign students. The University of the Western Cape, case study in this paper, for example has seemingly opted for this option. As a university with a rather prestigious reputation, UWC seems to be one of the most price competitive universities around, making studying in South Africa to an even wider group of young Africans than ever before. These French-speaking students appeared to be a group for whom it was less common to speak English, making it sometimes difficult to make the necessary TOEFL (test of English as a foreign language)or IELTS (International English language Test Score) requirements.

12It is also significant to point out here the case of those students whose decision to move was strongly motivated by an offer of financial assistance of whatsoever type from the institution to which they applied. Increasingly the South African education has come in practice to function as an industry. Their recruitment strategies tend to advertise this type of offer, raising high the expectations of financial support amongst the potential migrant students. Upon arrival, some students have been disappointed by not getting what they were promised before migration. As explained by a female student (E.J. holder of a DEA in mathematics) from Cameroon:
I was admitted at UCT (University of Cape Town) for doctoral studies in mathematics. At the time of admission, my supervisor agreed to support me financially with a studentship. When I arrived in South Africa, he instead told me that I should apply for a doctoral scholarship within a special NRF programme for African students. I did it but failed to get a scholarship. I decided to look for another institution with the hope of getting some financial aid. I ended up by joining the Mathematical African Institute.

13The above student has since left the country to relocate in Florida, United States, after being offered a scholarship for further doctoral studies.

Preferences in programme of study

14Education is generally viewed as prominent determinant in the mobility of young people. The question is therefore to find out the most sought after disciplines of study among migrant students. The introductory section of this paper pointed to the desire among young people to have educational qualifications that are responsive to the demand of labour in the economy. It is therefore predicted that some disciplines may exert a stronger attractiveness than others. As argued by many theorists, migration is regarded as an investment in human capital. This is so because people with a certain level of education or skills will opt for migration with the expectation that it will bring higher returns on the educational they have attained. For example they might expect higher earnings in the area of destination. To put this theoretical reasoning in context, one may anticipate such an expectation among the African students moving to South Africa for two reasons. First they already possess a certain level of education (for some it is more than the undergraduate level). Second, through migration to South Africa some except to access better-paid employment upon completion of their study with skills acquired from further education. The fact that most of them had at varying degree some tertiary education before migrating to South Africa lends support to this presumption.

15The survey reveals that about 46.2% of the respondents are registered as third year, honors, Masters and PhD and post-doctorate levels. This is an indication of the point previously made in regard to the intake of the African students in post-graduate programs. Looking at the profile of disciplines in which they are studying in table below, it emerges a certain, though not strongly marked, balance between subjects of study outside the natural science domain and those subjects related to natural science. There is a slight advantage for the former. One must also recognize that broader categories, as those in table above, tend to hide the attractiveness of specific disciplines. In terms of preference for specific subjects, the top of the ranking goes to the discipline nursing/medical science with about 26% of the students interviewed. Social science (including economics) comes second followed by the group of auxiliary disciplines (mathematics/statistics/computer science). Put aside the discipline of education which is weakly represented, all the actual disciplines of study attract students in substantial numbers. It is the case for such disciplines as physiotherapy, mathematics, statistics, law, nursing, computer science and economics to name but a few. Taken individually, each of these disciplines attracts differently migrant students from Africa. The expectation was to observe a stronger preference for disciplines related to natural science based on the presumption that students decide to come to South Africa for further study with a pre-knowledge of which disciplines are likely to increase the chances of having a job in the labour market. There is a wide spread belief that disciplines related to natural science and information technology are in high demand on the continent. The prospect for employment is certainly present in the determination of choice of study programme prior to move. In this regard, educational migration is not only motivated by a search for further tertiary qualification but also as an investment in human capital. Elsewhere, marked preferences are observed among international students for study programmes that have linkages with accounting, IT and natural science. In his study on Indian students in Australia, Baas (2007) found that Indian students enrolled in courses such as accounting and IT far outnumbered the students in arts, communication or law. For the former, the prospect of getting a degree that facilitates the granting of a permanent residential status (PR) is the primary reason for migrating to Australia.

Table 1. Current programme of study

Department of program affiliation

Number of respondents

%

Economics, management & business
Social science
Humanities
Natural science
Education
Engineering/building
Medical/nursing
Mathematics/Statistics/Computer
Law
Other programmes
Total

25
38
17
23
2
7
47
27
7
14
(N=180)

13.8
21.1
9.4
12.7
1.1
3.8
26.1
15
3.8
7.7
100

16Although the major cities offer comparable advantage, the choice of a particular city is greatly influenced by the stock of information communicated to them by previous migrants about the quality of life in the area. To some students, Cape Town, for example, is preferred to Johannesburg because, according to the respondents, foreigners encounter lesser harassment from the police officers in the streets. Others stated that in Johannesburg it is more difficult to find a casual job or to run a business than it is Cape Town even if one is academically qualified. From those respondents who had previous stay in Johannesburg, it transpired that living in Johannesburg comes with a lot of harassment by the police. Besides, the city is reputed for its administrative hurdles imposed to foreigners when applying for residence or work-related documents in the department of Home Affairs. These considerations on what one would see as friendly urban environment are of major importance as they dictate informed choices among young migrants as to where to relocate in South Africa.

Studying and Working

17The South African legislature allows foreign students with “study permit” to work on or off-campus a maximum of twenty hours per week. Usually students have a number of rather clear reasons for wanting to work while studying. Most had come to South Africa with only a limited amount of pocket money which they usually used on books, rent and transportation within the first couple of months; after that, as they often pointed out, they were on their own. Working besides studying is, thus, simply necessary to pay for living expenses. Most of these students operate in-between legal and illegal spheres. They regularly admitted to be working more than twenty hours per week, also finding this quite normal in the sense that on the one hand they were perfectly aware that they were not supposed to do so, but on the other hand also arguing that they simply needed to and that ‘everybody else’ was doing so as well. In this sense they argued certain ‘normality’ about what they were doing. This normality does not only relate to the financial pressure they were under themselves but also to what they see as ‘being’ normal for a migrant. Due to this temporary character and informal nature of student migrant work, there tends to be significant underreporting for tax payment. A case was reported of a female student from Mauritius working for 40 hours a week in a consultancy firm without being registered with the South African Revenues Services. There are many similar cases of this type.

18Working and, at the same time, studying is common practice among foreign students regardless of the country of destination. In some countries students are prohibited from any type of remunerated work outside the schedule of their training. Whatever the restrictions in place, however, students always find way of getting involved in some income-generating activities through work in order to balance their finances. This is likely to be the case where the student is self-funding the costs of study which not only refer to tuition fees but also cover the maintenance and other items in the place of study. The question revolves therefore around the type of work they do. The nature of works naturally varies but one can observe from the data collected that it involves both “good” and “bad” work if one looks at the extent to which it falls either in informal or formal employment. Before going into the details of employment type taken up by migrant students, it is important to bear in mind that for most foreign students in South Africa have work that qualifies as “casual” or “unauthorised” work which is dominantly insecure. Students working in casual jobs are aware of this job insecurity. For most of these students, the priority is not as such their present work; it is rather the degree they are aiming at. Having said this, the employment rate is not what one would see as exceptionally high. This survey revealed that at the time of survey the migrant students were in a proportion of only 29 per cent out of the total respondents. As one can see, the number is relatively small. There is need for caution in assessing this proportion. The small proportion is probably the reflection of the fact that the survey coincided with the period of end of year exams. It is generally a busy time for students on campus as they are preparing and writing exam papers. Because of this, working students have to avail themselves for the exams. Some involved in casual jobs generally relinquish their employment while others with more or less formal employment tenure ask for leave to concentrate on the writing of exams. Thus the survey question asked as to whether the respondent is currently working does not inform on whatsoever remunerated work done by those currently not working during the current academic year. Notwithstanding this time-related measurement of employment tenure, the percentage above is a clear indication that working is not incompatible with studying among these francophone migrant students.

19The sectors of employment show a great deal of diversity as illustrated in the table below. Put aside students in nursing who are placed on internship, students working outside the campus are unlikely involved in work related to the discipline of study. Some of these students work casually on more than one job. Being foreign students, they are not authorized to take up employment unless they are refugees or asylum seekers. Consequently, most of those students working outside the campus do so illegally. Moreover they are not registered for tax payment. There is no doubt that work as either hawker, guarding or waiter is merely temporary job to make ends meet while studying. Interestingly, there is some presence of work related to church service. Being involved in religious activity is generally used as a strategy for gaining access to resources, companionship and being connected to people of the same origin.

Table 2. Distribution of employed students by economic activity

Sector of employment

Number of students

Academic/research
Casual work with business
Guarding
Hair stylish
Hawking
Church
Internship
Nursing
Waiter (restaurant)
UWC administrator
Tutoring
Information technology
Other
Total (working)

8
13
2
1
3
2
6
2
4
3
10
1
1
56

20The place of work displays a great deal of spatial dispersion. Students working outside the campus outnumber those working on campus. The campus based work represents 30% of the respondents outside the campus. The bulk of this work takes place in their department of affiliation. The students are mainly involved in work related to research, assistantship in teaching, administration and tutoring. From this involvement in academic work on campus, they gain access to some form of income which may be used to cover the costs of living while studying. As foreign students, they are not entitled to formal channels of financial aid provided through institutions such as the National Fund for Assistance to Students (NFAS) or the National Research Foundation (NRF). The policy in place does not provide for foreign students’ eligibility to bursaries, study loans and scholarship made available by these institutions. Some students owing the university make use of the monies generated from their participation in academic work to pay out tuition fees. It must be said working on campus is not specific to the students surveyed. This practice is ubiquitous across the whole range of tertiary institutions in South Africa. This type of employment does not require the acquisition of a work permit from the Department of Home Affairs. The permission to work on Campus comes automatically with the granting of study permit to foreign students. The only restriction attached to this provision is the number of working hours limited to 20 hours. Migrant students often do not comply with the regulation especially for those students in informal employment. The amount of earnings generated from such work depends on the level of involvement. At the doctoral or post-doctoral level some students can earn substantial amounts of money. At undergraduate or masters level the remuneration is relatively small. Regardless of the amount earned, most of the interviewed students find it necessary to get this type of work as it is used to cover some daily needs. Besides, this earning is exempted from tax even at the postdoctoral level. Depending on the level of study, this type of work may involve some part or full-time teaching and researching. One of the benefits derived from such a work is the exposure of the students to the academic way of transmitting knowledge to others. Through the exposure to teaching, for example, the student gains some academic skills that may serve in future if he or she decides to take up career in teaching. There is a great deal of diversity in the place of work for those students working outside the campus. Suburbs as distant as Tokai or Sea Point are some of the places where students are working. These locations are not at reasonable distance from the campus where they are studying and, for some, accommodated in hostels. With a notoriously dysfunctional public transport system in Cape Town, one can imagine the daily hurtles they face.

Table 3. Place of work among currently working migrant students

Place of work

Number

Bellville
Other Cape Town suburbs
UWC campus
Rest of the WC province

11
23
15
1

Migratory perspectives and educational project

21First it is important to note here that, as it emerges from the survey, the francophone students are mature with an average age of 30.6 years old. Besides, and surprisingly, the proportion of married students (31%) among them is quite substantial. Thus the combination of these two demographic features would suggest a lower propensity to migrate for study motive. Against this prediction, it is interesting to note that for the majority of students in the survey the decision to migrate was clearly motivated by the search for further study. Excluding those who did not specify the motive, only 7% indicated coming to South Africa in order to look for work. The study motive represents about 66% among the respondents. From this distribution of motives, one can say with no ambiguity that the migration of students is strongly driven by the demand for education. This does not imply the two motives exclude one another. The combination of these two motives is reflects numerically in the respondents whose motive was a mix of work and study. Proportionally they represent 23%. In fact, as examined later in the paper, the combination of both motives - work and study - is a reflection of the difficulty to establish a clear-cut distinction between them. Decision to migrate for study can be taken intentionally with a hope of finding a job. Many young Africans on the continent rank high South Africa amongst the ideal places for finding work. Even with a clear motive of studying, some of these migrant students aspire to finding employment in South Africa upon completion. As examined later, this option is not considered by all of them. Returning home or relocating in a third country may also be contemplated. Controlling for sex, male versus female, it emerges that women are on par with men for either motive. Male and female students who came to South Africa for study are proportionally 65.7% and 65.2%, respectively. Although, most students were single at the time they migrated to South Africa, one would have expected a smaller proportion of female students. The literature on migration selectivity tends to depict female migration as “associational” due to the fact that women migration is generally motivated by marital considerations. Because the data show a different picture, it is therefore necessary to look into the differentials in the motive of migration taking consideration of the marital status. Surprisingly, even for the married ones at the time the migration was initiated, the motive related to study comes out very prominently. While being single and migrating for study conveys a long established relationship in the study of migration, the relative importance of married people whose migration was motivated by study is a worth noting aspect. Proportionally, the survey reveals that 60% of the respondents of both sexes, who were married at the time they migrated, came to South Africa for study. Controlling for sex, it follows that 68% of male respondents and 52% of female respondents, respectively, who migrated for study were married prior to their move. The above considerations provide supporting evidence to the extent to which the decision to migrate was strongly incorporated into the educational project.

Forms of communication with the country of origin

22Migration research has been handy in establishing that migrants always keep a foot in their places of origin. This may be through remittances, short visits or merely sending letters to those left behind. Today communication has become much easier with new developments in electronic mail, internet and mobile phones Thus regardless of the form it may take, communicating with the country of origin is an important facet of “staying in touch” once one finds himself or herself in a foreign country. From the survey an attempt was made to capture the different forms of communication the students may have used. The bulk of the respondents, 65.2%, indicated they do communicate with people in their respective country of origin. Naturally among people at home with whom they frequently communicate close family members (parents and siblings) come at the top of the list. Many respondents mentioned friends, extended family relatives and partners (spouse) are also by. A few indicated that they communicate with their parents. This clearly shows the affective dimension associated with migration, be it for educational purpose, when it takes place in the early adulthood stage of life development.

23Remittances sent home is another form of communication even though not every one of them can afford to do it. A much smaller proportion, 24.3%, of the respondents declared sending money home. As mentioned earlier, some students are working and part of their remuneration can be remitted. They do so by using money transfer outlets such as Western Union or Money Gram. Rather than sending money, the option of sending gifts is less constraining to some. The survey revealed that 30% of the respondents have sent gifts to relatives in the home country. The frequency is however variable from “once after 3 or 6 months” to “once a year”. Generally Christmas and end of year celebration provide the appropriate timing to fulfill this commitment. There are also those who rarely or scarcely commit themselves to this practice of sending gifts.

Visits and project of returning

24As indicated earlier some of these students have been staying in South Africa for some years. This raises the question of how frequently they have visited their home countries. Some of them may have problems doing so because of their refugee or asylum seeker status. Under the UN convention on refugee, anyone with such a status may not go back home for a short visit and return to South Africa as a refugee. The date collected from the survey on the residential status in South Africa show that about 43.1% and 5.4% of the respondents had refugee status and asylum seeker status, respectively. The regular migrants and the irregular migrants represented respectively 33.3 and 2.9%. This distribution suggests that about 53% (refugees, asylum seekers and irregular migrants) are restricted visiting their home country. For those regular migrants who can make it, the affordability of the travel costs is also a problem. For those students from Gabon or Ivory Coast, the fare is quite considerable for a return ticket. For all these reasons and many others not mentioned here, it does not come as a surprise that only 28% indicated visiting the home country since arrival in South Africa. When referred to the last visit diverse motives were indicated. These motives include burial, family commitment, holiday, wedding, data collection and work. Thus migration to South Africa does not mark a profound rupture with the social relations they had at home. This is a reflection of a certain attachment to the place of origin dues to the isolation induced by the sojourn in South Africa. For that matter, the attitude of students toward returning home after study is quite revealing. One would expect students not to return home after completing their studies despite the possibility of becoming undocumented, irregular or illegal migrant outside any kind of official support such as welfare benefits or social security from the host country. But this expectation is unlikely to materialize because, for one, such young migrants may be unwilling to return home to face possibly even more fragile and insecure employment conditions in their own country. As some sources show, the propensity of foreign African students applying for work permit after graduation is high (see for example The Sunday Times 26 July 2009). For these students coming to South Africa, the country does not simply offer an interesting study-abroad option with connected to it the possibility of becoming a resident, but also, quite simply, an opportunity to work.

25The intention to leave or stay in the country upon completion shows an interesting pattern which somewhat contrasts with the generally admitted one. The student migrants are predominantly candidates for departure. Out of 207 respondents, it was found that 111 stated a positive attitude toward leaving South Africa against 88 willing to stay. Only 8 were uncertain as to stay or leave. Expressed as percentages, these categories represent respectively 54%, 42% and 4%. The timing of the departure tends to fall within a relatively short period say one year to three years. Naturally this is conditioned by the completion of study. Thus for the majority, the return to the home country is part of the plans in near future. Thus migration does not translate into a permanent residential relocation. Looking into the group of non-movers, the major reasons for staying in South Africa are mostly related to pursuing studies and taking up employment after that. This intention is well expressed with strong optimism among those with a refugee status. This is quite understandable as the policy in place makes provision for that for those individuals with no place to go. They did however reckon the difficulty involved in finding the wanted job. A respondent from the computer science put it rightly:
If I get an excellent job, I can continue my career in IT without change of place. I will need to get a job first to be able to apply and when I apply for a job they ask for resident permit. Well that’s funny, don’t you think?

26For some female students, the reason of not leaving was merely a marital one as their migration may have been induced in the first place due to family regrouping. As a country of relocation, South Africa is not always a hostile country to foreign students. Family attachment is another reason for not leaving the country. As one medical science student (from Rwanda) put it “My family stay here, South Africa feels like home for me”.

27Some insightful opposite views however emerge among the movers. In a considerable number, those with intention to leave stated they want to go back home for family related reasons. Other reasons mentioned refer to xenophobia, insecurity, bureaucracy, discrimination and better job prospects elsewhere [Tati 2008]. While the home country was frequently mentioned, other major destinations included Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and The United States of American. Excluding the United Kingdom, the fact that none of the respondents mentioned European countries in the Shenghen Zone is an indication of the extent to which these countries are increasingly seen as hostile to immigration from Africa. France for instance no longer represents a preferred destination for those francophone students that possess a good command of professional English. Table 4 below displays a selected set of views collected from respondents regarding the reasons for leaving South Africa. Viewed from the perspective of South Africa and country of origin, the considerable number of students with an intention of going back home is an indication of this element of circular migration mentioned in an early section. It brings with it the benefits of educational migration from the point of view of developmental impact associated with migration in the sending country. As most of them indicated, migrant students intend to use the skills acquired in the South African educational system for the purpose of developing their respective country.

Table 4. Selected statements from interviewed students on the motive of returning home

  1. To develop my country with skills I have acquired in my field of study.

  2. Discrimination for foreign people. I don’t trust this country and this people. What happened in 2008 [in reference to xenophobic attacks in May 2008] can happen again.

  3. To earn a bigger salary. My home country, higher wages, and meets friends and relatives. Africa international students often regarded as a threat in the job market, and I would not like to be part of the threat.

  4. South African people are xenophobic….am tired of them!

  5. Do not like the place, because of discrimination. They do not want foreigners.

  6. Settle at home.

  7. To go and apply the knowledge I have acquired for the development of my country (charity starts at home).

  8. I want to develop my country when there still a change ( student in computer science).

  9. To develop my country and be close to family.

  10. I am not happy here and peoples are not that friendly. This is really a not safe country to live in (student in Microbiology Science).

  11. Discrimination, violence, crime, xenophobia and development in my field of study. Home Affairs officials especially don’t like Nigerians, same as South Africans. South Africans believe all Nigerians are drug dealers or in shady deals. I don not think the stereotype can easily be dealt with. A colleague once told me she grew up hating foreigners due to what her mother told her. The xenophobia (Negrophobia) incidence of last year 2008 attests to this.

  12. Find a job in a secure country. I feel insecure here with xenophobia. Being accepted as someone who can help in the system. Here they are thinking that giving a job to a foreigner is a great favour.

Source: Compiled by this author from the survey.

Some concluding comments

28The foregoing review of findings in the patterns of departure and relocation among young educational migrants informs that they have strong incentive to migrate. Some intersecting issues emerge. First while some students expressed contentment of studying in South Africa, others expressed discontentment about their experience with the institutions in this country. The positive side is that students find educational programmes that are suitable for their prospects for employment. Surprisingly they consider that it is much easier to study successfully in South Africa than in their countries of origin. But for some there are huddles in the pathway to success in South African higher institutions. Besides the frequently mentioned problems of language and documentation, students consider inadequate the level of responsiveness to their specific problems from the authorities managing their institutions. In some academic institutions, little space is given to foreign students to contribute to the transformation process and become integral agents of change in the post-apartheid higher education. Also most of them have to find ways of sponsoring their studies through exploitative working conditions or self-employment. Various strategies are used to avoid irregular stay in the country and interruption of study.

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Bibliographie

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Annexe

Appendix: Some figures in the distribution of students by geographical origin

Institution

Year of Reference

South African citizens

SADC citizens

Non-SADC citizens

Cape Peninsula University

2007

27103

1267

582

Central University of Technology

2007

9902

532

44

Durban University of technology

2007

22381

243

78

Twsane University of technology

2006

49401

1495

550

Mango Suthu University of Technology

2006

9978

115

3

VAAl University of technology

2007

14834

871

441

Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University

2006

22321

1095

829

University of Johannesburg

2007

40000

1084

527

University of South Africa

2006

208720

13375

4676

Rhodes University

2006

4490

1151

273

Walter Sisulu University

2007

23884

157

79

North West University

2006

34828

3536

345

University of Cape Town

2006

16498

2299

2159

University of Fort Hare

2006

7425

1012

89

University of the Free State

2007

22802

1533

183

University of Kwazulu-Natal

2007

35516

1386

948

University of Limpopo

2007

16905

331

233

University of Pretoria

2007

36045

1515

1073

University of the Western Cape

2006

13522

598

382

University of Witwatersrand

2007

23272

1010

819

Source: Southern Africa Regional Universities Association (SARUA) Handbook 20009.
Three universities - Stellenbosch, Zululand and Venda have no break down in students’ citizenship.

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Notes

1 Sunday Times, 26 July 2009, Foreigners flock to South Africa Universities.

2 For geopolitical reasons (serving mainly the interests of South Africa) the DRC has now membership in SADC.

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Pour citer cet article

Référence papier

Gabriel Tati, « Student Migration in South Africa », Espace populations sociétés, 2010/2-3 | 2010, 281-296.

Référence électronique

Gabriel Tati, « Student Migration in South Africa », Espace populations sociétés [En ligne], 2010/2-3 | 2010, mis en ligne le 31 décembre 2012, consulté le 24 mars 2017. URL : http://eps.revues.org/4160 ; DOI : 10.4000/eps.4160

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Auteur

Gabriel Tati

Population Studies Program, Statistics Department
University of the Western Cape
Private Bag X17
South Africa
gtati@uwc.ac.za

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Espace Populations Sociétés est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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