Post-Covid opportunities for African youths to study in UK

As the youngest continent in the world, Africa is expected to double its youth demographic to nearly one billion people in the next few decades. This enormous group of young people holds great potential for a rapidly ageing world. And yet before the Coronavirus Disease outbreak, only one in six African youths were in a stable wage-earning job, and over a third were fully unemployed. It is expected that Africa will be the slowest continent to be vaccinated against the disease, further hindering its ability to recover as quickly as others economically. A large population of dissatisfied young people can be a threat as much as an opportunity. Understanding youths’ priorities and aspirations is the first step in ensuring that their potential is realised for both themselves and a better world. But what are African youths’ top issues, and what can education do to support them? Over the past year, the British Council conducted market research across six countries (Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, and Sudan), hearing the voices of nearly 5,000 young people through surveys and in-depth interviews. This article highlights what they say about their aspirations in the face of the pandemic and how collaboration with the United Kingdom education sector can support them. ”People are not concerned about the outbreak. They believe their means of livelihood have been taken away,” submitted a male respondent from Nigeria in his early 30s.


Securing livelihood tops concern of African youth

Our market insight shows that the youth are more anxious about their livelihood prospects since the pandemic started across all market segments and sampled geographies. It is particularly striking in the face of a worldwide pandemic that the youth repeatedly flag economics as a far bigger concern than their health and mental well-being or those of their family members. For example, in Kenya, two out of three youths identified job opportunities as the biggest challenge facing them and their peers.


Starting a business – not finding a job – is preferred

Youths recognised the negative impact the pandemic is likely to have on their employment prospects, that the economic effect will upset people early in their careers and limit opportunities available to those entering the job market. Significantly, more young people identified self-employment or entrepreneurship as their priority over finding a job. This is also the case of those youths enrolled in university or college: over 50 per cent of this African demographic said their preference would be to start their own businesses.

Across all six countries, more youth said entrepreneurship was their priority over employment, which was more pronounced in some countries. For instance, while 60 per cent of Zimbabweans want to start a business during the pandemic, only 42 per cent of Ethiopians felt the same. It is notable that those youth, who had already started a business before the pandemic, plan to continue with entrepreneurship by a large 2:1 margin.


Youth dissatisfied with education offer

A large group of youth in each country confirmed that building skills was a big priority for them than before COVID-19. This included people currently enrolled in college or university. Separate research by the British Council has found that young people are often frustrated with the quality of education they receive. Of the Kenyan youth, who were already employed, just over half confirmed that education “did not match at all” the skills required for their job.

How deeply entrepreneurship is embedded in education varies, depending on location, institution and resources. However, there is a disconnect between the curriculum and the market’s needs across most African countries. Indeed, most universities have not integrated entrepreneurial skills into non-business-themed courses, but as stand-alone courses in themselves. The result is that the young graduates have technical skills like pharmacology or information technology, but lack entrepreneurial skills to launch a sustainable business.


Collaborating with UK to improve entrepreneurship

Africans in our pandemic research identified UK education as more attractive over other countries, including countries with strong reputations for quality education such as the United States of America, Canada, China and Germany. This should not be surprising. The UK higher education sector is world-leading in graduate employability, with two of the top five global universities in recent graduate employment rankings. The past decade has seen a huge focus in the UK education sector on improving students’ employability and entrepreneurial skills. The UK is also among the most internationalised Higher Education sectors globally, making it an experienced partner to collaborate with overseas universities and learners. The UK sector thrives on international partnerships and has identified several markets in Africa as strategic priorities for future growth.

At the same time, there are several leading African universities in entrepreneurial skills development with experience partnering internationally as well. We believe there is a great opportunity to harness and showcase the experience of these topmost institutions across the UK and Africa, creating a network for sharing their learnings on developing Africa’s next generation of entrepreneurs and piloting the innovative ideas that are bound to come from such a network. Already, there is a rich history of partnership between UK and African HE institutions on which such a network could be built. COVID-19 has increased the aspiration of African youth to be entrepreneurs, and collaboration between the UK and leading African institutions can make a real difference to support them.

*Zerzan is the Director of Education, Arts & Society for the British Council in Africa

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