More than a decade after the end of apartheid and the country’s first open elections, South Africa is reaping the rewards. Today it is home to the largest economy in Africa and enjoy the status of political heavyweight in the region. This growth has paid wide dividends, however, as its colleges and universities have recently begun to hit their stride. Between 1994 and 2007 – the most recent year that such statistics are currently available – the number of international students enrolled in South Africa’s universities has quadrupled. Nor does this growth (from some 12,557 students in 1994 to fully 53,733 in 2007) show any signs of slowing down.
This represents a boon for South Africa’s pride and signals a unique achievement. International students, who clearly see the country as an emerging study abroad destination, now make up 7% of the country’s student body. South Africa now ranks, for example, among US students’ top 20 most popular study-abroad countries. These finding, corroborated by the Institute of International Education’s Open Doors report, South Africa is now America’s 18th most popular study abroad destination, putting it just ahead of the South American heavyweight, Brazil.
The South Africa Student Visa has also become a hot commodity among the country’s neighbors. Fully two-thirds of the country’s international students – more than 35,000 in all – are from Southern African Development Community member states. The involvement of students from this 15-country block, which counts among its members neighboring Zimbabwe, Namibia, and Botswana, represents a huge show of support for South African higher education. Zimbabwe alone sent more than 18% of the country’s international students in 2006.
South Africa’s universities are recruiting from well beyond Africa’s southern tip, however: 16% of all international students came from elsewhere in Africa and 14% from the rest of the world. With that 14% – comprising students from Europe, Asia, North America – growing faster than any other, the future looks bright for South African study abroad.