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African students in the UK

Moving to the UK to study is a big decision. Here’s some information especially for students from Africa that may help you make up your mind!

For international students, coming to the UK isn’t just about studying. It is also about learning about British culture, getting to know the British people and, hopefully, making friends. And, according to a UKCISA report called ‘Broadening Our Horizons’, which looked at the experiences of international students in the UK, of everyone who comes, it is Africans, particularly those from sub-Saharan Africa, who make the most British friends.

Fast facts

Which African countries supply the most students?

The top ten African countries in terms of the number of students enrolled on UK higher education programmes in 2009/10 were:

Nigeria (16,678)
Libya (2,880)
Kenya (2,421)
Ghana (1,898)
Mauritius (1,576)
South Africa (1,554)
Zimbabwe (1,424)
Tanzania (1,125)
Uganda (965)
Botswana (669)

Source: HESA Student Record 2009/10

This could be for a number of reasons. Although it might be tempting to believe that Africans are just friendlier than people from other continents, it could also have something to do with the fact that many African countries only send a few dozen students to the UK each year, which might make quite a lot of African students feel as if they are pioneers. While this might not seem much of an advantage, what it does mean is that you cannot hang around with lots of your fellow nationals, speaking your own languages and staying within your own culture. Being a pioneer forces you to get out and speak to different people, with new friendships being the result.

Where do the African students in the UK come from, and what do they study?
Of all the African countries, only ten send more than a thousand students to the UK each year. The ten are Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Libya, Mauritius, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe, with Nigeria being by far the largest, with over 16,000 students currently in the UK. The population of African students is quite evenly distributed among the bigger universities, with many having anything from 100 to 500 students each.

What this means is that you will almost certainly find a few students either from your home country or region at whichever university you choose to study at!

Where can you get help?
So what sort of support can you expect when you are here? The most important facility you will have initially is the international office of your university.

‘The importance of the International Office should not be taken lightly,’ says a Botswanan female undergraduate quoted in ‘Broadening Our Horizons’. ‘I have settled in so much faster because of what they did for me.’

Apart from the International Office and tuition in English language if you need it, UK universities will offer a combination of other support activities: Foundation Programmes targeted at international students, so-called Job Shops (which will help find part-time work), Careers Services (for longer-term employment), Accommodation Officers, buddy schemes (which pair you with a more experienced fellow national), student ambassadors (who lead activities for particular countries or regions), dedicated facilities (such as international student lounges and halls of residence), welcome orientations (which are usually free of charge). On top of this there will be the support offered by the student union and by the union’s volunteer-run student societies. You will often find there will be a student society dedicated to your country and certainly to your region where you can meet fellow nationals and UK students who have an interest in your home country.

African culture in the UK
Fast facts

At what level do African students study in the UK?

A total of 35,939 students from the region were studying in the UK in 2009/10, broken down as follows:

  • undergraduate: 14,606 
  • postgraduate: 21,333

Source: HESA Student Record 2009/10

Outside the university you will find other organisations which can offer different kinds of support. For example, if you study in or near London and it is important to you, it is very easy to find many active African churches and mosques operating in the capital which will always provide ready-made communities.

It is also worth remembering that many UK cities have African and Caribbean communities and this means there will be shops in these areas that may stock some of your favourite foods.

Preparations you should make
Prior to arrival there are a number of preparations African students should make, as compared to students from other parts of the world. According to International Officers at universities with a high number of Africans, it is always advisable to make sure that you document where your financial support is coming from. You may very well have multiple donors and having a complete record of this can make it easier when passing through immigration into the UK.

The other thing that African students particularly should prepare for is the weather. Britain’s weather is usually quite mild and balmy for most of the year, but if you arrive in the middle of a cold winter in January as Algerian student Sanna Henni did en route to City University, you might be in for a shock.

‘I was prepared for it being cold,’ she says, ‘and you know you always think you are ready for anything, but when I came out of Heathrow airport I could not believe it! Just don’t under-estimate how cold it can seem at first!’

Useful links for Africans living and studying in the UK

North America regional section

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