UK Universities Look to African Online Market in the Wake of Brexit

Dec 23, 2016 at 12:00am ET By Joanna Hughes

With international interest in UK’s higher education offerings in jeopardy following the historic Brexit referendum, UK universities are faced with a dilemma: Strategize other ways to attract students or suffer dire, declining enrollments. In response, many higher education institutions are exploring potential new markets, with online opportunities in Africa garnering particular interest, according to Times Higher Education (THE). Let’s take a closer look at the trend, along with what it may mean for the future of higher education on both continents.

Expanding Opportunities for Universities

The higher education market in Africa is vast and largely untapped. According to Nicos Nicolaou, CEO of leading online platform for higher education degrees in Sub-Saharan Africa Unicaf, as told to THE, Nigeria alone graduates 1.2 million high school students annually with only 500,000 university spaces available.

Factor in declining enrollments from EU students and the growing challenges associated with recruiting international students to the UK, and the exporting of online programs makes smart sense.

And while branch campuses represent a different way for UK schools to keep up enrollments, they can be both high-risk and cost-prohibitive, making the online education market a favorable alternative.

More Access for African Students

Meanwhile, African students also have plenty to gain. While obtaining visas and paying the steep fees associated with most Western universities are beyond many African students and families, online MBA programs are uniquely positioned to grant otherwise unobtainable access.

Already, Unicaf has signed up a whopping 8,000 students for accredited online degrees from several different international universities, according to Nicolaou. In addition to offering coursework, these institutions also provide key resources -- including everything from a digital library and free tablets to a computer lab and a generator.

This, says Nicolaou, is a huge perk: “These students have very limited facilities, no internet, no electricity, no computer [at home]. They have the option of studying fully online or using the learning centres [in countries where they are available] and having some face-to-face sessions approved by partner institutions on a blended-learning model.” 

With one UK university already signed on, more are lining up. Nicolaou told THE that he’s increasingly approached by “more and more UK universities” about how they can get in on the online education market in Africa.


Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.

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