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Why Quebec is attracting more and more African students

By Olivier Caslin
Posted on Thursday, 24 June 2021 07:21

Laval University has seen a 60% increase in its African student intake since 2016. Laval University

Thanks to the support that its universities offer, Quebec has long attracted foreign francophone students, many of them Africans. And it is reaping the rewards in return.

For nearly 50 years, Quebec has been opening the doors of its higher education institutions to students from all over the world, particularly French-speaking ones. Africans have long sought this destination due to the accessibility of its higher-level education system. So much so that the Quebec government has identified it as one of the five pillars of its ‘Vision Africa’ that will be unveiled before the end of this year.

Several thousand Africans cross the Atlantic annually, to pursue professional, technological or university studies. Upon completion, some apply for residency in Quebec so that they can enter the booming job market, others return to their home countries or go elsewhere.

Over the years, Quebec has built a unique network in Africa that becomes larger with each new class of students.

“For 2019-2020, we received 16,000 applications from 45 African countries for all our partner institutions,” says Catherine Plasse-Ferland, assistant director of the Pôle Régional en Enseignements Supérieur Capitale-Nationale (aka Québec Villes Études). Since 2018, it now encompasses the province’s main university and higher education institutions under the same banner.

Labour shortage

This grouping of the main training facilities, which was prompted by the Quebec ministry of education, is part of the government’s strategy to address the labour shortage in many of the province’s economic sectors. This is currently estimated at nearly 150,000 positions, half of which require higher-level education.

This prospect has aroused growing interest in recent years among African baccalaureate holders, who are traveling over in ever greater numbers to try their luck in Quebec. Université Laval, which has a strong presence in Africa and is the largest French-speaking higher-level education institution in North America, has recorded a 60% increase in its African student intake since 2016.

Quebec’s Collèges d’Enseignement Général et Professionnel (Cegep) has made similar progress. They act as a bridge between high school and university, offering a diploma that is equivalent to the first year of a bachelor’s degree in the Quebec school curriculum. According to Francis Brown Mastropaolo, director of international affairs at the Fédération des Cegep, this  course “[is] sufficiently flexible in terms of the training that it offers, so much so that it both meets doctoral students’ desire to specialise as well as migrants’ urgent need to enter the Quebec job market.”

With its 48 colleges, Cegep is an important gateway for many newcomers. This is because students can build their career paths by either opting for a Diplôme d’Etudes Collégiales – which allows them to do a university-level course – or for an Attestation d’Etudes Collégiales, whose courses generally correspond to the needs of the job market.

This is particularly true for the Cegep Limoilou training programmes: they are defined with help from the region’s business leaders and specifically cater to African students. The Cegep formula has been quite popular on the continent since the Quebecers participated in the reform of the Institut Supérieur d’Enseignement Professionnel du Sénégal that President Macky Sall launched in 2013. An initial pilot programme was successfully carried out in Thiès, which was subsequently duplicated in the rest of the country.

Cameroon and Mozambique

Today, Cegeps has around 50 cooperation agreements (digitisation of training, development of entrepreneurship, technical assistance, etc.) in West Africa, as well as in Cameroon and Mozambique. “Our highly professional approach, which focuses on making individuals employable, is beginning to be widely recognised on the continent,” says Mastropaolo.

Other major institutions, such as the École Nationale d’Administration Publique (Enap) and the Institut National de la Recherche Scientifique (INRS), are also open to Africans looking to study overseas. Both host several hundred African students who, each year, represent between 20% and 25% of their respective foreign contingents.

Enap, which has seen several thousand Africans pass through its doors within the past 60 years, offers doctorate and master’s degrees that are recognised in many French-speaking countries on the continent. Some of the courses have even been replicated locally, while continuing-education modules are also offered to local administrations.

Over the years, Quebec has built a unique network in Africa that becomes larger with each new class of students. “When students stay, they become part of the family. When they go back to their respective countries, they are our best friends there,” says Mastropaolo. In both cases, Quebec wins. And so do the African students who have taken the plunge.

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