Today’s blog comes from Professor Ashley Gunter, Associate Professor in Geography at the University of South Africa (UNISA). His research interests lie in the neoliberal state of education in the post-apartheid South African system as well as infrastructure and development. Ashley is Principal Investigator along with The Open University’s Professor Parvati Raghuram on the ESRC funded IDEAS project (International Distance Education and African Students), which explores improving the equitable access and quality of distance education in South Africa.
The media often portrays South Africa as xenophobic and very difficult for immigrants to migrate to. Images of attacks on foreign nationals and lengthy queues of refugees waiting outside the department of home affairs are common front page news both domestically and abroad. The lesser known story of migration in South Africa, however, is the huge skill gain that the country has achieved through the immigration of some of Africa’s best and brightest. This is particularly true for Higher Education, a skills shortage in the sector has meant that many leading academics across the country are African Immigrants. Not only are these individuals plugging the significant shortage in the sector but they are adding to the diversity of academic experience for both the student and the research output that the country is producing. These academics provide a vital pool of talent that is training the future of their respective disciplines for the country and continent.
This gain for South Africa is equally reflected in the PhD students and graduates of the country where PhD students from Africa make up 30% of all new PhD students in the country and 29% of all new PhD graduates. While not all of these graduates remain in the country, the expertise, diversity and academic prowess they bring only serves to enhance the sector. South Africa is increasingly becoming a hub for African graduate students with an increase enrolment of 17% year on year since 2000. Overall, almost 40% of African PhD students are enrolled in STEM studies, improving the capacity and innovation of this important area of study. These positive developments have not gone unnoticed by government who have allowed foreign graduates to qualify for permanent residence if they qualify from a South African University.
So while the popular media has been focusing on bad news stories of xenophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment in South Africa, there has been a rise in positive immigration stories in higher education. South Africa and African migration of staff and students is strengthening the growth of academia on the continent, furthering African Development.