African scholars in US universities fall 21% over stringent visa rules

According to data sourced from the US department of education, 2017 had been a good year with figures close to the 2009 high: that was the year which saw the highest number of scholars from Sub-Saharan Africa teaching or engaging in research in the US in the last two decades (2,795).

The lowest recorded over the past 20 years was in 2001, when only 1,269 Africans were in the US, Erudera exclusively shared with The PIE News.

The figures are in sharp contrast with those of other regions of the developing world such as Asia and Latin America, observed Donjeta Pllana, an official of the company.

During the 2019/20 academic year for example, the total number of scholars from Asia who engaged in temporary academic activities in US higher education institutions was 73,389 – more than 20 times the number of Africans.

In the same period, Latin America had more scholars in the US compared to Africa. Including the Caribbean, the region recorded 9,659 scholars during the year, she noted.

“There is no official explanation for the drop in the number of scholars”

One of the main reasons which could have caused the drop in number of African scholars in the US, including African scholars, are the denial of visa applications during the Trump administration and the rules set by the president banning students from some African countries from four-year degree programs.

“The drop in the number of international academicians of African origin joining the US universities is attributable to rejection of visa applications under the previous Republican administration and policies banning students from some African countries from four-year degree programs,” she said.

“Apart from the reasons we have already mentioned, there is no official explanation for the drop in the number of scholars,” Pllana explained.

In terms of sub-regions, West Africa, buoyed by Africa’s most populous country Nigeria, led in numbers of academicians teaching in the US, with a total of 801 scholars in US in 2020.

East Africa followed with 603 scholars, and Southern Africa had 445 dons in the US. Central Africa, a largely French-speaking region, trailed with 111 scholars.

According to Pai Obanya, emeritus professor of Education at the University of Ibadan in Nigeria, African scholars are caught between a rock and a hard place, as most of them get “down-graded” on arrival in Europe and North America, while opportunities for career advancement are not always there.

African universities are not helping either, since they were not offering the academicians the best self-improvement opportunities, he noted.

The proliferation of institutions in Africa has led to poor funding, non-functional facilities, poor management, and inappropriate staffing levels, make African intellectuals want to look for opportunities in countries such as America.

In his opinion Africa doesn’t gain much from the 21st century brain drain as those teaching abroad stay put there permanently, with little enrichment for global-south.

“Let’s also ensure that their research work focuses on Africa’s development needs”

“By all means, let us encourage graduate education for African students abroad. But let’s also ensure that their research work focuses on Africa’s development needs, and also ensure joint project supervision with African universities,”Obanya added.

“If political stability is established in African countries, more of our young persons would stay back home and build cross-border relationships with foreign institutions instead which is much better for Africa.”

Little data is available on African scholars in the US, but a paper published by renowned Malawian scholar and educationist Paul Tiyambe Zeleza, and US counterpart Kim Foulds, the African academic diaspora in North America has “grown rapidly” over the last three decades.

“This is partly due to the severe economic challenges and political repression that faced African countries and universities in the 1980s and 1990s,” they observe.

Many African diaspora academics they observe have established vibrant but largely informal, engagements with individuals and institutions across Africa that allow research collaborations and curriculum development and graduate student supervision.

Data from the 2020 Open Doors report shows that in 2019/20 20,732 undergraduate students from Sub-Saharan Africa studied in the US, a drop of 2.2% from 2018/19. A total of 13,548 graduate students were in the US from the region, a year-on-year rise of 8.2%, and non-degree students fell 8.7% to 1,120. OPT student numbers from Sub-Saharan Africa grew by 17.8% to 6,297 in 2019/20.

The 2021 report is scheduled to be released during the US international education week from November 15.

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