Ukraine was a gateway to Europe for African college students

The presence of thousands of Africans in Ukraine was surprising. A reception that began during the Cold War. Today, many do not want to return home.

“We are students”, cry the young Africans trapped between Ukraine and Poland. Since the beginning of the war, many images of these students being pushed back to the border as they tried to flee Ukraine have been circulating on social media. According to UNESCO, around 23,000 African students were in Ukraine when Vladimir Putin declared the start of his “special operation”. African students therefore represented 30% of the 76,000 international students distributed mainly in universities and schools in Kharkiv, Lviv and Kyiv, the capital of the country.

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After France and the United States, Ukraine was therefore one of the most sought after destinations by these students, whose number has been increasing since 2016. According to Unesco’s 2020-2021 data, the most represented in Ukraine were Morocco , Nigeria, Egypt, Ghana and Tunisia.

“The USSR offered more scholarships and did not require students to return to the country at the end of their training”Michele Leclerc-Olive, sociologist

Student relations between the African continent and Ukraine are not new. During the Cold War, the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, integrated into the USSR, already welcomed African students. Some of the African countries that gained independence in the second half of the 20th century resorted to the USSR’s cooperation programs. “At the time, the scholarships offered by Westerners were reserved for an elite and those who benefited from them could not stay in the country after studying”, explains Michèle Leclerc-Olive, sociologist and member of the Elitaf collective, a research program aimed at clarifying the paths of African students during the Cold War. “The USSR offered more scholarships and did not require students to return to the country at the end of their training,” adds the CNRS researcher. The USSR thus offered very advantageous programs to African students until its collapse. “With this cooperation, she wanted to attract the sympathy of the new African elites”, concludes Michèle Leclerc-Olive.

Easy to get visas, cheap studies

After the Cold War, Ukraine continues to offer many advantages. “I chose to go to this country because visas were easy to obtain and studies were not expensive., explains Israa Aelle. Before the war, the young woman from Guelma, Algeria, was a doctoral candidate in public law at the Interregional People Management Academy in Kyiv. Israa Aelle was far from the only African student in Kyiv. “Congo, Tunisia, Cameroon, Morocco, there were many others”, She explains.

Diplomas that allow you to work in Europe

Ukraine, which allows students to acquire permanent resident status, appears to Africans as a gateway to the European labor market. Since 1997, the country has signed the Lisbon Convention on the recognition of higher education diplomas in Europe. Twelve years later, in 2005, the country signed the Bologna process that homogenized European higher education systems and founded, in 2010, the European Higher Education Area. This group of 48 states issues globally recognized degrees.

Partnerships with French Universities

Ukraine’s accession to the Erasmus+ program and its numerous cooperations with European higher education institutions represent an important asset for students who choose to study there. In France, for example, the Kyiv National Academy of Fine Arts and Architecture is in partnership with the Metz School of Art and the State University of Finance of Ukraine cooperates with the Nancy ICN business school. At the linguistic level, the country has the advantage of offering training in English without requiring a level certificate such as Toefl or IELTS. Finally, on the financial level, Ukraine offers training and a relatively low cost of living compared to other European countries.

Your situation is uncertain

In the face of the war, not all countries of origin of African students organized the repatriation of their nationals. “Ivory Coast, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo quickly found solutions to repatriate their students”, explains Sadio Morel-Kanté, founding member of SOS Étudiant Afrique. This association, founded in February 2022, has the mission of alerting the European Union, the African Union and the UN to the fate of African students. “The situation of students in Congo Brazzaville, on the other hand, is today particularly uncertain. The country was content to rent around 50 hotel rooms in Poland and did not organize a solution to bring them home”.

Many don’t want to go home

I don’t want to go back to Algeriasays Israa Aelle, who arrived in Lyon from Ukraine by train. Like her, most students don’t want to be sent home. They are now looking to integrate a university in Western Europe, where they enter as refugees. Reception centers were organized by the Africa 6th region network and the Maison des Camerounais de France to welcome them in Paris. “We were contacted by more than 500 people and we have already received 180 in Paris”, explains A. Monde NJimbam President of the House of Cameroon in France. “We facilitate their procedures to allow them to continue their studies in France.” concludes the association leader.

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