Higher Education in Sub-Saharan Africa

Relevant fact list

The list below holds a sample of relevant numbers collected and estimated on this website. More detailed explanations can be found on the other pages. Sources are listed below. Numbers are not generally precise, and estimates should be considered uncertain by some 50%.

"Sub-Saharan" is abbreviated "s.s." throughout.


  • Average tertiary (university) enrollment in s.s. Africa: 5%
  • Average tertiary enrollment in high-income countries: 70%
  • Total tertiary students in s.s. Africa: 3 million
  • Current rate of increase in tertiary enrollment in s.s. Africa: doubling in 5 years
    (i.e. growth of 15%/year, the fastest in the world)
  • Spending (by govts. and students) on tertiary education in s.s. Africa: $10 billion / year
  • Annual university cost for a s.s. African student as % of per capita income: 170%
  • Same for a U.S. student: 20% for public universities, 65% for private
  • Mean s.s. African university cost to students in U.S. terms: $70,000 / year
  • Number of sub-Saharan African countries with significant student loan programs:      2
  • Number of sub-Saharan African countries without significant student loan programs: 46
  • Annual total of student loans to U.S. tertiary students: $68 billion / year
    (+ $46 billion in grants)
  • Dropout rate of university students in s.s. Africa: 50%
    (estimate is highly uncertain and variable by country)
  • Dropout rate of university students in the United States: 46%
  • Fraction of s.s. African university graduates who emigrate: 10%
    (higher for doctors, nurses, & other professionals)
  • Educational cost to s.s. African governments of this emigration: $1.5 billion / year
    for university and postgraduate education alone
  • Educational cost of emigration from Africa to the U.S. alone: $700 million / year
  • Development aid sent from the U.S. to Africa: $600 million / year
  • Cost of internet access for universities in the U.S., per Mbps/month:  $120
  • Cost of internet access for s.s. African universities, per Mbps/month: $13,000
    (varies by country)
  • Cost of internet access in s.s. Africa, per Mbps/month, if communication
    cables to s.s. Africa were operated with regulated return on investment: $250
    (wholesale price, would be still lower if cables were operated non-profit)
  • Present cost to a s.s. Africa university to buy the same bandwidth
    as a U.S. university (1 Gbps): $13 million / month
  • Companies holding significant ownership stakes in communication cables to Africa:
    For the SAT-3 cable, in order: TCI, a subsidiary of AT&T (U.S.A.); France Telecom
    (France); VSNL (India, Singapore), Nitel, a subsidiary of Transcorp (Nigeria), + smaller stakes by other African telecoms. For the South Africa-only SAT-2 cable: Telkom SA Ltd (South Africa), Telefónica (Spain), Marconi, a subsidiary of G.E.C. (U.K.), British Telecom (U.K.), France Cables et Radio (France), Deutsche Bundespost (Germany).
  • Subscription cost for research journals for a U.S. university library: $4 million/year (science and engineering journals alone)
  • Annual profits of the private academic journal publisher Elsevier: $900 million/year (2004)
  • Amount spent by Elsevier to lobby the U.S. Congress in 2004: $2.8 million
  • Computing facilities in libraries of Ahmadu Bello University, Nigeria, 2006
    (with 30,000 undergraduates, same as U.C. Berkeley): 19 computers and 1 printer
  • Employment rates of s.s. African university graduates: no data
  • Number of locally-owned engineering or technology firms in Africa: no data
  • Fraction of engineering work on donor-funded projects done by African firms: no data


  • University enrollments and GNI: World Bank EDSTATS (2004 data).
  • Growth rate of enrollment in Africa: World Bank, presentation by Peter Maderu at the University Leader's Forum in Cape Town, R.S.A., 2006 (data from 1991-2004).
  • Total tertiary students and spending in Africa: see here for estimation.
  • University costs: for the U.S., National Center for Education Statistics, 2004 data. For s.s. Africa, average of responses on student surveys. Conversion to U.S. terms is made by taking African university cost as a fraction of GNI and multiplying by the U.S. GNI.
  • Countries in s.s. Africa with loan programs: International Comparative Higher Education Finance and Accessibility Project.
  • U.S. annual student loans: College Board, 2003/4 data.
  • Dropout rates in s.s. Africa: estimated from student surveys and other sources; see here.
  • Dropout rates the U.S.: Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, for 1997 data, as reported by MSNBC.
  • Emigration rates and costs: see here for estimation.
  • U.S. development aid to Africa: Brookings Institution.
  • University internet costs, U.S.: World Bank.
  • University internet costs, Africa: average of 7 universities in study by the Partnership for Higher Education in Africa.
  • University internet costs, Africa, non-profit: estimate by Eric Osiakwan, AfrISPA, paper in preparation.
  • Cable ownership stakes: SAT-3 ownership agreement, quoted in report by Fibre for Africa. SAT-2 ownership reported in Wikipedia.
  • University research journal costs, U.S.: data from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2006 costs (personal communication).
  • Elsevier profits: Reed-Elsevier annual report, 2004.
  • Elsevier lobbying: Center for Public Integrity, see report and Times article.
  • Ahmadu Bello university computing facilities: Etim, F. E. "Resource Sharing in the Digital Age: Prospects and Problems in African Universities" Library Philosophy and Practice, Vol. 9, No. 1 (Fall 2006)