Research Insights on African GME Candidates

Posted by Amy Hughes
Amy Hughes is a freelance writer covering higher education and graduate management education. She has written sponsored and non-sponsored editorial content for BusinessBecause as well as GMAC Media and works regularly on content marketing pieces for business schools around the world. Amy earned a bachelor’s degree in English Literature from the University of York and a master's of studies degree in English with American Studies from the University of Oxford.

Posted on Nov 3, 2022 12:35:31 PM

blog_A studentsThe continent of Africa is home to more than 1 billion people, half of whom will be under 25 by 2050. This constitutes a 1.2-billion-person market for GME, which is facing challenges across numerous fronts, from the continuing fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic to supply chain issues caused by the war in Ukraine.

To help business education professionals best serve the needs of this growing demographic, we’ve examined the latest data from our 2021 Prospective Students Survey to find out more about GME application trends among African citizens.

In this blog, we’ll break down key insights, including African candidates’ study preferences, the barriers they face in their path to enrollment, and the top countries these students hail from.

What is the gender split among African candidates?

According to our data, the pool of applicants from across Africa skews mostly male: 61 percent male to 38 percent female.

This initially seems like a stark gap; one might be tempted to explain this with what we know of educational inequality in the region – for instance, in Sub-Saharan Africa, enrollment in tertiary education for women stands at an average of 8 percent.

However, this disparity is not significantly different from the global average, which in 2021 was 54 percent male applicants versus 44 percent female. In fact, it is very close to Europe’s 60:40 gender split. Evidently, there is a hunger for business education among women in Africa comparable to elsewhere in the world, which persists perhaps even despite educational obstacles.

Which countries and disciplines do African candidates hail from?

The African countries with the highest GDP dominate the continent’s GME applications. Nigeria, which has the strongest GDP in Africa, contributes 28 percent of African GME candidates; South Africa, the second largest, gives 20 percent; Egypt and Morocco follow with 11 percent each; and finally Kenya with 10 percent.

African citizens are most likely to have majored in business or commerce subjects at the undergraduate level (60%), with the next most popular discipline being engineering and computer science (21%).

One-third are in the process of actively applying to their chosen programs, while 29 percent are still researching programs. The next largest segment or respondents belongs to alumni (12%).

Interestingly for a continent with such a young population, African applicants tend to be older. Thirty-nine percent of candidates are between 25 and 30, and 40 percent are 31 or over. How does this impact their study preferences?

African candidates’ GME study preferences:

Overwhelmingly, African candidates are seeking to study outside their country of residence, with 86 percent opting for international degrees.

North America is particularly attractive. In 2021, over a third of African candidates planned to study in the US (34%, up from 28% year-on-year), and over a quarter in Canada (26%). Meanwhile, just over one in 10 preferred to study in the United Kingdom (11%).

Despite their higher average age, African candidates expressed greater interest in full-time MBAs than executive programs. There was a slight preference for the full-time one-year MBA over the full-time two-year program (18% vs 16%), though this gap has narrowed since 2020. Most African citizens are interested in programs lasting 13 months or more, with 38 percent aiming for 13-18 months of study. Just 25 percent are interested in programs lasting 12 months or less.

In fact, there is very little interest in MBA formats other than the traditional full-time model. Part-time, flexible, executive, online, and hybrid MBA formats each attract less than 5 percent of African candidates. Instead, the Master of Finance and Master of Data Analytics are the next most popular programs at 7 percent apiece.

In accordance with these program preferences and the higher quantity of business and STEM grads among African candidates, their most sought-after curriculum topics are highly empirical and strategic. Over 50 percent of respondents expressed interest in:

  • Business analytics/data science (59%)
  • Project management (58%)
  • Leadership/change management (58%)
  • International management/business (57%)
  • Strategy (56%)
  • Entrepreneurship/innovation (54%)
  • Corporate finance (51%)

Goals after GME:

In contrast to their overwhelming interest in studying in North America, a high proportion of African candidates envision bringing their learnings back to the African continent. Twenty-seven percent say they would prefer to work in Africa after graduating, compared to 24 percent who say Canada, 23 percent the United States, and 19 percent Western Europe.

Interestingly, while there is a strong appetite for careers in “classic” MBA industries – 47 percent of African candidates are interested in consulting, 55 percent in finance or accounting, and 39 percent in tech – there is an equal interest in nonprofit and government work. Almost half of African candidates (47%) plan to go into this sector, compared to the global average of 16 percent. The most popular industry of all, however, was products and services at 59 percent, almost triple the global average.

In terms of the job functions African candidates are pursuing, half say are in the market for general management or consulting roles. Other popular functions are strategy (45%) and finance and accounting (43%), with the least-popular function being human resources at 23 percent.

What obstacles do African candidates encounter on the path to GME?

Perhaps unsurprisingly given that the average salary in Africa is just 10 percent of the average salaries in the U.S. and U.K., money features heavily in African candidates’ concerns about pursuing GME.

Seventy-three percent say that the cost of a business program could prevent them from pursuing it, with 48 percent saying the same of the future debt burden the degree would represent, 44 percent the current economic uncertainty in their country, and 32 percent their current level of personal debt.

Another serious concern for African candidates is course requirements. Thirty-eight percent say the standardized testing requirement for their chosen program represents a potential barrier, while 40 percent say the same of other admissions requirements.

However, this does not reflect a lack of confidence. Over half of African candidates say that their confidence in their ability to succeed does not at all impact their likelihood to enroll, and only 29 percent say that uncertainty around post-GME job prospects fazes them.

Takeaways for business educators seeking to attract African candidates:

For educators, this data indicates that foregrounding future-focused courses like data science and change management can be a good way to attract African candidates, as well as maintaining a global outlook when it comes to MBA careers.

To best remove obstacles for candidates, schools should highlight scholarship opportunities for African students, as well as the holistic nature of your admissions process.


Topics: Prospective Students, Research Insights, graduate business school candidate, graduate business school, business school, diversity, candidate research

Recommended Posts for You:

Subscribe to Email Updates

Recent GME Jobs

Recent Posts

Posts by Topic

see all

Contribute to the GMAC Advisor Blog