The Growth of Online Programs in Africa

4 min read

Elise Hodge

While the popularity of online education has been steadily increasing worldwide, some regions have been advancing more rapidly than others. In sub-Saharan Africa, thousands of students are now seeking online study in a market historically marked by a lack of access to higher education.

With less than 10 per cent of students in sub-Saharan Africa enrolled in higher education, the uptake in enrollments is a massive step towards changing the economic future of Africa's youth. Over one-third of Africa’s youth is unemployed, creating strong barriers for potential students who must prioritize making a living before education, especially when required to help support their families.

Thanks to a campaign designed to increase participation rates in elementary and secondary schools across sub-Saharan Africa over the last couple of decades, the number of high school graduates is now higher than it has ever been, and more students are now ready to seek access to tertiary education.

For those seeking higher education, African Virtual University has been a pioneer of online education in the region, first made available in 1997 as a project of the World Bank and cooperation of 19 African governments. Having trained over 74,000 students since inception, the organisation has been connected students to accredited organisations offering access to online instruction and more recently, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).

The future of online education in Africa

Today, providers such as Unicaf University are helping to further propel growth. Offering affordable, high-quality campus and online programs in collaboration with universities from the UK, the US, Europe and Africa, Unicaf has over 18,000 students with goals of 100,000 by 2023. Helping many full-time workers to seek a qualification online, they are giving access to students who may not be able to physically move for study, or may not be able to afford study altogether with tuition pricing adapted to the market, and a generous scholarship programme.

Going further, Unicaf also provides every student with a tablet, and enabling course materials to be downloaded and accessed offline, so students can study on demand. Programs can be taken anywhere, anytime, as long as students have access to an internet connection.By adapting to the needs of students the local market they have been making huge gains in the market and creating opportunities for a whole generation.

Another alternative education provider is ALX, a for-profit institution that opened in 2018 in Nairobi. ALX has a vision to educate three million entrepreneurial African leaders by 2030 through its Leadership Development Centres. The institution currently offers two signature programs. One of their programs, the Launchpad, is a six-month intensive for high-potential graduates or young leaders starting out their careers. Students gain real-world experience, build character, and gain the skills to take ownership over their careers. The program is arranged around eight core skills, which students delve into over four courses. ALX’s Xcelerator program delivers transformative learning to help executives and managers fulfill their leadership potential. The learning is self-paced, so students can go through the content and projects at their own time and pace using ALX’s innovative online platforms. ALX is determined to create a brand so strong that employers don’t mind that its graduates lack a traditional degree.

Making the most of this opportunity

As momentum builds, the market is open for overseas providers and innovative sub-Saharan African players to claim their stake of this growth market. The key is creating innovative online programs that are attractive for both students and employers but also a practical fit for their needs. Students are looking for flexibility and the ease of access that comes with online courses offered by the big players. New entrants to the market will need to take these desires into account while ensuring students can access their content from wherever they are. One barrier to access could be problematic internet connections. In this case, course creators should consider allowing students to download and access content offline to ensure uninterrupted study.

While providers will need to tread with care, doing the right market research to ensure they attract the right students, there’s no doubt the sub-Saharan African education market is ready to embrace an influx of high-quality online programs. Bring it on! 


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