Trade Commissioner Update: Kelly Matthews - Austrade Middle East and Africa

13 Dec 2021

Kelly Matthews, Trade Commissioner for Education in the Middle East and Africa, shares a regional update on market trends and opportunities across United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Kenya, Nigeria, Mauritius and South Africa. Market intelligence is included in this regional overview, which uncovers three key frames to consider in preparing opportunities for student recruitment.

Hello, my name is Kelly Matthews, I’m Austrade’s Trade Commissioner, based in the United Arab Emirates, leading on education and skills across Middle East and Africa. I’m really excited to share with you today some Austrade insights around the strategic environment, and the themes we see across this very dynamic and diverse region.

I wanted to start by sharing some high-level observations to help provide context for this regional overview:

From a student recruitment perspective, in 2019 this region accounted for just over 51,000 or around 5.4 per cent of international student enrolments.

Of those enrolments, the composition was around 60 per cent higher education, 25 per cent VET, 12 per cent ELICOS and 3 per cent non-award.

In this region, Australia retains very good brand awareness and that’s supported by our transnational education footprint here in the UAE, in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Mauritius.

In terms of competition, there is strong competition across education and skills in this region from well-established competitors such as the UK, the US and Canada, that all have a TNE footprint, but also are very active in their student recruitment activities.

When you think about the Middle East and Africa region, there are three key frames. It is diverse, it is dynamic, and its demographics are young and growing.

From a diversity perspective, there are a number of broad indicators that really do bring this to life. You only have to look across the GDP per capita to see the variation across this region. It ranges from around $32,000 USD per capita here in the UAE to just over $2,200 in Ghana.

There’s also diversity across population sizes and demographics. Kuwait has a relatively small population of 4 million when compared to populations in Nigeria and Pakistan which is over 200 million.

There’s also diversity across government education spend. It ranges from as high as 14 per cent of GDP to around 6.7 per cent in some markets.

So what this means is that that you can’t look at the region as one generic market. It’s really important to understand the unique characteristics and issues in each market and you will need to have different tactics for different markets.

From a dynamism perspective, this region is very future focused with innovation, technology, and international collaborations as a way to drive economic prosperity. Education, technology and innovations are game changers and enablers of growth.

COVID-19 has accelerated acceptance of new ways of learning and we are seeing investments across the region in edtech and education technologies are very much here to stay. 

What this means is you need to consider the changes that are happening around technology, digitisation and education innovation agendas as part of any regional strategy.

In terms of demographics, demographics and population forecasts are a key factor that sets the Middle East and Africa region apart from all other regions.

The UN global youth projections see Sub-Saharan Africa, Middle East and North Africa as the only regions where there will see an increase in youth projections through to 2050.

Africa has the fastest growing college aged population with UN forecasts projecting a population of 321 million youth aged between 15-24 by 2030.

And looking beyond Africa, in Pakistan the population is projected to increase to over 227 million by 2025, with over 60 per cent of that population under the age of 30.

What this means is then when looking 5, 10 or 15 years ahead, this region is where there will be sustained and continued need for high quality education and skills solutions.

In summary, when you think of the Middle East and Africa region, remember that it is diverse; it is dynamic and it has young and growing demographics.

A final reflection, and it’s an element that is common across all Middle East and Africa markets, is that relationships matter. It is important to invest in the region, it is important to invest and nurture local partners and networks and it’s really important to engage in a meaningful way with education partners and students in the region.

Austrade has a range of digital tools and data for education providers, such as the Market Information Package and Where to Compete, that brings together these insights and data from our local networks that can support you to understand and access markets across the Middle East and Africa region.

Kelly Matthews — Trade Commissioner for Education, Austrade Middle East and Africa.