The attention that Kenya’s lower middle class is attracting from international investors at a government level is being replicated by private sector interest in Kenya’s university-bound middle and upper middle class youth.
In 2020, two international companies with ties to Canadian education set up their Kenya offices through local partnerships, with both eyeing expansion onto the continent from Nairobi.
IDP Education, a study-abroad consultant listed on the Australian stock exchange, opened their student placement office through a partnership with locally owned UniAbroad Education.
The company, which recruits for the six English-speaking education destinations of Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada and the United States, co-owns the high-stakes English test IELTS, which is a standard requirement when applying for education abroad or immigration.
Imad Chaoui, Regional Director for the Middle East, Africa and Eastern Europe, said IDP had been eyeing Kenya for a few years and decided to move forward with its plans in 2020 despite the Covid-19 lockdown. The decision to expand, however, has not been without its reservations, since Kenya is a country where students are primarily self-funded, and not government-sponsored.
“Our advice has a significant impact on the finances of the family. We feel this responsibility more in Kenya than anywhere else because families are using their lifelong savings, sometimes selling their land and mortgaging their assets, to secure education for their children.”
The second international education company to set up in Kenya in 2020 was Maple Leaf EduConnect. Its CEO Vinay Chaudhry, a former international student to Canada from India, entered Kenya by partnering with two local businessmen: the founder of student recruitment agency Explore Careers, and a business school classmate from Canada.
Maple Leaf EduConnect provides local representation to Canadian post-secondary institutions through a dedicated staff resource and two months into their entry, they had signed agreements with four Canadian institutions, with plans to add two more by January.
Their approach in Africa will be modelled on their success in South Asia, and Chaudhry is confident that it will work since both regions have high-contact cultures with the characteristics of increased eye contact, more emphatic speech, and closer interpersonal distance.
“Africa is a complex continent so there will be a steep learning curve but the time is now,” says Chaudhry.
Education abroad has been typically depicted as a one-way flow of students off the continent, bolstered by pro-immigration policies in countries where young skilled workers are needed to offset an aging population.
All of these education-related investors believe there will be a turning of the tide and are counting on it if they are to benefit from the country’s demographic dividend.
“Most of these students will come back after taking advantage of the post-study work rights in countries like Canada and Australia, and they will bring with them bridges and connections,” said IDP’s Chaoui.
And so while Kenya’s unskilled labourers are lining up for jobs at construction sites and manufacturing parks, another queue is also forming and this time it is a line of investors eyeing the positive spin-offs from providing access to quality education for African youth. And they seem to be convinced that the best way to begin is to start with Kenya.