China-Africa Belt and Road Cooperation in Education: Development and Prospects

By: Shexiu Huang * and Hussein Askary**

The cooperation between China and Africa in the education and skilled labor capacity building fields intersect two important aspects of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). One is the five principles of the BRI of which “people-to-people connection” including educational exchanges are a crucial element. The other four principles are: Policy coordination, connectivity, unimpeded trade, and financial integration.

The other aspect of the BRI this issue of education intersects is what the President of the People’s Republic of China, Xi Jinping identified as “the three bottlenecks of development” in his 2015 keynote speech at the summit meeting of the Forum for China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in Johannesburg, South Africa. These three bottlenecks, according to President Xi, are: Shortage of capital, lack of infrastructure, and shortage of skilled labor. This third factor of the skilled labor is the subject of our study here.

In his speech, President Xi said: “To build China-Africa comprehensive strategic and cooperative partnership, China will implement ten cooperation plans with Africa in the next three years. Guided by the principle of government guidance, businesses being the major actors, market operation and win-win cooperation, these plans aim at addressing three bottleneck issues holding back Africa’s development, namely, inadequate infrastructure, lack of professional and skilled personnel, and funding shortage, accelerating Africa’s industrialization and agricultural modernization, and achieving sustainable self-development.”

As reported in 2017 McKinsey study, Chinese companies involved in projects in Africa often carry out training courses for the local African employees, many of them being sent to undergo technical courses in China itself. Besides, China has increased the quota of African students enrolling in Chinese universities with 45,000 students per year. In 2018, China surpassed both the U.K. and the U.S. in the number of African students. Only France is still ahead of China in this respect. China is also actively developing research cooperation with African countries and universities, especially in the field of agriculture and food security.

The rate of growth of African students going to China for study abroad grew by 258% between 2011 and 2017, compared with a growth rate of 30% for the US and declines of -2% for France and -24% for the UK, and that post-COVID.19, African students will continue to prefer China, according to a detailed report published by Development Reimagined.

In the December 2021 FOCAC Summit, President Xi presented a nine-point program to be implemented by China within the joint initiative which the two sides had agreed upon as “the China-Africa Cooperation Vision 2035”. The seventh point dealt with the capacity building through promotion of education and vocational skills through building 10 schools in Africa, inviting 10,000 high-level African professionals to seminars and workshops in China, starting an employment “through training” scheme for African students in China, and encourage Chinese companies in Africa to create at least 800,000 local jobs.

Progress After COVID-19 Restrictions

According to the Chinese Ministry of Education (MOE), each year the number of African students studying in China varies. The latest data was published in 2019 for the year 2018, when there were 81,562 African students studying in China, accounting for 16.57% of the total number of foreign students. Asian students constitute the largest section of foreign students studying in China.

Research conducted by the BRIX in cooperation with the Guangdong University showed that although the restrictions imposed in China with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic since early 2020 significantly disrupted the movement of students and trainees between China and Africa, progress was noted again in late 2021 and first half of 2022.

These are some of the examples we studied:

  1. Name of the project: Luban Workshops held in 2022

Number of students: more than 3200 students receive degree education, and the program offers training sessions for more than 11,000 people for the local employees.

Fields: technology and equipment, vocational training, degree education.

Geographical division: 16 countries participated in this program so far including Portugal, Egypt, Mali, Djibouti, Cote d’Ivoire, Nigeria, Uganda, Ethiopia, The United Kingdom, India, Thailand, Cambodia, Kenya, Indonesia, Madagascar, South Africa. As can be noted, the majority of the participating countries are African.

Types of agreement: Partnerships with vocational schools and universities and local enterprises.

Courses: numeral-controlled equipment application and maintenance, photovoltaic power generation technology and application, automobile application and maintenance technology, intelligent manufacturing, Traditional Chinese Medicine, international trade and logistics

Source of funding: Tianjin Municipal government.

The Luban Workshops program is named after Lu Ban, an ancient Chinese woodcraft master believed to be the father of Chinese carpentry and architecture, and takes aim at cultivating technical experts worldwide to serve either countries’ economy and society. In 2016, the Tianjin Bohai Vocational Technical College and the Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya Technical College launched first Luban Workshop.

In recent years, Africa is increasingly taking the lion’s share of the Luban workshops programs.

  1. Name of the project: Future of Africa started in 2021 – a project for China-Africa cooperation on vocational education.

Fields: construction, mechanics, electronics, electrical engineering, agricultural technology, information technology and other areas.

Types of agreement:  Chinese and African vocational colleges jointly train technicians for employment in Africa.

Methods: start an employment “through training” scheme for African students in China

Source of funding: Ministry of education of the PRC.

  1. Name of the project: China-aided project of rehabilitation and expansion of 4 rural schools.

Field: education

Geographical division: Kavango West and Zambezi Regions.

Methods: building education facilities

Source of funding: The Chinese government

  1. Name of the project: Capacity building program, mentioned in the 8th FOCAC Ministerial Conference. Launched in 2021.

Number: build or upgrade 10 schools, invite 10,000 high-level African professionals to seminars and workshops, China has helped 30 African universities set up Chinese language departments or Chinese language majors. 16 African countries have incorporated the Chinese language into their national education systems.

Field: vocational training, Chinese language learning

Geographical division: within Africa

Method: financial and technical support

  1. Name of the project: Chinese Government Scholarship-China-Africa Friendship Program, 2021.

Fileds: students can choose a wide range of major from science to arts, such as international law, finance, international trade and industrial economics, and statistics.

Geographical division: All qualified African students to pursue graduate studies in China

Courses: Public health, textile science and engineering, light industry technology and engineering, food science and engineering, international economy and trade, computer science and engineering, international law, intellectual property law

Methods: study at prestigious Chinese universities for a master’s or doctoral degree

Source of funding: Chinese Ministry of Education

  1. Name of the project: Chinese Government Scholarship, 2022.

Fields: applicants can choose any field based on their background

Geographical division: open to all international students including the African students

Source of funding: China Scholarship Council.

  1. Name of the project: the Innovative Talent Exchange Project, the Alliance of International Science Organizations in the Belt and Road Region Scholarship fields: scientific and technological, and space cooperation, 2022.

Methods:  Using China’s remote sensing data, the two parties carry out cooperation in the fields of disaster prevention and mitigation, radio astronomy, satellite navigation and positioning, and precision agriculture. They also participate together in the Square Kilometer Array Project. The complete satellite assembly integration and test center built by Egypt with China’s help has laid solid foundations for Egypt’s aerospace industry. China also assisted Algeria and Sudan to launch their first artificial satellites. China shares experience and achievements and promotes the exchange and training of professionals and technology transfer, as well as innovation and entrepreneurship on both sides. China and African countries have set up high-level joint laboratories, the China-Africa Joint Research Center, and an innovation cooperation center.

  1. Name of the project: The 20+20 Cooperation Plan for Chinese and African Institutions of Higher Education, 2021.

Types of agreement: cooperation between 20 Chinese Universities including the prestigious Peking University and Tsinghua University with 20 African counterparts.

Methods: exchange and cooperation among universities.

  1. Name of the project: Education trust fund under the UNESCO

Number: provides training for more than 10,000 teachers in Africa, with 8 million US dollars allocation.

Field: higher technical education

Method: provides teacher training for more than 10,000 teachers in African countries.

  1. Name of the project: Confucius Institutes and Confucius classrooms, 2021.

Numbers: 61 Confucius Institutes and 48 Confucius Classrooms. Since 2004, China has sent a total of 5,500 Chinese language teachers and volunteers to 48 African nations.

  1. Name of the project: Africa Tech Challenge program. Launched in 2018.

Number: 12 full postgraduate scholarships.

Field: Aeronautics and Astronautics Technology.

Geographical division: Kenya, Ghana, Uganda, and Zambia.

Method: A technology contest in Africa. Sends the scholarship winners to study at Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

Source of funding: AVIC International Holding Corp, China.

  1. Name of the project: Great Wall Program Launched in 2017.

Fields: Science, engineering, agriculture, medicine, economics, law, management, education, history, literature, philosophy, and fine arts, among others.

Geographical division: Students and scholars from developing countries; General Scholars, Senior Scholars.

  1. Name of the project: Degree Education Programs/MOFCOM SCHOLARSHIP – CSC Program, 2021.

Fields: Government, trade, foreign affairs, agriculture, technology, education, culture, and health.

Source of funding: Ministry of Commerce.



China-Africa cooperation have become a central part of the BRI. China has put much emphasis on these exchanges to alleviate poverty and launch the real development process in Africa in a synergy between the BRI, United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and Africa’s 2063 Agenda. What becomes obvious from the above examples is that China-Africa educational cooperation is in tandem with the technological development requirements rather than the usual focus by Western countries on political matters such as governance, democracy, human rights etc. To alleviate poverty and put Africa on the right track to development, African nations can learn a lot from China’s own historically unparalleled experience of moving hundreds of millions of people out of extreme poverty and propelling them into the position of the world’s second largest economy. This was done in four decades. This is one of the reasons why China’s development model (not political model) is becoming more and more attractive for African nations, thus the greater influx of African students to China, and greater vocational and capacity building workshops and projects that are carried out jointly. Based on these factors and the historical development, this trend is poised to continue and grow in the coming years.


* Shexiu Huang, Postgraduate, School of English for International Business, Guangdong Institute for International Strategies, Guangdong University of Foreign Studies.

** Hussein Askary, Vice-Chairman of the Belt and Road Institute in Sweden – BRIX

This article is part of a cooperation program between the Belt and Road Institute in Sweden (BRIX) and the Guangdong Institute for International Strategies, Guangdong University of Foreign Studies, People’s Republic of China. Ms. Shexiu Huang participated as an intern in this program in the Spring-Summer period of 2022.