International Economics Consulting Ltd (IEC) prepared this study mapping Intra-Africa Trade in Education Services – Challenges and Opportunities, for the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA). This Study identified the opportunities of and challenges in intra-Africa cross-border trade in the education services sector.
The education services sector in Africa has grown notably in the last decade, in both, quality of education as well as enrolment and completion of primary education in several African countries, towards fulfilment of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4. Shared borders, physical proximity, and shared cultural history and often, language, also indicate immense potential for intra-Africa trade in services. However, as per the report, several challenges impede this potential on ground. Gaps in both, intra-Africa trade in general, and in the education services sector in particular, were underscored during the recent COVID-19 pandemic. This was exacerbated by the wide digital divide, and inadequate access to technology and network infrastructure, as technology attempted to plug some of these gaps.
While quality education services have always been a key development objective for most African governments, the lingering fear, as the continent recovers from Covid19, is that the focus on economic recovery and resilience will shift attention away from education services, for governments, private sector as well as donors. This fear is amplified because as the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), which seeks to integrate the services market, has not included education services as one of the five key priority areas identified for the first round of trade in services negotiations, even though education services have been recognised as a “critical sector”.
Going forward, it will be important to reemphasise the role of education services as building blocks for economic growth and resilience. In addition, as COVID-19 has underscored, building capacity, quality, and resilience in the provision of essential services like education needs to be prioritised, particularly within the AfCFTA framework. In this background, as the AfCFTA seeks to increase economic integration across the continent, achieving the objectives of the AfCFTA, and realising the full potential of the sector, necessitate understanding and plugging the gaps to intra-Africa cross-border trade in the education services sector.