A decade after a return to democracy and the end of the academic boycott, South Africa has made its mark in the competitive international student market.
"Universities have done exceptionally well in attracting foreign students," said Roshen Kishun, president of the International Education Association of South Africa. "South Africa is the number one destination for foreign students in Africa, and we believe it is among the top 20 international student host countries in the world."
Out of a total of 770,000 university enrolments, an estimated 60,000 came from outside South Africa, equalling 8 per cent of all students. This is a higher proportion than in most European countries.
About 60 per cent of foreign students are at conventional universities, and the rest are studying through the distance-learning University of South Africa. Only a few thousand South African students are studying abroad.
As well as the end of the academic boycott, a rise in tourism and opportunities for research in areas such as development, health and wildlife conservation are behind the increase.
Leading universities, keen to boost income and to increase the proportion of postgraduate students they take, have been marketing themselves abroad - especially in other African countries.
South Africa is an affordable destination. An internationally recognised degree from a leading university will cost a foreign student a third less than it would in Britain or other developed countries.
South Africa's agreement with the 14-member Southern African Development Community (SADC) means that students from their countries are treated as local students in terms of fees.
"The idea is that Africans who study in Africa are more likely to stay in Africa," he said South African universities have also been encouraged to recruit academics from the rest of Africa.
Of the 51,400 international students in 2003, 36,200 came from SADC countries, with Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia the biggest providers. A further 6,700 foreign students were from the rest of Africa and 7,100 from the rest of the world, including 3,400 from Europe and 1,300 from North America. There was no country information on the rest.
Chido Mashayamombe, 24, a Zimbabwean, chose to study at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban because it was closer than Britain and it was much cheaper than studying in the West. She said that most students probably headed for South Africa because of its proximity to SADC countries and strong programmes in fields such as development and global studies.
However, there are concerns that government plans to cap student numbers, because it cannot afford to support the rapid growth, will impact on international intake.
ON THE UP Year
No. of international students