Has COVID-19 really dented international students’ university plans?
Many of the forecasts about the future of global student mobility have been understandably pessimistic in their outlook. COVID-19 has forced students all over the world to rethink their higher education choices and reorient their career goals.
Conventional wisdom has it that global universities are preparing to face substantial drops in 2020 student enrolments, with large numbers of international students choosing not to take up their places in September 2020.
The truth is, perhaps predictably, much more complicated. Much of the current commentary surrounding international student admissions has bundled data from students across education levels and markets. In reality, factors like education level and country of origin will likely influence students’ choices in very different ways.
In the past few weeks, BridgeU has surveyed over 750 undergraduate applicants studying at international secondary schools in over 80 countries and asked them how, and to what extent, COVID-19 has affected their university study plans in 2020.
Here’s what we learned from surveying our community of students:
Most undergraduate applicants are continuing with their university enrolment plans, but a sizable minority have switched countries
When we asked if COVID-19 had changed their enrolment plans, 68% of students answered ‘No’, while 32% reported that their plans had changed.
From those students whose enrolment plans had changed, 88% reported that they still planned to attend university in September. Only 3% of students had decided against enrolling at university in the fall, while 9% of students were still undecided about enrolling in the next academic year.
“When we asked if COVID-19 had changed their enrolment plans, 68% of students answered ‘No’”
Notably, 41% of students who changed their plans chose to study in a country that differed from their original destination. We found that the United States has been the most adversely affected amongst destinations. The US was originally the number one destination for 32% of the students who told us they were changing countries. It is now the preferred destination of only 9%.
We also found that students’ revised first choices were more widely distributed across countries, with fewer students choosing traditional destinations such as the USA, UK and Canada. Australia and India are two notable examples of countries that received new interest from students.
Students intend to return to in-person learning as quickly as possible
For those changing their plans, when asked how they were going to study, 58% of respondents said they planned to study in person. Meanwhile, 38% told us they would be willing to study remotely as an interim solution before transitioning into a campus learning environment.
Only 4% of students who changed their plans intended to learn remotely for their entire first year.
Amidst the ongoing debate around remote teaching, this suggests that international students have not changed their mind in favour of online learning. It also reinforces how important campus and community are for international undergraduate degree seekers.
“Only 4% of students who changed their plans intended to learn remotely for their entire first year”
Students are mostly worried about the quality of their academic experience
When we asked students to rank the reasons behind any change in their plans by importance, the top ranked concern, rated by 60% of students as a very important factor was ‘concerns about the academic experience.’
In addition, 56% of students cited problems with international travel as ‘very important’ in their decision making, while 52% of students reported feeling very concerned about catching COVID-19, or being locked down at university in a potential second wave.
“Universities must meet the challenge of providing maximum transparency and adaptability over the coming months.”
International students are resilient, and determined to realise their further education ambitions
BridgeU’s work with international schools has shown us that students’ determination to gain a high-quality global education has not been thwarted by COVID-19.
But it’s notable that, for students who did change their plans, the most important factors were the quality of the academic experience and concerns for their safety.
Universities must meet the challenge of providing maximum transparency and adaptability over the coming months.
Universities still have a captive audience of students who want to take advantage of an international education. But that audience needs answers.
We’ll be releasing more of our research in the coming weeks and months. To get the latest updates, sign up here.
James Leach is Content Writer at BridgeU, the market leading provider of university and careers guidance services for international schools. With offices in London, Madrid and Hong Kong, BridgeU works with secondary schools in 120 countries. They also partner with global universities, helping them connect with the largest community of international schools available on one platform.
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