Geopolitics keeping leaders awake in outlook for 2023

Published 31/01/2023

Financial performance, geopolitics and managing growth were among the three biggest concerns for leaders in international education at the beginning of 2023.

Factors such as market instability and political tension are making long-term planning difficult for sector managers and signal a challenging year ahead for many operations.

These insights came from a group of senior contacts who took part in our snapshot survey on leadership.

More than 60 leaders, including CEOs, pro-vice chancellors, directors, provosts and edtech entrepreneurs from across 16 countries, all gave their views on current industry trends and what attributes make for good leadership in the higher education sector.

The results revealed that over 92% of respondents either agreed or strongly agreed that immigration is currently being used as a political leaver worldwide, with 44% of respondents saying that geopolitics and macro factors are a major concern.

In recent weeks, Universities UK International has been repeatedly forced to respond to media speculation about potential changes to student immigration rules, and sector leaders have been reminded how vulnerable enrolment flows are in relation to government policy.

Responses such as “geopolitical instability and economic recession” and “political interference” were seen as common threats, with one respondent saying “institutions and governments cannot react fast enough to address the demand” when predicting the biggest challenges for international education in 2023.

Artificial intelligence also emerged high on the agenda, appearing in both lists of concerns and opportunities. One respondent explained “the recent rise of AI has the potential for very concerning consequences around both the quality of [university] applications and student performance on courses”.

While AI was mooted as having the potential to ‘undermine’ quality in many parts of educational delivery, others saw the benefits of AI to “support marketing automation” and manage increased levels of demand.

Some 87% of respondents felt that education is being disrupted and will evolve either through technology or new modes of delivery. “Adoption of appropriate technology” and “better hybrid delivery” were given as examples of opportunities to pursue to improve access for students globally.

The highly anticipated “return of China” and the “reopening” of borders was cited as a major opportunity for 2023. In the past few days, China has told students studying remotely in the country that they should now travel to their respective study destinations “as soon as possible”.

Post-pandemic demand and increased global student mobility are being seen as a crucial moment in history that should be acted upon in the survey.

One respondent explained “the world and people have changed” and that there are many “new conversations and connections” to build on for those organisations that want to grow. Indeed, 80% of respondents either agreed or strongly agreed that public-private partnerships were set to increase this year.

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