62% ‘prioritising’ attracting int’l students – report

Published 13/03/2024

Changes in politics, tech and regulation are currently considered low priority area, but HE leaders say they will become much greater challenges in the next five years, new research has suggested.

One in three (35%) say that they are the lowest priority challenge areas now, but 65% say they will become increasingly difficult by 2029.

The report, carried out by Ipsos on behalf of academic publisher Elsevier, detailed priorities and challenges some 115 leaders of academic institutions and research funding bodies are confronting.

The principal challenges are research and maintaining research excellence as highlighted by 89% and 93%, respectively, of respondents.

Funding, education and talent follow as the second, third and fourth priorities, but leaders say that the need to adapt to political, technological and regulatory changes will become greater challenges.

The report says universities have yet to adjust to the rapid rise of AI. Some 64% of respondents say that AI governance is a top priority but only 23% feel they are well prepared to adjust to changes.

“The report highlights the gaps between the perceived importance of several challenges, such as talent recruitment and retention, demonstrating societal impact, and research facility provision, and the readiness to address them,” said Elsevier’s chief academic officer, Nick Fowler.

“There are many opportunities that also emerge, including the preparedness leaders feel to deliver research excellence and address governance and regulatory challenges.”

Photo: Elsevier

The report suggested that universities are under “increasing pressure” to show the broader impact of their research, especially the societal impact and social mobility achievements, long-term health outcomes and how it aligns with global frameworks like the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Funding is “an ever-present concern for most leaders”, it added. It is an issue that has the greatest influence on how effectively other challenges can be addressed, the report said.

Financial pressure is leading some institutions to “embrace financial sustainability strategies, such as lowering pension debts and collaborating with other institutions or the private sector”.

Two-thirds (66%) of leaders say funding is set to become a greater challenge in the next five years, especially those working in EMEA and the Americas.

Challenges around attracting talent was also identified as a priority for three-quarters of leaders.

“Much like funding, this challenge is expected to grow over the next five years [for 67% of leaders],” the report said.

More than nine in 10 (93%) leaders are seeking more funding to attract the best talent, including managers, administrators, and technical staff as well as academic roles, it added.

Challenging demographic contexts with declining student numbers means some institutions are in “fierce competition” to increase enrolments while also maintaining quality.

“International student numbers will be impacted by shifting student preference from an education abroad to one at home”

The report noted that many of the 80 academic leaders featured in the quantitative research – including rectors, president, chancellors and provosts – said they would be “unable to fund their operations” without the fees paid by international students.

“Leaders expect the number of international students their institutions attract will be impacted by shifting student preference from an education abroad to one at home,” the paper noted.

About two-thirds (62%) of leaders see attracting international students as a high priority, though only 36% claim to be well prepared to address the challenge, it said.

Elsevier acknowledged the scale of the study made splits between countries difficult but it said there is an overall gap between priority and preparedness in different regions. Photo: Elsevier

However, priority given to international students is mixed over different regions.

Some 79% of EMEA respondents say it is a priority, while 56% of APAC and 53% of Americas respondents said the same. The extent that they say they are prepared to address the challenges also changes.

“[The difference] suggests that leaders in the Americas are more confident in their institutions’ reputations and resources to bring in international students,” the report said.

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