Cara Skikne

Decrease of international enrolments expected to continue beyond Fall 2020 


Just like many of our partners in higher education, we’re anxious to understand how COVID-19 will continue to impact student’s plans and the shape of education in general. Most higher education institutions have by now moved classes and services for current students online. The same is happening for the marketing and recruitment of prospective students.

From April 1st, we conducted a survey amongst higher education institutions to understand what impact they expect from Covid-19.  In the survey, 170 responses were gathered from higher education professionals around the world, with a lion’s share in Europe. Respondents oversee student recruitment from their roles in e.g. marketing, international office or admissions.

This is the second article based on the institution survey. We’ll be reviewing, in particular, the impact on recruiting international students. The first article summarised measures that institutions are taking to engage with the prospective student.

Expectations are not optimistic 

It is impossible to predict the full COVID-19 impact on enrolment numbers, yet the outlook from education professionals for enrolments in 2020 is concerning. In our survey, 83% of respondents expect a significant reduction of international students in the 2020 fall semester.

Flexibility of admission criteria, deadlines and teaching methods will be crucial to limit the damage and allow for students to still enroll in fall 2020.

Forbearance is not acquittal 

From our student research, we learn that 41% of students are planning to change their study plans as a result of COVID-19. They consider postponing their plans, or start their studies online, or go to a local university instead.

There is some good news as well: Although they may study later or in another country, almost no students consider cancelling their study plans.

International student recruitment challenges require coordinated lobby

The survey shows that there are two elements that have a crucial impact on the recruitment of international students: Closed borders when the semester starts (77%) and visa offices not processing students’ requests (also 77%).

For many of the other challenges for international recruitment, alternatives are being offered online, such as online fairs, virtual open days, flexible qualification test options and overall flexibility around deadlines.

However, border regulations and immigration restrictions are not in the direct control of institutions. Therefore, coordinated lobbying for travel & immigration policy relaxations that are international student-friendly will be key to limit the impact of COVID-19. In Canada, for example, where borders are closed to non-citizens, the travel ban has been lifted for foreign workers and foreign students with a valid study permit.

Monitor the trends

To better understand how students are looking for study options for 2021 and beyond, Studyportals created a COVID-19 Dashboard for Higher Education that will allow you to keep track of student interest over time. You will find information on the development of COVID-19 and understand how this impacts the interest of prospective students.

Access full report here

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