Chelsea Samantha

Higher education: Before and after the outbreak  


A new report from Studyportals gives insights into the lasting shifts brought on by the global pandemic by tracking changes in student interest between 2018 and 2021.

This analysis is based on real-time student interest that is being collected on Studyportals websites and measured as pageviews.

It is representative of a global audience of tens of millions of prospective international students looking for English aught programs.

Shifts in destination countries

Over the last 4 years, the biggest players in the education market in terms of student interest have remained in the leading positions. The United States however lost two positions falling to 4th position and making space for Canada. Even before the pandemic we saw a decline in student interest for the US During the Trump administration, unwelcoming visa policies and anti-immigration rhetoric put a dampener on demand for US programmes.

According to Margaret Cook, Senior Vice President at Studyportals, ‘The decline of international students to the US is not a temporary change but a trend. Canada makes it very easy to stay in Canada to work, and the US doesn’t’.

Australia’s relative decline accelerated, likely caused by tight COVID-19 restrictions and border closures in Australia.

Moreover, we can see a rise in interest for education in Poland, Austria and Finland and a fall of interest in Turkey, Denmark, Spain and Sweden.

‘Poland is investing more in international recruitment and trying to increase the volume of applicants to international programmes. We see a similar trend from Finland as well.’ says Fabrizio Citto, Business Unit Manager for EMEA at Studyportals

There were also interesting changes in interest in education in Lebanon which gained 35 positions and Malta 32 positions.

Below is the list of top 20 destination countries with the biggest movements in rankings.


Student interest from source countries
In terms of interest from origin countries, there were many significant changes over the last years. We can see that India remained the largest student’s origin country remaining the top origin country for international students for the past 4 years.

There was also a big drop in interest from the United States and the United Kingdom both falling from the top 3.


Emerging markets are growing in importance

One of the most significant changes was an increase in interest in studying abroad in countries like Turkey that entered the top 5. Iran rose 5 positions into the top 3, and Nigeria rose two positions taking over the second position on the leader board.

Turkey, Nigeria and Iran face all critical shortages of university spaces. The demand-supply gap in higher education may well create opportunities for new universities or TNE, although other factors should also be considered.

Moreover, new significant players have emerged. Vietnam made the biggest leap, gaining 22 positions up and setting close to the top 10 in the world. Also, Sri Lanka catching up to 12th position rising 17. This hints at the potential of such countries becoming important recruitment markets at a time when geographic diversification is being emphasised as a key strategy to mitigate risk and improve education quality.

A new skillset for the post-pandemic world

While Higher Education tries to adapt to a post-pandemic world, it is necessary that it provides students with the skillset required to thrive in the near future. This means staying true to the mission of educating young individuals, while making sure that the programme portfolio is up-to-date and catering to the needs of a changing context capturing the interest of your student audience.


There have also been notable changes in the popularity of sub-disciplines, with the biggest move taken by Cyber Security which now positions itself as the 45th most sought-out discipline by students after gaining 74 positions since 2018.

Other digital-related disciplines such as Digital Marketing, Machine Learning, Digital Communication, and UX design comprise the rest of the sub-disciplines that gained high positions on the list in terms of increased popularity. This reflects the emerging trend of the world becoming more digital with an emphasis on a user-centred approach.

The other sub-disciplines which have gained some of the biggest interests amongst students are Clinical Psychology and Environmental Economics & Policy. The two sub-disciplines went up by 55 and 37 positions respectively since 2018.

An interesting development is the contrasting fall of Mining, Oil & Gas to the huge rise of Environmental Economics & Policy which indicates the possible change in student preferences towards sustainability themes.

Across the 200+ sub-disciplines used to categorise programmes, Gas, Oil & Mining, took the biggest fall, dropping by 39 positions at 161st. Furthermore, Dentistry, Communication Sciences and Water Management have all dropped in popularity by at least 30 positions.

Download the report now:

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