Cara Skikne

Students Perceptions: the effect of Covid-19 in 2020


As months roll by the full effect of Covid-19 becomes more apparent. This article summarises the changes in student mobility due to the coronavirus pandemic: Studyportals surveyed prospective students about their perceptions of study options abroad and their future plans. In this article, you will find some answers to questions like:

  • How did student perceptions change due to Covid?
  • What measures do students expect in a university?
  • Are students more likely to study online?
  • Did students change their study plans due to Corona?

The impact of the pandemic is far-reaching and there is often a mismatch between what students say in surveys and what they will do in the future. Nevertheless, the results of this rolling study are remarkably consistent among groups and allow universities to spot trends in student perceptions in 2020.

Covid-19 will have an impact on studying

The three batches of students who answered the survey can be split into spring (881 responses), summer (683), and autumn (889): students for which the pandemic is likely or very likely to affect their studies rose from 63 to 75%.

This finding leads to a more interesting question: what changes for prospective students with the pandemic? As always, two issues are on top of the list for international student mobility: travel restrictions and budget constraints.

These traditional concerns are not alone in the mind of prospective students, as other pandemic-related issues were high in importance at the beginning of the year. Nevertheless, as time passed, these issues subsided.

In specific, student fears, such as not being able to graduate in time, an impossibility in taking the certificates, or the virus preventing them from finishing their exams, have reduced drastically.

These are great news for universities which put a lot of effort to enable distance learning, online graduation, and greater flexibility in teaching and managing students.

Such finding reflects on the larger and larger share of students reporting to be studying online (the question was a binary choice between online and on-campus).


What should universities be doing?

Higher education institutions already did a lot for students, ensuring a transition to online teaching that was not expected in such a narrow timeframe. However, students would still like to see certain changes in a university. Some changes are welcomed, while others are of secondary importance at best.

In particular, showing that the university is having a focus on hygienic measures is by far the most reassuring action. Overall, the share of very important decreased in most of the categories, a clear sign that the pandemic is becoming less of a shock and more of a health emergency that needs to be managed.

Another important action to be taken by universities is offering online counselling and support (with more than half the survey participants deeming it very important).

Other measures are of lesser importance, among which online tutoring, accepting provisional applications, and moving lectures online. However, the reduced priority of these actions is to be seen in the light of the ways the pandemic can affect prospective students (see the previous chart).

In other terms, these measures are probably of lower importance because universities are already providing student support to a great extent.

What are students planning to do?

Everything considered, students are changing their plans: this finding is important because goes against the previous survey results.

During the spring and summer Studyportals correctly spot that a large share of students were trying to move further with their plans. These were often international students who planned their studies abroad many semesters in advance and were likely already accepted by universities abroad: this group realised its dream regardless of the raging pandemic.

However, as seasons passed the share of students changing their plans gradually rose from one-third to more than half of the surveyed students now planning a different path to their education.


This different path – contrarily to most hopes at the beginning of the year – does not involve online learning: on-campus residential learning experiences remain the preferred options. The share of students looking for online education stays close by but slightly larger than its pre-pandemic levels.

The largest share of students who changed plans is planning to postpone their studies. It appears that most of the students who changed their plans decided to wait and see if the situation improves to continue with their study plans in the traditional, on-campus, in-person teaching that served universities well until 2020.

2020 © Studyportals Analytics and Consulting Team – no reproduction without permission

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