Has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the aspirations of students to study abroad? While this might seem like an obvious outcome of the numerous challenges faced by students globally in the last two years, the pandemic has, in fact, made them more eager to go to foreign shores to pursue higher education.
That international student mobility took a major setback post the COVID-19 pandemic is no secret, affecting millions of students worldwide. Travel restrictions, lack of in-person classes, delayed admissions and more such challenges have incurred losses for universities and students alike. A recent analysis by UNESCO suggests that about 23 countries reported that the pandemic impacted international students.
To beat this, universities in several countries have devised innovative methods to tackle the lack of physical mobility through digital platforms and hybrid learning. This has opened up more opportunities for institutions to attract international students as they focus on virtual and physical student mobility by managing everything strategically and systematically. Students have also shown resilience and commitment to pursue tertiary education overseas.
- In the 2021 International Student Survey by QS, about 47% of participating students had said that they intended to defer or delay their entry until 2022
- About 16% of respondents had planned to change their preferred study destination, according to the survey taken by 105,083 prospective students from 191 countries and territories
- Consulting firm Red Seer predicts about 2 million Indian students would be studying abroad by 2024
What The Numbers Indicate
According to the International Student Survey by Quacquarelli Symonds (QS), a UK-based company specialising in the analysis of higher education institutions globally, in 2021, about 47% of all respondents said that they intended to defer or delay their entry until 2022. About 16% said they plan to change their preferred study destination. These indicate that international students are still keen to study abroad and a majority of them have not cancelled their plans.
The survey sample size included 105,083 prospective students from 191 countries and territories globally. In fact, nearly 21% stated that the introduction of vaccines had made them want to start their studies earlier and 43% said it had not made any difference to their plans.
Asked when they would feel comfortable travelling overseas to study, 41% chose when campuses are open and face-to-face teaching has resumed and 37% chose when a coronavirus vaccine is widely available.
Market research in 2020 also suggested that even though student mobility may have shifted post pandemic, the demand for study abroad was still strong.
The sentiment of delaying or deferring study abroad plans among students was also evident in 2020, soon after the pandemic forced most parts of the world to go under strict lockdowns. The 2020 edition of the QS International Student Survey shows that in April 2020, around 68% of the students surveyed felt that they would delay their study abroad plans.
As the world adjusts to a new normal, the twin factors of ‘safe and stable’ and ‘open and welcoming’ return to prominence, suggest experts. Consulting firm Red Seer predicts about 2 million Indian students would be studying abroad by 2024. The expenditure by students going abroad is also rising and could touch $75-85 billion by 2024.
“Continued border restrictions and outbreaks in 2021 may lead to a change in destinations by some students but we are confident that the vast majority will follow through on their plans to travel abroad,” says research by education provider company Navitas.
Also, more than 5.5 million students are likely to be studying abroad and these include those “for whom the core reasons for studying in another country cannot be replicated online.”
According to Leah Mason, researcher at the Institute of International Education, the decision to study abroad has been tough for many, given the “dynamic nature of the COVID‐19 pandemic on COVID-19 rates, vaccination rollouts, policies, visa and travel curbs.”
“Despite these challenges, international education will continue in
its many forms, with students interested in an education abroad and many countries eager to host them in the future,” says Mason.
Countries Welcome Students
Several countries offering higher education are intensifying their efforts to welcome back international students. Here are a few examples:
Canada: The Canadian Government is offering opportunities for work permit extension for international students. Also, Canada increased targets for 1.23 million new permanent residents in the period from 2021 to 2023.
United Kingdom: The UK introduced the Graduate Immigration Route on July 1, 2021 to offer 2-year work permits to students after completing the degree from an approved UK higher education provider.
Australia: International students started returning to Australia after almost two years after borders were opened in mid-December 2021. The Australian government is providing visa refunds and easing rules to join the workforce in a bid to allure international students.
The US: An Institute of International Education survey has noted that with the lowering of daily cases, mobility could be approaching pre-pandemic levels. This could boost the optimism of international students who plan to study in the US.
While a drop in the number of applicants moving abroad for higher studies has been noted since 2020, the coming months indicate optimism among students and institutions.