Working with universities to transform their international capacity and performance
Author: JP Deering
Partner Development and Corporate Communications Coordinator
JP joined INTO’s partner development team two years ago. Before joining INTO, JP taught English and composition to international students at the University of Kentucky. Now, he manages INTO’s corporate blog and social media, writes about international student mobility trends, policy, and the goings-on at INTO’s university partners in the US, and handles outreach to potential partner universities and corporate engagement at major conferences.
This International Education Week finds the sector at an inflection point. After a year and a half of adapting to distance learning amid the COVID-19 pandemic, many students navigated travel restrictions and quarantine requirements to cross the globe and get to campus this fall.
On the part of international administrators and educators, there were hopes for a speedier recovery to pre-pandemic enrollment levels than has occurred. But case spikes, subsequent lockdowns, economic fallout and increased vigilance regarding global travel posed significant obstacles to such progress over the course of 2021.
While COVID-19 has taught us many lessons — not least of all how hard it is to predict the future — there is every reason to be cautiously optimistic that we have come through the worst of the pandemic’s impacts. Here are four trends influencing student mobility that set the stage for the international education sector’s continued recovery in 2022 and beyond.
At a time when prospective international students continue to face hurdles to starting their studies abroad, clear, consistent communication around the evolving COVID-19 situation is more critical than ever. Driving the many innovations institutions and organisations have implemented to overcome physical distance and supplement in-person events is an understanding that connecting with students means looking at emerging complexities through their eyes.
No newcomer to counselling and recruitment, Success Factor is one of the educational consultancies with which INTO partners that has helped study abroad aspirants in Pakistan navigate tough decisions, travel barriers, and difficulties obtaining visas from day one of the pandemic. We sat down with Mohsin Baweja, co-founder and CEO of Success Factor, to discuss the organisation’s 25-year history, signs of rebounding demand among Pakistani students, and what, in his view, is the key to the international education sector’s recovery in 2021 and beyond: Meeting students where they are.
Job hunting has never been easy, but a confluence of factors—from accelerated digitalization across sectors to pandemic-induced economic contraction—has made for a fundamentally changed and challenging global career landscape today.
It’s a transformation that weighs on the minds of many, but none more so than the soon-to-be university graduates who must navigate the most complex, competitive job market in recent memory. For international students in particular, landing a dream job means managing cultural differences, physical distances, immigration issues, and a range of other obstacles while navigating this new normal.
Enter INTO CareerFirst, our new, all-encompassing employability programme—the first in market to offer comprehensive support tailored for international students. Launching in October of this year, CareerFirst will pull together a network of mentors, coaches, and industry experts, state-of-the art learning technology, and curricula developed in partnership with academic colleagues and leading employers to give students the skills, connections, and experience they need to achieve their post-graduation career ambitions. Michael Lynas, Vice President, INTO CareerFirst, offers insights into how the programme will complement academic studies, integrate seamlessly with services already on offer at higher education institutions, and benefit both international students and the US and UK universities at which they study.
From global travel restrictions and consulate closures to online learning and Zoom fatigue, the COVID-19 pandemic has posed diverse challenges to Indian students attempting to study abroad. In the face of adversity, however, they have shown a steadfast commitment to international education. Just 5% of Indian students admitted to U.K. universities in fall 2020 deferred their study plans; and, between September 2020 and January 2021, 79% more Indian students applied for and received F-1 visas to study in the U.S. than did during the same period one year prior.
Shiksha Study Abroad is one of the organisations with which INTO partners that has unwaveringly supported Indian students in their pursuit of education abroad since the onset of the pandemic. We caught up with Nandita Bandopadhyay, senior vice president, international sales and client success, for Shiksha.com, to discuss Shiksha’s hybrid model of student service as well as resilience and rebounding interest among Indian study abroad aspirants as vaccines are administered and mobility resumes.
The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) recently published its 2020 SEVIS by the Numbersreport outlining Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) data on F-1 students from calendar year 2020. The report provides a comprehensive picture of the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on international student enrollment at American institutions last year, revealing that the number of international students in the U.S. decreased by 17.86% and the number of new international student enrollments decreased by 72%.
COVID-19 did not take an equal toll on international enrollment at different levels of study. Associate degree and intensive English programs saw more significant losses than did programs at other levels of study in 2020—especially doctoral programs, which made it through the year relatively unscathed. This marks a continuation of pre-pandemic trends up until 2019/20, and it threatens to erase early signs of recovery for associate degree and intensive English programs which emerged just before the pandemic began.
At the end of last year, the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) released data on active international student records from September 2020, offering new insights into how COVID-19 has affected the number of international students in the U.S.* INTO, NAFSA, and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities recently outlined quick facts from the data in an update to our groundbreaking report, Factors Influencing U.S. International Student Enrollment Growth and Decline.
Among other trends, the new SEVP data show that the number of students from China, South Korea, and Saudi Arabia—three of the top seven sending countries for international students in the U.S.—decreased far more significantly as a result of the pandemic than the number of those coming from India, the second-most sending country. Furthermore, additional data on F-1 visa issuances and international student applications for fall 2021 admission show that interest in U.S. study in India and other South Asian countries has rebounded quickly as vaccines roll out and global student mobility slowly resumes, while the number of students coming to the U.S. from China and other top sending countries continues to stagnate or decline.
In the competitive career landscape of COVID-19, international students deserve real returns on the resources and time they invest in studying abroad. As the pandemic continues to impact on the jobs market in 2021, students face dual dilemmas: the financial feasibility of their study abroad aims and the security of their postgraduate ambitions. As a result, they are not only starting to study in alternative destinations and virtual environments—they are choosing to pursue different subjects, trending toward programs like mathematics and computer science which offer growing opportunities for employment. It is a pattern at U.S. institutions that preceded the pandemic, and it will play out in years to come as employability continues to dominate among the priorities of students everywhere.
The global pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on female international students in STEM programs at U.S. institutions. According to data from the U.S. Student Exchange and Visitor Program (SEVP), the proportion of female international students in STEM fields in the U.S. grew to new heights in the three years leading up to the pandemic. However, SEVP’s post-pandemic data shows that COVID-19 has had a more significant negative impact on the number of female international students in STEM in the U.S. than it has on the number of their male peers.
With 2020 in the rearview mirror, the full impact of COVID-19 on international enrollments at U.S. universities is coming to light. It is important to consider last year’s significant decreases in new international student enrollments (NSEs) in the context of long-term international enrollment phenomena, including declines in NSEs which preceded and were exacerbated by the pandemic. Institutions did not experience these pre-pandemic declines equally, nor will they start post-pandemic recovery from the same position as mobility slowly resumes in 2021.
When the COVID-19 crisis pushed US universities to close campuses and move courses online six months ago, one could scarcely imagine that the fall 2020 semester would find new students starting classes from behind their computer screens.
Even so, the student experience teams at INTO’s US centers have quickly adapted to support students through the unimaginable since the start of the pandemic. Earlier this month, they overhauled orientation to virtually welcome a new cohort of international students to their respective universities.