Before 2020, souring diplomatic relations between China and the US counted among several variables that precipitated in a small-but-steady decline in international student enrollment at American universities. Compounded with the global COVID-19 pandemic and skepticism regarding the initial US coronavirus response, perceptions of the study destination worsened not only in China but around the world, contributing to what would become historic international enrollment losses.
Over the course of 2021, INTO conducted two global surveys of education counselors and agents to gauge sentiment toward different destination countries as the pandemic continued — one in spring, and one in fall. The surveys show that, in the last year, perceptions of the US as a study destination have improved significantly in the China, Hong Kong and Macau (CHKM) region, and across the globe. Simultaneously, the latest Open Doors and visa issuance data suggest student demand is rebounding, too.
Although the emergence of the Omicron variant has renewed anxieties around international educational exchange — more so in some regions than others — these findings serve as strong signs that US international higher education is on the road toward recovery.
Over the last 22 months, education agents have offered higher education institutions a lifeline to prospective international students around the world. Continuing to support students in finding their best-fit universities through initial lockdowns and subsequent case surges, agents have also been the first to register the inevitable changes in study abroad decision-making brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
INTO’s recent, global agent survey shows that, across the board, agents feel study abroad aspirants are increasingly price-sensitive and focused on securing a stronger return on their investment from their international degree, especially in terms of career outcomes. At the same time, though agents anticipate student demand will return to face-to-face learning, they have registered increased interest in blended delivery among rising international students — a definite departure from pre-pandemic preferences. Amid these emerging and enduring trends, one thing is clear: flexibility must feature in the international education sector’s strategies to engage and support students as they navigate the new terrain before them.
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.
Living through the global COVID-19 pandemic has given all of us a fresh perspective on life. For Gen Z, coming of age under lockdown has coincided with constant exposure to online conversations around issues such as economic inequality, racism and climate change as well as an ongoing navigation of disinformation. Together, these experiences have profoundly shaped how they view their future — especially when it comes to higher education.
INTO recently undertook a survey of Gen Z students worldwide who plan to or currently study abroad. Our research shows a generational shift. Prospective and new international students are more discerning and more focused on making a difference than the cohorts that came before them, looking at their opportunities to study abroad through lenses different to those used by their predecessors. Nearly three quarters of them believe that a university’s capacity to give them the skills they need for their future is more important than its ranking, and they are considering institutions’ track records on social issues as they complete applications.
The world over, Gen Zers are emerging from the last 18 months clear-eyed about the need for a better, greener, more equitable future — and the importance of an international degree in helping them realise it.
The COVID-19 catastrophe has led every sector in every corner of the globe to rethink its modus operandi. In the context of international education, that means considering more carefully the changing expectations and motivations of the rising generation of international students, using them as guiding principles around which to imagine new modes of recruitment and teaching.
This August, INTO carried out a survey of Gen Z students around the world who are interested in or currently studying abroad. We did so with one question in mind: how will rising international students’ collective experience of the pandemic drive new paradigms of learning and working? What we found is a generation of students who are singularly resilient, adaptable and set on forging a brighter future for themselves. More than half of them are actively considering a new career path in the wake of COVID-19, and most link an international degree to clear-cut objectives that will help them pivot to career success. In order to facilitate that success – and post-pandemic recovery – the international education sector must respond to Gen Z’s evolving demands, implementing innovative programmes and delivering concrete outcomes.
The international education sector is no stranger to shocks to student mobility. In INTO’s 15-year history alone, global crises ranging from the Great Recession of 2008, to the 2012 MERS outbreak, to the 2014/15 drop in oil prices, have all affected mobility patterns. However, market conditions have rebounded after each of these challenges, driven by study abroad aspirants’ enduring enthusiasm for cultural exploration, for personal and professional development; in short, for life-changing educational experiences.
In June 2021, INTO conducted a global survey of international students who currently hold offers from our partner universities in the UK and the US, gauging their attitudes toward studying abroad in the context of COVID-19. The vast majority of respondents indicated they were confident and excited to start their studies this autumn—proof that, whilst crises like the pandemic erect barriers to international student mobility, they do not quash demand. Now more than ever, we must not lose sight of just how powerful students’ motivations to study abroad are, for it is those motivations that will serve as levers recovery in 2021 and beyond.
This blog post draws from NAFSA resources on sponsored student recruitment strategy created in collaboration with Krista Kennedy, MS, Sponsored Student Program Administrator, Portland State University; Matthew Sacco, MA, Director of International Enrollment Partnerships, George Mason University; and William Shuey, MPA, Assistant Director of Sponsored Relations, Pennsylvania State University.
As we adjust our desk lamps and dust off our backgrounds in preparation for a fully virtual NAFSA, this year’s theme, “Designing our Shared Future,” gives us ample opportunity to reflect on how we better engage with communities around the world and serve the next generation of international students post-pandemic. Make no mistake: Institutions that diversify their recruitment efforts to meet new challenges now will reap the rewards of recovery in fall 2021 and beyond.
US universities can bolster their international-student recruitment strategies by working with sponsoring organizations—governmental or private entities that provide full or partial scholarships for students to study around the world. Mounting a successful sponsored student recruitment strategy means focusing your institution’s efforts in a quickly changing sponsorship landscape, building relationships with sponsoring bodies, and smoothly interfacing with those organizations while supporting students.
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.