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.
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.
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.
The release of the Institute of International Education’s annual Open Doors data this week made for sobering reading among the American higher education community. Before we provide our take on the findings, we want to offer some key context to the declines we saw in 2019/20.
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.
Ahead of this year’s university application cycle, international
students at the INTO London World Education Centre escaped a dreary,
late-January afternoon to attend the Centre’s seventh annual Progression Fair.
Held at Chapter Spitalfields, the residence INTO students
share with other international students in the heart of London’s East End, the
event gave students the chance to learn about the vast array of programmes on
offer directly from university representatives.
With 62 of INTO’s affiliate universities in the United Kingdom
represented, and with 140 INTO students in attendance, it was the largest
progression fair the Centre has had to date.
As 2019 concludes, those in the international education
community in the United States have much to reflect on. In November, the Institute of International
Education’s (IIE) 70th
Open Doors Report revealed that it has been a uniquely challenging year for
international student enrollment. Although
the nationwide decline in new international student enrollments (NSEs) slowed
from -6.6% in 2017/18 to -0.9% in 2018/19, 51% of American higher education
institutions reported a decrease in NSEs in 2019.
For INTO’s 12 American university partners, however, there were
a great deal of international student enrollment and education milestones in
2019—proof that there is every reason to believe things
can only get better in the American international education realm.