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.
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.
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.
On July 28, INTO The University of Alabama at Birmingham (INTO UAB) Executive Director David Hofmann led one of a series of virtual, university-wide seminars on resilient leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic. The session centered on cultural intelligence and international student support during the outbreak.
“I wanted colleagues to understand a little more about what’s happening within the INTO UAB center and what international students’ experiences are during COVID-19,” Hofmann said of his talk.
More than two months ago, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced formal lockdown measures to combat the rise in new COVID-19 cases in the United Kingdom. For many in the U.K., that announcement signaled the start of physical distancing. However, Qingying Lin, Chinese-language support officer at INTO Queen’s University Belfast (QUB), recalls that her centre had moved all face-to-face learning and extracurricular support online by March 18—five days before the PM’s announcement.
INTO’s 10 other U.K. centres transitioned to digital provision along similar timelines, which means that they have now passed 10 weeks of distance education and support of their respective international student cohorts. Perhaps paradoxically, what has struck our student support teams most during quarantine is the togetherness they and their students have maintained across that distance—a testament to their agility and resilience.
Before the COVID-19 outbreak led universities in Europe and North America to implement physical distancing policies, universities in China had to face the emerging realities of what is now a global pandemic. In partnership with Nankai University, INTO has seen a cohort of 43 international students through a campus lockdown and University-wide transition to online learning since late January. Now, they are helping students adapt to life under less stringent quarantine measures.
Even in the best of times, international students’ decision to travel across the globe in search of education opportunities is courageous. Their journey is one of hope, aspiration, and, of course, some trepidation as they step into the unknown. When these students embarked on their studies abroad this year, however, a global pandemic added new layers of concern and uncertainty to their experience, sending them into uncharted waters.
The jobs of student experience specialists on whom these students rely to help them navigate uncertainty in their studies has never been so critical or challenging as they are during the COVID-19 crisis. We reached out to colleagues on the front lines across INTO’s university partnerships in the United States to learn more about their all-hands-on-deck approach to supporting international students in these uncertain times.
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.