International students focus on open borders, not Covid caseloads

Covid safety almost a liability as Australia and New Zealand relegated as ‘spectators’ rather than participants in international education recovery

四月 27, 2021
Lake Oswego, OR, USA - July 4, 2020: The cinema billboard at Lake Theater in downtown Lake Oswego shows the numbers of newly reported COVID-19 cases in Oregon.
Source: iStock

Australia and New Zealand have won the Covid war but lost the battle for international students, as closed borders render them “spectators” to an expected global recovery.

A report on agent sentiment suggests that cautious pandemic management has almost become a liability in the eyes of prospective students, who are exhibiting more and more interest in countries with rising coronavirus caseloads.

Australia and New Zealand now rank bottom among nine host countries as “open and welcoming” destinations, while Canada has overtaken them in perceptions of safety and stability – notwithstanding its stuttering vaccine campaign and new infection rates hundreds of times as high as its southern competitors.

Just 4 per cent of agents believe students will be able to travel to Australia and New Zealand this year, and almost three-quarters are not confident that the two countries’ borders will be open by mid-2022.

“While Australia and New Zealand continue to be perceived as ‘safe and stable’ due to their elimination strategies and very low case numbers, this perception is increasingly irrelevant to a country’s reputation as a study destination,” says the report, by global private education chain Navitas.

“As Covid-19 runs its course, students and agents will pay less and less attention to case counts.”

Navitas surveyed almost 900 agents in 73 countries in March this year, in a repeat of similar studies last May and September. Author Jon Chew said that education destination countries’ allure had “more or less completely decoupled” from Covid caseloads.

While the Antipodean nations had avoided the “horrific” infection and fatality counts experienced elsewhere, “it won’t matter anymore. Australia and New Zealand need to find a way to switch tack and accelerate vaccinations, soften border policies and do all the things that the UK, US and Canada will do, to make sure they’re not left behind.”

The survey found that Australia and New Zealand risked losing enrolments not only to anglophone competitors but also Germany, the Netherlands, the United Arab Emirates and particularly Singapore. The city state ranked third out of nine countries on openness and the government’s handling of the pandemic, and fourth on safety and stability.

The report says Singapore “has long been seen as a contender” with “the potential to rival the five major anglophone countries” because of its location, multicultural society, highly ranked domestic and foreign universities and widespread use of English.

Yu-Gin Teo, chief operating officer of Curtin University’s Singapore campus, said that the island nation had “been here before” between 2009 and 2011, when Australia temporarily fell out of favour as an international study destination. “The pandemic will pass but perhaps a return to political normalcy will take longer, which might give Singapore time to strengthen its foothold.”

The survey found that the UK and particularly Canada were primed for an influx of international students this year. Canada’s international education policies and messaging to foreign students had “hit all the right notes”, the report says, although it needed to improve its vaccine rollout, visa processing times and flight and quarantine availability.

The Biden administration policies and vaccine programme had prompted a “remarkable shift in perceptions” about the US. Approval of the government’s handling of the coronavirus was up roughly threefold, its reputation for safety up fourfold and perceptions of openness up fivefold since last September.



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