Coronavirus hampering Chinese recruitment, say US universities

Survey reveals how US universities are managing travel restrictions and test suspensions

March 5, 2020
People on subway wearing surgical masks
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Three-quarters of US universities have said that outreach and recruitment of prospective Chinese students has been affected by the coronavirus outbreak, according to a study.

A survey of 234 higher education institutions in the country, conducted by the Institute of International Education, found that more than a third of institutions (37 per cent) had current students from China who had been affected by travel restrictions as a result of Covid-19. In total, 831 Chinese students who were enrolled in these institutions were in their home country when the outbreak happened and they have not been able to return to the US.

Meanwhile, 70 per cent of institutions said that they were evacuating their students from China at the time of the survey, which was carried out from 13-26 February.

Almost half of universities (46 per cent) said that they had offered options for independent or remote study to Chinese international students, while 41 per cent had offered leaves of absence for the semester or deferment to the next semester. Two-fifths (40 per cent) of universities indicated that they were working with students who were finishing their degrees to ensure that they would be able to complete them.

Meanwhile, 76 per cent of institutions said that outreach and recruitment of future Chinese students had been affected by the outbreak. Just over half of universities (51 per cent) said that recruitment events in China have been cancelled, while 43 per cent of institutions said that the suspension of English language tests was delaying them receiving student scores.

As a result, universities were offering virtual webinars, events and online English language testing; waiving certain test requirements; and extending application deadlines in an attempt to maintain Chinese student recruitment.

However, one in five universities said that they did not have plans in place for alternative methods of recruitment, with many saying that they were waiting for the situation to evolve.

Most institutions said they were hoping staff would be able to travel to China for recruitment once the restrictions lift, although they were aware that this would still affect enrolment for the 2020-21 academic year, according to the study, Covid-19 Effects on US Higher Education Campuses: Academic Student Mobility to and from China.

The universities surveyed hosted a total of 175,398 students from China in 2018-19, or 47 per cent of the total population of Chinese students in the US. Nineteen of the top 20 hosts of Chinese students completed the survey.

A previous IIE snapshot survey of international student enrolment in autumn 2019 found that 58 per cent of US universities had prioritised academic recruitment from China, but 80 per cent had concerns about maintaining or increasing student numbers from the country.

The new IIE study, written by Mirka Martel, its head of research, evaluation and learning, says that “these concerns have been now likely multiplied due to travel restrictions for outreach events and recruitment cycles, and there is the potential for the Covid-19 outbreak to affect not only the 2020-21 academic year but also future recruitment”.

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