Half of international students ‘could shun autumn campus start’

Prospective overseas students are worried about travel restrictions, scholarship complications and finances, Dutch survey shows

May 30, 2020
Student stuck at home
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Almost half of prospective international students say they will not start on-campus study in September because of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a survey carried out for Dutch universities.

Facing huge budget shortfalls because of a collapse in global student mobility, universities − particularly those in the US, the UK and Australia, which charge hefty fees to international students − are anxiously trying to predict the scale of lost students come the new academic year.

The survey of nearly 1,000 prospective students from 10 countries outside the European Union suggests that while most still ultimately want to study in the Netherlands, a large minority have changed their immediate plans and now expect to delay.

“On the one hand, we see that students are still applying and are still interested in coming,” said Noor Groenendijk, team leader for student mobility at Nuffic, a Dutch body promoting internationalisation in education, which ran the survey. “But we do think there will be fewer international students coming to the Netherlands. Students tend to stay closer to home in times of uncertainty.”

Twenty-one per cent now say they want to defer coming to the Netherlands for a year. Another 13.5 per cent want a shorter deferment, until February 2021.

About one in ten would now prefer to study online. And 4 per cent are now thinking of studying domestically instead.

Thirty-nine per cent said they have not changed their plans and still want to start as planned at a Dutch campus at the beginning of the next academic year, according to the survey report, How Is COVID-19 Affecting International Students’ Plans to Study in the Netherlands?

Dutch universities are discussing with the government what will be possible on campus come the autumn. Although they are stressing to prospective students that not all teaching next year will be online, it is unclear how active campus and city life might be in September.

“Will you be able to follow on-campus education? We don’t know at the moment,” said Ms Groenendijk.

“Especially for students outside the EU, it’s a big investment,” she added. “You want to experience not only the education, but also the country and the culture.”

Prospective students highlighted potential travel restrictions as their biggest source of uncertainty.

But half also cited complications with scholarships caused by the pandemic. Indonesia’s largest scholarship scheme has advised students to postpone the start of their study programme, according to the report. Mexico’s biggest scholarship provider, Conacyt, will now inform successful applicants only in August, leaving it too late for students to start in September.

Finances are also a major worry, the survey shows. “The income of parents might have decreased, but students also have side jobs to save up for their overseas adventure,” Ms Groenendijk said. “For many students, it’s not possible to continue to save up.”

Prospective students in China and South Korea were particularly concerned about access to healthcare in the Netherlands, possibly because, in those countries, the virus is seen as being more under control, she suggested.

The number of students coming to the Netherlands from the 10 countries surveyed has more than doubled since 2006. “However, with Covid-19 affecting many countries in the world, as well as student mobility, it is uncertain whether this trend will continue into the 2020-2021 academic year,” the study says.

david.matthews@timeshighereducation.com

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