Most overseas study plans ‘unchanged by pandemic’

Traditional worries like cost and job prospects trump would-be international students’ safety and travel concerns, survey finds

July 27, 2021
Source: iStock

Three in five high school students say coronavirus has not altered their study abroad intentions, even though three in four believe the pandemic will diminish the experience.

Sixty per cent of teenagers with international education aspirations say Covid-19 will not affect their plans, according to a survey by Singapore educational technology firm Cialfo. And while 32 per cent say the crisis has made them “more hesitant” to study abroad, 8 per cent are more determined than ever.

The figures come from the first of what Cialfo says will be an annual report on student recruitment, based on the perceptions of 14- to 18-year-olds on the company’s student database. It says almost 3,800 students from more than 100 countries completed the online survey in April and May.

The findings suggest students’ concerns since the pandemic’s emergence are little changed from before, with money worries and work prospects topping the list. Forty-nine per cent nominated lack of access to financial support as a primary concern, with the same proportion citing job uncertainty in foreign countries after graduation.

Just 44 per cent mentioned safety concerns and Covid-induced travel restrictions, while 32 per cent said they were worried about racism.

The results mirror Institute of International Education findings that the number of US higher education institutions attracting increased international student applications now exceeds those experiencing declines – in stark contrast to what was occurring a year ago.

But the Cialfo survey found that pandemic-induced hesitancy was more pronounced in the Asia-Pacific region than in other regions  – such as Latin America, where students were only half as likely to report concerns about safety, racism and travel restrictions.

More Asia-Pacific students also expected the health crisis to undermine their enjoyment of overseas study, with many worried about Covid-19’s impacts on their career prospects. Students in the region were also more sceptical of the value of an online-only university experience, with 62 per cent reluctant to pay full tuition fees under such circumstances – compared to fewer than half of respondents from Latin America, Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

The survey found that reputation, academic requirements, costs and financial aid remained “key considerations” in students’ choice of universities, with Asia-Pacific respondents in particular prioritising rankings.

The report advocates innovative engagement activities like “virtual tours” to compensate for campus closures. Universities must also “reinvent their value proposition”, it adds.

“Students today want to know about institutional investments in…safety, well-being, inclusion, social justice and environmental protection,” the report says. “Universities that make genuine and long-term commitments to supporting these core generational values will be best positioned to benefit from their digital channels.”

Cialfo chief executive Rohan Pasari said the findings showed that students’ hunger for overseas higher education had strengthened. “The systemic shifts in the past year have resulted in a unique opportunity for universities to engage students in new ways,” he said.

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