Most prospective overseas students ‘not shifting plans’

But data suggest that students’ views on study abroad are changing by the week as a result of pandemic

April 3, 2020
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The majority of prospective international students have not yet changed their study plans because of the coronavirus outbreak, but those who have are split on whether to postpone their studies or enrol in an online course, according to research.

A survey from StudyPortals found that almost three-quarters (73 per cent) of prospective overseas students who had planned to start courses within the next six months were continuing with the same study plans.

Of the 27 per cent of respondents who said their plans had changed, 50 per cent were now looking to postpone their enrolment until next year or the year after, while 48 per cent were looking to enrol in an online programme or degree course instead. Almost one-fifth (18 per cent) said they had decided to enrol in a university in their home country. These results were based on responses gathered between 20 and 26 March.

However, preliminary data based on a smaller number of respondents who had completed the survey between 27 and 31 March suggest that virtual education may be becoming an increasingly attractive offer.

Almost a third (31 per cent) of the prospective students who had planned to study later this year and were surveyed over the past week had changed their plans. Among these respondents, 55 per cent said they were looking to enrol in an online course, while just 19 per cent said they would postpone their enrolment.

The survey was completed by 401 participants in the first week and 191 participants in the second. The main countries of origin among respondents were Nigeria, India and Pakistan.

Prospective students who had planned to start studying after the next six months were more inclined to change their study plans, with 33 per cent of those surveyed in week one and 49 per cent of those surveyed in week two indicating that they had revised their plans. Among both groups of respondents, 39 per cent were considering enrolling in an online course, while about 60 per cent were contemplating postponing their enrolment.

When asked what measures they would like universities to take during the coronavirus outbreak, 84 per cent of the first round of survey participants responded that better hygiene around campus was the most important step, followed by having a 24/7 helpline (57 per cent), online counselling and support (56 per cent) and extending the application period for admissions (55 per cent).

Thijs van Vugt, director of the analytics and consulting team at StudyPortals, said that overall, 65 per cent of prospective international students surveyed so far were not going to change their plans.

However, he continued, “based on the shifting views in general, universities have to be constantly staying in touch with prospective students and prepared for many of them to change their minds over the coming weeks and months”.

“A lot will depend on how the pandemic will pan out,” he said. “The longer it lasts (with all measures being extended), the less likely students will be to travel abroad, and the more likely it is that universities may have to start the new year with online education, followed by on-campus, face-to-face teaching in semester two.”

Mr van Vugt added that in the longer term “universities may be faced with more demand for online [education] than has been the case so far, which means they will have to adapt their overall portfolio and proposition to the market”.

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