Overseas students ‘would rather quarantine than defer’

But survey finds that international applicants still overwhelmingly favour face-to-face teaching

November 19, 2020
young woman in quarantine staying indoors
Source: iStock

Prospective international students are increasingly willing to quarantine if it means they can continue with their study plans, but they are likely to put up with studying online for only a maximum of three months, according to the latest results from a longitudinal study.

A survey of almost 5,000 overseas applicants, which was carried out by student recruitment firm IDP Connect for Universities UK International (UUKi), found that 92 per cent of respondents said in October that they would rather quarantine on arrival and continue with their study plans than defer, up from 77 per cent in June.

Students in South Asian countries including India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal were most willing to quarantine (95 per cent), while those in China were far less willing (75 per cent).

Meanwhile, 80 per cent of respondents said they were expecting to start their studies as planned, up from 74 per cent in June and 69 per cent in April.

However, when asked what length of time they would be willing to study online before transferring to face-to-face, respondents were most likely to say up to three months (44 per cent). A third (33 per cent) said they could not say, 16 per cent said up to six months and just 5 per cent said up to one year.

The majority of respondents were postgraduates and offer holders, and the highest share of respondents were based in India. The participants held current applications and offers to higher education institutions in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and the US.

Almost half (45 per cent) of respondents said they were not likely to change destination even if it meant that they were able to start studying via face-to-face learning, but 32 per cent said they were very likely and 24 per cent said they were somewhat likely. Applicants who had picked Canada as their destination of choice were most loyal, with 53 per cent saying they were not likely to switch.

Among those respondents who said they were considering changing institution as a result of the pandemic, almost half (48 per cent) said they would likely go to another university in the same country of their choice, while 18 per cent said they would switch to Canada, 10 per cent to the UK, 7 per cent to New Zealand, 6 per cent to the US and 6 per cent to Australia.

Simon Emmett, chief executive of IDP Connect, said the research showed that “students are increasingly determined to commence their studies as planned” but there was also “a real risk associated with being perceived as a country that is less ‘open for business’”.

“Countries that have communicated strongly that international students are welcome, such as the UK, have seen a rise in attractiveness compared with countries with stricter border controls, such as Australia,” he said.

Vivienne Stern, director of UUKi, said the increasingly positive sentiment towards studying in the UK and the rising number of students aiming to start their studies as planned “reflects the resilience of both the sector and the determination of students wishing to study in the UK”.

“In the face of growing competition, the UK higher education sector needs to continue to work together, and with government, to ensure that the UK remains open for international students, delivering high-quality education, whether online or face-to-face, where safe to do so,” she said.

ellie.bothwell@timeshighereducation.com

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