Pandemic to redistribute international student flows: report

Bumper 2021 tipped, as students who deferred this year flock back and undergraduates opt for PhDs

June 24, 2020
International students
Source: iStock

The Anglosphere’s international education success stories of Canada, Australia and New Zealand can look forward to a foreign enrolment windfall as they brush off the Covid-19 pandemic’s effects more quickly than heavyweights the US and UK, a report says.

An analysis by consultants EY predicts that New Zealand will increase its share of globally mobile students by 1 per cent – around 10,000 additional enrolments – thanks to its rapid suppression of the coronavirus.

Australia, which has also largely contained the epidemic, will increase its share by 2 per cent. Federal education minister Dan Tehan seized on the forecast during an address to the National Press Club.

“We are taking our first cautious steps towards international students returning much earlier than anyone would have predicted,” he said. “This is important because international education builds our connections to the rest of the world.”

The EY report synthesises findings from surveys of more than 40,000 prospective international students by groups including IDP Connect and the British Council. The report paints a generally upbeat picture of international student flows regardless of the pandemic’s duration.

It estimates that only about 330,000 foreigners are studying in the five destination countries this year, down from 1.09 million in 2019. But 2021 will see up to 1.85 million people starting degrees in foreign countries, as those who deferred this year resume their studies.

New international student enrolments will remain at 1.1 million or more for the next three years, even if the pandemic’s effects persist half a decade.

The optimistic forecasts stem from survey results suggesting that prospective students adapted rapidly as Covid-19 became entrenched around the world. In February, some 10 per cent of surveyed students vowed to cancel their study plans and only 37 per cent were considering deferral.

By April this figure had risen to 65 per cent, with another 30 per cent saying that they were prepared to modify their plans in other ways. Only 5 per cent said that they would abandon their international studies.

The report also highlights the resilience of students from the Indian subcontinent as a reason for confidence. Surveys have found that most prospective Indian students are keen to proceed rapidly with their overseas degrees.

This could help the UK, EY says, citing a claim that interest from Indian students in April was higher than a year earlier – notwithstanding Covid-19 – because of the British government’s liberalisation of post-study work rules.

And while Chinese students are more “cautious about their health”, this could benefit New Zealand and Australia, which are perceived as particularly safe destinations.

But the report says that the big winner will be Canada, which will capture an extra 6 per cent share of the global international education market at the expense of a southern neighbour that is perceived to have handled the pandemic very poorly.

The report predicts that international postgraduate enrolments – particularly at doctoral level – will rebound strongly as current undergraduates opt to continue studying rather than take their chances on a suppressed jobs market.

But international bachelor’s enrolments will recover slowly, partly because final-year school exams have been postponed in many parts of the world.

The report says that foreign students’ interest in digital education has snowballed despite “suboptimal” experience with university courses that were rapidly migrated online. This could open up new markets for higher education providers, particularly in “the rising lower middle class”.

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Reader's comments (4)

can you share source report-the EY report
Can you share the EY report cited. How far they have extrapolated on the subsidence of the current Pandemic.
Hello, as I understand it the report is not being published. Please get in touch with me at john.ross@timeshighereducation and I'll pass on details for you to enquire directly. Many thanks, John Ross
Viviane M. Lettieri Brazil