US expecting big rebound in international student recruitment

Nearly 60 per cent of four-year doctoral universities report gains in overseas student applications for autumn

June 14, 2021
Cheering student wearing face mask
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US universities are mostly returning to in-person teaching this autumn and are expecting a robust rebound in international student recruitment, the Institute of International Education found in a survey.

The IIE survey, covering more than 400 institutions contacted in April and May, found that nearly 60 per cent of four-year doctoral universities have seen an increase in overseas applications for this autumn.

The figures by the IIE, a non-profit promoter of global student exchange, follow a separate report by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center that showed a 3.5 per cent decline in total student enrolment at US institutions this past spring semester.

The semester began before Covid vaccines became widespread in the US, and the IIE numbers – focused primarily on international students – suggest that US campuses have much greater optimism for the autumn.

To help ensure that, nearly two-thirds of US institutions plan to offer Covid vaccines to students and employees, and more than three-quarters plan to spend at least as much or more on recruiting international students as they ever have, the IIE found.

The IIE survey also found that three-quarters of US institutions had updated their processes for submitting applications and immigration documents online, and 48 per cent are offering students alternatives to standardised testing requirements.

“There is definitely a concerted effort by US higher education institutions to reopen their campuses and encourage all students, including international students, to return to in-person study,” the IIE’s head of research, evaluation and learning, Mirka Martel, said in announcing the findings.

The US, like most leading Western destinations for college students, is among the global leaders in the share of their populations that have been vaccinated.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also announced this month that colleges whose students and employees are fully vaccinated against Covid can resume in-person classes at full capacity.

Yet 45 per cent of the institutions in the IIE survey do not intend to require vaccinations for students, faculty, or staff before they come to campus for the semester; and only 14 per cent reported an existing vaccine requirement.

The IIE said that its survey was part of a regular series of reports on the effects of Covid. It found that 43 per cent of all the institutions it surveyed had an increase in international student applications for the 2021-22 academic year, almost double the number of a year earlier. By type, 59 per cent of doctoral universities had increases while 58 per cent of community colleges still had declines.

Across all types of institutions, only 38 per cent of those participating in the survey saw their applications decline for the coming year, down from 52 per cent a year earlier. Nearly all institutions, 86 per cent, plan some type of in-person teaching for the coming autumn, the IIE found.

For US students going abroad, about half of the institutions in the survey expect their numbers to stay steady or increase from the previous year. Last year, however, nearly every institution expected a decline.

But only 49 per cent of institutions expect their students to have an in-person study abroad experience in the autumn semester, the IIE found.

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