A survey of nearly 7,000 students with offers from universities overseas has found that more than two-thirds (69%) expect to start their studies as planned, despite extreme uncertainty stemming from the Covid-19 pandemic.

The headline finding of IDP Connect’s ‘International Student Crossroads’ survey will be music to the ears of universities in the UK, US, Canada and Australia, countries whose higher education systems are heavily dependent on inflows of international students, but are bracing for sharp dips in enrollments.

“Given the unprecedented challenges the global community is facing, it is encouraging to know the vast majority of students surveyed state their perception of their study destination had not changed and they were holding on to their international education plans,” said Andrew Barkla, chief executive of IDP Education, an overseas-education specialist based in Melbourne, Australia.

But although students’ signals are encouraging, universities still face major questions around how to deliver degree tuition effectively if social distancing measures remain in place, while international travel bans – if protracted – could prevent international students from getting to their destination countries. As a result, many institutions anticipate inflated numbers of deferrals and cancellations, with collective income losses potentially running into the billions in the UK and Australia. 

“It is crucial that we all work together to find ways of ensuring students and receiving countries can continue to experience the benefits of international education,” said Barkla.

One of many enticing factors of an overseas university education is the experience gained from living independently in a country that speaks another language, has a different culture, and perhaps better career prospects.

At present, however, the vast majority of university instruction is carried out online – and it has been suggested that e-learning may have to continue beyond the first term of the next academic year.

Among surveyed students who preferred to defer than study online, some 69% said online education “lacked international exposure”, while 47% voiced concerns over standards of digital learning environments.

More than half of all respondents were only willing to defer studies by 12 months or less before changing their plans or exploring other options.

“31% of respondents stated they would be willing to start their course online and move to face-to-face learning at a later date, but by far the greatest preference was to defer to January 2021 if this meant face-to-face learning would be possible,” said Simon Emmett, chief executive of IDP Connect.

A separate survey of prospective international students in India published earlier this week found that nearly two-thirds (61%) would defer overseas studies if their universities of choice could only offer online education due to pandemic-induced social distancing measures.

Date published: 6 May 2020

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