Paul Schulmann, Research Director, WES, and Stefan Trines, Research Editor, WENR
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on higher education institutions in the United States is likely to be severe and lengthy. Institutions that are financially dependent on international students are particularly affected by the far-reaching and undetermined effects of the disease on global mobility. Even though international air traffic has resumed completely this summer and most universities have been reopened for lessons on campus in the fall semester, the question remains at which point international students will feel safe enough to be in the country , which is currently the global epicenter of training to complete the pandemic. The severity of the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States makes it increasingly unlikely that international student mobility in the United States will be restored quickly.
Another complication of international recruitment is the increasing anti-Asian mood, the racist Scapegoat of the Asians for the spread of the virus and the increasing political tensions with China, the largest sending country of international students. It is also possible that visa requirements will be tightened during the crisis. Four US senators have already warned that international students could “take jobs that would otherwise go to unemployed Americans like ours The economy is recovering. They asked the US government to suspend the OPT (Optional Practical Training) program and H-1B visas, both of which are important for international students from India, China, and other countries.
This article describes the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on international student mobility in the United States. We’ll describe the current trends and attitudes of international students to studying in the United States before we briefly discuss whether online education could be a viable alternative to retain international students. We will include key findings from a survey of potential international students and US universities conducted by WES between April 15th and 21st. We rely on the answers from 615 students from 92 countries. as well as responses from 199 universities, including several major state universities, two-year associate colleges, four-year institutions, and graduate schools. Both answers are part of a longitudinal survey, the results of which will be published by WES later this year.
While conditions for international mobility in the U.S. could hardly be worse, academic institutions may find comfort in the fact that 67 percent of the students surveyed by WES are generally still interested in studying in the U.S., while 13 percent are even more interested are interested in it. This suggests that the long-term impact of the crisis on international enrollment in the United States is less apocalyptic than feared.
But a lot will depend on the duration of the crisis. The longer it takes, the more international students will change their plans. Longitudinal surveys among international students in various countries in the past few months show a waning appetite for training abroad. Even if the United States could keep three quarters or more of its international student body in the coming semesters, the crisis could be existential for some institutions. The impact on US society as a whole could also be destructive: According to NAFSA, three US jobs will be created or supported for seven enrolled international students each in the following sectors: higher education, housing, hospitality, retail, transportation, telecommunications and Health insurance”.
How COVID-19 Affected Mobile Student Curricula
A positive finding from our survey is that many international students view the coronavirus pandemic as a temporary phenomenon. A small majority of 53 percent of respondents who planned to study in the United States prior to the pandemic plan just to postpone their studies rather than cancel their plans entirely or study at home or in another country. However, the fact that 23 percent of respondents are likely to be studying in another country should serve as a warning to U.S. institutions. Countries that are the earliest in controlling the spread of the pandemic will almost certainly have an advantage in recruiting mobile students once international mobility starts up again.
The Australian government is currently planning to exempt international students from travel restrictions and enable them to return to Australia already in July– A scenario that currently seems unattainable in the United States. Similarly, observers believe that New Zealand is a country that has been effective contained the pandemic, will “have a real chance to become a more desirable destination foreign studentsBecause of the crisis.
The longer the pandemic, the perceived high risk of a second wave of infection and increasingly stringent immigration restrictions cloud the U.S.’s image, the more difficult it will be for U.S. universities to compete with academic institutions in other international education centers. A full 50 percent of the students surveyed by WES believe that the coronavirus crisis will have a negative impact on the openness of US society to international students.
Equally worrying, if not surprising, is the fact that 20 percent of potential international students said they are now likely to study in their home countries. This is a percentage that may well increase as the pandemic continues in the US and other target countries. Local surveys in India, cited in April by the Hindustan Timesfound that more than half of Indian students who intended to study abroad wanted to cancel these plans, while around a third of them tried to postpone existing acceptance offers by a year. Indian recruiters are forecasting increased competition for scarce domestic university places this year, as formerly outgoing students are now looking for options at home.
Apart from travel restrictions and security concerns, financial constraints have become a major obstacle. Many parents and students are now unable or unwilling to raise funds for expensive international education as barriers become tight and unemployment rises. 79 percent of prospective students surveyed by WES expect the pandemic to have a negative impact on the economic conditions in their home country. 43 percent fear that they can no longer afford to study in the United States.
While travel restrictions, office closings, and the cessation of postal services and tests such as SAT or TOEFL will inevitably disrupt international student admission in the short term, a global recession will hamper student mobility much more severely and more permanently. Although the global mobility of outgoing students continued to increase during the Great Recession, economic downturns have a significant impact on mobility, particularly with regard to the flow of students from low-middle-income countries to expensive study goals. This can be seen in the following graph, which shows a significant decline in outgoing mobility when India, the second largest sender of international students worldwide, experienced an economic crisis in the early 2010s.
The Trump administration’s plans too Interrupt the OPT program are harmful in this context. While other countries are considering options to attract more international students, including through expansion Access to employmentThe Trump administration’s policies will not help the US maintain its global share in the international student market, which has already dropped an estimated 6 percent since the beginning of the year the century. Regardless of possible visa restrictions, the current unemployment rate is close 15 percent and the prospect of an ongoing economic crisis means that the United States will lose some of its luster as a destination for students who are interested in employment and possibly immigration after graduation.
Given the catastrophic economic prospects for countries worldwide, some observers have suggested that international student mobility will take five years to recover the pandemic. Although this prediction seems too pessimistic, it is almost certain that fewer students will travel abroad in the foreseeable future as income and public grants run dry. Students from low middle income countries such as India, Bangladesh and Vietnam, all of which are top sending students to the United States, can choose cheaper study destinations closer to home, such as China, Malaysia or South Korea. International branches and transnational programs that allow students to get international education without travel may become more popular.
The institutional perspective
Overall, there is cause for concern: 77 percent of the universities surveyed by WES expect international enrollments to decline due to the crisis – a remarkable difference compared to the Great Recession, which was accompanied by a significant recession Increase in enrollments by local and international students alike. Most universities – 64 percent – are extremely concerned that travel restrictions may affect international student mobility, and 70 percent fear that new international students will not be able to obtain a visa. Sixty-four percent predict that universities will consequently increase the recruitment of overseas-educated students who are already in the U.S. to make up for the loss.
Is online education a viable alternative?
In view of the uncertainties about when the pandemic should be contained, more and more institutions are switching to online education beyond the summer. At the time of this writing 7 percent of institutions have announced that they will offer online education in the coming fall semester. Another 28 percent of universities, including large international host institutions such as Columbia University and the University of Southern California, are still deciding or considering other options, including blended learning. Distance learning is likely to be more common for international students who can’t travel: 52 percent of the 234 U.S. universities that are in a current survey from the Institute of International Education said they would offer online options for international students in the fall.
Some observers have suggested that the rapid global shift to distance learning could offer universities a unique opportunity to reach more students with online programs overseas. For example, former British university minister Jo Johnson believes that UK universities will be able to increase overseas enrollment for lower-income groups in Asia and Africa where young people don’t necessarily want the fat, expensive three-to-three Four-year program in one English speaking country. ”
While there is certainly potential to reach more students in undeveloped overseas markets with distance learning programs, there are doubts about how popular online options will actually be for international students, especially for students who are already enrolled in degree programs. A full 32 percent of the international students surveyed by WES indicated that they would not continue their studies in online mode, while another 30 percent were undecided. This finding reflects the opinion of local students: 33 percent of potential US students surveyed in May said that they would “postpone or cancel their fall semester if schools go totally online. ”
There are also technical problems to consider. Several universities have reported difficulties in delivering learning content to students in China due to internet censorship and the inaccessibility of the population Online platforms. In addition, it will be difficult to offer online programs at the same price as full on-campus programs, so in both cases the revenue of the large host institutions would be at risk if the education were offered entirely online over a longer period.
It remains an open question whether online education will help to keep international students long-term. While some students will certainly be prevented from paying high fees for international online education, some institutions and countries could benefit. As an Canadian immigration policy analyst noted, “International students who want to apply for Canadian immigration at some point will want to take advantage of the opportunity to complete part of their studies in their home country while still having access to the same services (the work permit), if they had to study physically in Canada.… The costs of studying in Canada will decrease because they do not have to incur any additional living expenses at the beginning of their studies Canadian education. ”
Context: other surveys
Overall, some of our survey results are reflected in those of other surveys. For example, 69 percent Of the 6,900 international students recently interviewed by UK-based education consultants IDP Connect, they said they still intend to start studying as planned. Most of them prefer to do this on campus and postpone their start dates if necessary, while a significant number of respondents were unwilling to continue studying online, expressing concerns about quality and finding that it ” lacked an international presence ”.
While these attitudes could change over time as the crisis unfolds, 32 percent of prospective international students abroad who were interviewed by educationations.com indicated that they were not interested in continuing their studies online. After interviewing 22,000 international students, the Erasmus Student Network found that distance learning is an acceptable solution to an unprecedented problem. “… Online courses are not an adequate substitute for an experience with physical mobility. Several issues have been reported with the technical implementation of online courses, and while these are likely to be circumvented, this is the actual “Erasmus experience” probably not be the same”. How QS summarized its latest Survey results“International students may be postponed, but not prevented” from continuing their studies on campus, if conditions permit.
Important uncertainties ahead
Although it is difficult to achieve a complete recovery in international student mobility under the current circumstances, it must be understood that global student mobility has grown steadily and reliably over the past three decades despite crises such as the Great Recession or the SARS epidemic. Remember that the number of mobile students enrolled in other countries more than doubled between 2000 and 2017 from 2 million to 5.3 million according to the latest available UNESCO statistics. Looking to the future, the number of tertiary students worldwide is estimated to rise from 251 million in 2020 to 594 million until 2040– It is far from certain that international student mobility will continue to increase, at least in part, in the long term.
Past trends in the United States, the world’s most popular international study destination, also show resilience to global crises. Apart from a brief period of stagnation in the early 2000s after the September 11 terrorist attacks and the unpopular Iraq war worldwide, international student enrollment in the United States has grown steadily and has almost doubled in the meantime 2006 and 2017.
At the same time, due to the global nature of the pandemic, we are sailing in unknown waters. There are many unanswered questions as the crisis continues to unfold. For example, how are the education systems in the major sending countries affected by the crisis? To what extent are private institutions outside the public safety nets brought to their knees and by how much are public university budgets cut? Such factors could limit access to education and consequently drive more students overseas.
On the other hand, if the pandemic persists, will distance learning become mainstream and ubiquitous at top institutions, which may improve access to education and increase bottlenecks, thereby reducing the pressure to pursue alternative study options abroad? If there is a prolonged shift to distance learning, this change is widely accepted or distance learning is still considered second-rate, with the elites opting for on-campus programs that incorporate real cultural immersion experiences abroad rather than studying “can contents” . in their bedrooms?
Will the November presidential election lead to a change of government that could usher in an era of greater openness that could revive interest in the United States as a preferred international study destination?
Given all these questions, it is difficult to predict how international student mobility in the United States will develop in the future. However, there are good reasons to believe that the current crisis may accelerate the relative decline of the United States as an international study destination and go beyond a short-term crash. The number of Chinese students in the United States who grew more slowly before the crisis is likely to shrink. We can certainly see a greater regionalization of student mobility and shifts in student flows to other countries. Target countries with efficient and socially compassionate disease control mechanisms and health systems will benefit from the crisis. While factors such as the growing number of tertiary students worldwide and the worldwide reputation of the US universities will ultimately continue to bring international students to the US, the country’s universities have to adjust – more than ever – to significant changes in international student flows.
 The survey was distributed to a stratified random sample of applicants for the assessment of WES credentials in the United States for educational purposes. WES will examine two more panels in subsequent distributions to evaluate the longitudinal effects of the novel corona virus.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policies or positions of the World Education Services (WES).
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