International student choices and motivations increasingly driven by the availability of face-to-face teaching.
The third round of IDP Connect’s study of international students shows increasingly positive perceptions of countries that have remained open during the pandemic, but that many students are willing to change destination to fulfil their ambitions for face-to-face learning.
The latest research by IDP Connect, supported by Universities UK International (UUKi) surveyed prospective international applicants and offerees. Results showed that the UK’s policy of remaining open to international students throughout the pandemic has driven increasingly positive sentiment to the UK. The policy has also strengthened perceptions of the UK’s overall handling of the crisis amongst international student applicants and offerees. However, the UK still lags behind the key competitors of Canada and Australia in this regard.
The survey also found that the UK sector is at risk of students switching destination countries to gain more face-to-face teaching earlier – among UK applicants and offer holders, 33% of respondents stated that they are likely to change destination if it enabled them to get face-to-face teaching earlier.
There is, however, a growing acceptance of the measures put in place to mitigate risk with over 90% of students willing to quarantine on arrival, up from 72% in June, and to commence their studies online before transitioning to face-to-face later in their course, up from 31% in April and 40% in June to 43% in October.
However, 44% of respondents stated that they would only be willing to wait 3 months before transitioning to face-to-face, highlighting students increasing preference and impatience to get on-campus.
Positively for institutions reliant on large numbers of students commencing their studies in January, increasing numbers of students in the survey are expecting to commence their studies as planned (80%), up from 69% in April and 74% in June.
The third instalment of IDP Connect International Student Crossroads Research examined the attitudes and behaviours of more than 5,000 international students who hold current applications and offers to higher education institutions across Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States.
Simon Emmett, CEO of IDP Connect, said the research is a reminder of the ambition, resilience and eagerness of international students to pursue their lifelong goals.
“This year, international students have shown grit and resilience as they adapted their longstanding travel plans to accommodate COVID-19 challenges,” Mr Emmett said.
“Our research has shown that students are increasingly determined to commence their studies as planned, the majority (44 per cent) are only willing to study online before transitioning to face-to-face for up to three months. They are seeking solutions and want support from universities and governments to help get them on to campus sooner.
“We’ve also seen that there is 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 to countries with stricter border controls, such as Australia,” Mr Emmett said.
Vivienne Stern, Director of Universities UK International (UUKi) also commented on the findings saying that “‘It is encouraging to see this increasingly positive sentiment towards studying in the UK, in addition to the increase in the number of students aiming to start their studies as planned. This reflects the resilience of both the sector and the determination of students wishing to study in the UK.
“Universities are working hard to welcome new students, to clearly communicate the experience new students can expect, and are being flexible where possible around start dates and learning options.
“In the face of growing competition, the UK higher education sector needs to continue to work together, and with government, to ensure the UK remains open for international students, delivering high quality education whether online or face-to-face, where safe to do so.”
Mr Emmett also highlighted that educators or policy makers need to put themselves in the shoes of international students.
“International students – and their experience and knowledge – are incredibly invaluable to our communities, helping to create and maintain jobs across many industries.
“As the world rebuilds after COVID-19, and new study semesters commence, we encourage education institutions to understand the concerns of their student cohort and work with governments to find new ways to deliver blended models of delivery and enable students to study on-campus sooner,” Mr Emmett said.
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