Aspiring international students remain committed to their global study goals and are willing to vaccinate and quarantine in return for on-campus study and the experience of living abroad, despite the challenges the COVID-19 pandemic has presented.
Although the majority (75 per cent) of students surveyed by IDP Connect expect to commence their studies as planned, student confidence has dropped by five per cent since the October 2020 study, suggesting some students are growing tired of the uncertainty and prolonged disruption.
While there has been much debate on whether an online offering can truly replace the on-campus experience, the survey findings reinforced that students want traditional face-to-face learning, with only 10 per cent of students stating they will commence a course entirely online.
Demonstrating students’ resilience and willingness to compromise, 43 per cent of respondents said they would start online only if the course later transitioned to face-to-face. While 31 per cent of students said they would defer until face-to-face teaching became available, 11 per cent remain undecided as to whether they would start online or wait for face-to-face and four per cent will withdraw their application if the situation does not improve.
Respondents stated the lack of the international experience was the key factor stopping them from commencing online-only study, and 39 per cent of students reported they were likely to switch destination if it meant they could access face-to-face learning earlier. Furthermore, 30 per cent of respondents said they would switch destinations to undertake face-to-face teaching even if this meant forgoing a scholarship offer.
The findings form part of the fourth instalment of IDP Connect’s International Student Crossroads research, which examined the attitudes and behaviours of international student applicants and offer holders as well as current students.
The latest research surveyed more than 6,000 respondents from more than 57 countries, all of whom hold aspirations or current applications for studying at higher education institutions in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States.
The study also found the majority of international students (55 per cent) have revealed they will get a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible, suggesting destinations which insist on vaccinations were not deterring students. A further nine per cent have already been vaccinated and 30 per cent remain hesitant, stating they need more information about the vaccines before taking their next steps – highlighting a communications priority for governments and institutions. The remaining 6 per cent stated that they are willing to wait until Vaccine Passports are no longer needed.
Student perceptions of the destination countries were also tested and overall, Canada received the highest rating – particularly for its policies for international students and post-study work visas, while the US continued to lag in last place. New Zealand was rated as having responded best to the COVID-19 pandemic, followed by Australia. The UK was perceived to be the middle of the pack in almost all categories.
Andrew Barkla, CEO of IDP Education, said although the results only showed a marginal decline in students’ confidence in being able to commence their studies as planned since October 2020, countries that were lagging in catering for international students needed to move swiftly.
“Urgency is key. Countries such as Australia need to give students reassurance and outline a roadmap for how international students are able to enter the country safely and commence on-campus learning, and a timeline for a return to face-to-face learning,” Mr Barkla said.
“The research clearly shows that an online offering cannot replace the on-campus experience, nor is it what the majority of students want.
“Students have shown a real willingness to quarantine and vaccinate and are open to starting their studies online. This flexibility and commitment should be repaid with clear and welcoming policies that acknowledge their enormous contribution to the Australian community.
“Canada continues to set the tone in its progressive policies and communication with students, but this approach can be and should be adopted by all major study destinations.
“As countries recover from the impacts of COVID-19, study destinations must be able to articulate their unique education offering in order to remain competitive on the global stage,” Mr Barkla said.
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When we asked those who were no longer intending to study overseas why they decided to study at home, put plans on hold or withdraw their application, the main factors impacting their decision was Australia’s current immigration policy; with 38 per cent stating it was due to travel bans and 19 per cent stating lack of available flights
However, of some concern should be the 12 per cent who stated that it was because they did not believe they would feel welcome as an international student, a significantly higher percentage than any other destination country
Less than half (48 per cent) of respondents who have withdrawn their application believe it is likely that they will reapply in the next two years
Canada continues to be an attractive study destination for prospective international students due to positive perceptions of the country’s policies in relation to both COVID-19 and international students
Students who chose Canada as their number one destination of choice stated that they did so due to the high quality of education on offer, post-graduation employment opportunities but also because Canada is seen to support international students and welcome those from other countries – the latter two factors were highest for Canada compared to the other destination countries
“This is another really positive set of results for Canada, highlighting that Canada has a progressive set of policies for international students that have been well communicated globally,” Christine Wach, Director of Client Partnerships, IDP Connect said.
Of the respondents who selected the UK as their first choice, 65 per cent stated they did so due to the high quality of education available, a higher percentage than any of the other destination countries
At the time the survey was carried out students did not, however, see the advanced progress of the COVID-19 vaccination program as a key factor in their decision to study in the UK
Of those who had withdrawn their application to study due to COVID-19, the UK had the second highest number of applicants (53 per cent) who stated that they would likely reapply in the next two years, compared to 48 per cent for Australia and 41 per cent for Canada
The UK Government announced this week that India is to be added to the Red List of countries from which arrivals into the UK are required to isolate and quarantine in designated hotels at their own costs. With large numbers of students due to arrive into the UK in September to commence their studies, there is a need for the sector and the government to make plans that facilitate their safe arrival as research shows that the promise of an on-campus study experience is crucial to Indian students.
The survey shows that 83 per cent of Indian students with an offer to study in the UK in the autumn expect to commence their studies as planned. However, when subsequently questioned on their attitudes to teaching delivery, over a third (37 per cent) of these current applicants stated that they will defer entry until face-to-face becomes available. When later asked whether they would commence their studies if it meant travelling to the UK and then having their teaching delivered through a mixture of online and face-to-face an overwhelming 94 per cent of Indian respondents stated that they would commence their studies under these circumstances.
We know from previous surveys that students are willing to quarantine, with 92% happy to do so. However, in the latest survey 44 per cent of Indian respondents state that they are unwilling to pay the costs of hotel quarantine, 41 per cent only expecting to pay a proportion, and 15 per cent expecting to pay the full cost. Of those who do not believe that they should shoulder the full cost of quarantine, 70 per cent think it is the shared responsibility of the government and institutions to pay all or some of the costs.
“The research is a reminder to the UK that open borders and improvements to post study work rights are clearly not enough without an ambitious plan to communicate the value proposition of studying in the UK to international students around the world,” Simon Emmett, CEO of IDP Connect said.
While perceptions of the US among respondents lag some way behind the competition, there has been significant swings towards more positive perceptions since the previous survey in October 2020. In fact, the US saw the most positive swings of any destination country across all of the key factors that were tested
In addition, respondents who picked the US as their first choice stated the reasons for doing so were the post-graduation employment opportunities, internship opportunities and the scholarships available
“While the results aren’t overly positive for the US, they need to be reviewed in context. Perceptions-wise the US is moving in the right direction and it is encouraging to see students recognising the high quality of education on offer in the US,” Elle Butler, Head of Marketing and Communications - North America, IDP Connect said.
The research has been undertaken to better understand the motivations and attitudes towards international education for international study applicants and offer holders in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The fieldwork was carried out between the 16 March and 5 April 2021. There was a total of 6,068 respondents who can be broken down as follows:
Study status of respondents
39 per cent have received an offer to study from an institution
20 per cent have not yet applied but have begun researching study options and been verified by IDP
18 per cent currently studying as an international student
10 per cent applied and pending offer from an institution
9 per cent have put their study plans on hold
2 per cent have chosen to study in their home country
1 per cent have withdrawn their application
Top 10 origin countries of respondents