Grand Valley State University in Michigan, with over 22,000 students, stated in May that an increasing proportion of its students were electing to spend a semester or more abroad in the post-COVID world.
While only a snapshot, the numbers given in the university’s statement showed that more than 110 students at the university were planning to study abroad, a huge increase compared to less than 40 who finished overseas programmes last year.
Rebecca Morrissey, the university’s director of study abroad and international partnerships, said that they were “really thrilled to see study abroad programming continue in many parts of the world.”
Study abroad destination countries is also reporting an increase in the number of incoming students after the pandemic.
According to Dr Per Nilsson, a member of The Association of Swedish Higher Education Institutions’ internationalisation group who works at Umea University, Sweden is witnessing some growth.
Dr Nilsson noted, “Covid had a big impact on exchange students who came for a semester.” “During Covid, we lost about half of all incoming exchange students, but things are looking up.” It’s also about reassuring people that everything is back to normal.”
Despite rising numbers, Dr Nilsson believes it will “take several years” for them to return to pre-crisis levels. “There may be children who wish to return but are hesitant for various reasons,” he said.
On the other hand, UAE invests extensively in sending students to study abroad, with frequently published figures estimating the total number of students sent abroad each year to be around 15,000.
According to a report published in May 2022, the pandemic reduced the number of international students seeking to study in the UK, one of the top five international education destinations in terms of student numbers, by 11% to 14%, owing primarily to fewer applicants from higher-income countries.
According to the UK Higher Education Statistics Agency, there was a modest increase in international student enrolment in the 2020-2021 academic year, despite the fact that many were studying online.
According to Dr Senthil Nathan, co-founder and managing director of Edu Alliance, a higher education consultant in Abu Dhabi and Bloomington, Indiana, US, many UK colleges are reporting “substantial increases” in applications from non-EU nations, with numbers from China recovering and rise reported from India, Nigeria, and other countries.
Ann Starkie, who runs the UK consultancy AS Careers, has seen a similar pattern with overseas students coming to the UK. “It was affected, and it’s getting back to normal,” she explained.
Canada, another top-five country, has seen its share of the international higher education market expand throughout the epidemic, potentially due to “clearly articulated political leadership support for its international students,” according to Dr Nathan.
He compared this to Australia, another top-five higher education destination, where prominent politicians generated a “negative climate” against international students during the pandemic.
With a nearly a 25% decline in annual enrolment of international students in higher education in 2020 and 2021, Australia’s reconstruction in numbers “is expected to likewise take time.”
“Australia will need to re-establish trust with prospective international students,” said Dr Nathan, former deputy vice-chancellor at the Higher Colleges of Technology in the UAE.
“All data speaks to growing interest in students studying abroad,” Dr Nathan added. “In the United States, the Institute of International Education polled US universities in 2021, and over half of the institutions planned on in-person study abroad for the fall [autumn].”
“According to our university contacts, the number of students studying abroad is continuing to rise for the forthcoming fall [autumn] 2022 term.”
Universities and private-sector student housing providers rely significantly on overseas students, and after years of income growth, these institutions and firms were hard struck by the pandemic and continue to struggle. Because of the reduction in international student numbers, university revenues in the United States fell by an estimated $10 billion.
Institutions aim to attract international students again, but young people’s passion for travelling overseas differs widely. China and India, the two most important countries for sending students overseas, paint opposing pictures.
According to Dr Nathan, enthusiasm for studying abroad among Indian students is “returning to its high,” but Chinese students, whose government has been wary of opening up, are not travelling abroad in large numbers.
According to Dr Nathan, India could overtake China as the leading country for sending students abroad, while institutions are getting more interested in other areas such as Brazil, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Pakistan.
Remote international education may have become more entrenched, much as COVID-19 has revolutionised how people work, with remote employment and working from home now a routine part of life for many.
While some students are hesitant to travel overseas, the pandemic may have created new opportunities to participate in international education, albeit remotely.
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