Comprehensive online learning key to international student return

Friday, 26 February, 2021

Comprehensive online learning key to international student return

New research shows international students want to continue studying overseas once COVID-19 travel bans and restrictions are lifted. Students are putting plans on hold, rather than cancelling them, leaving Australia in a prime position to capitalise when study resumes.

The research, conducted by Study Group Australia, surveyed 3000 international students and shows that the country is still a top five study destination for international students and can expect some growth in destination market share over the next few years.

“This is very welcome news for many Australian universities that have seen international student numbers decimated due to the pandemic. However, the longer the borders remain closed, the less likely this is, and Australia faces the real risk of losing market share to other destinations,” said Study Group Australia Managing Director ANZ Alex Chevrolle.

“International students are still highly motivated to come to our shores and to take advantage of all that Australia’s best universities have to offer. The pandemic has been challenging but this latest research shows there are many reasons for our universities to be optimistic. International students want to return as soon as it is safe to do so.”

A report by the Mitchell Institute published late last year, Coronavirus and International Students, predicted there will be more than 300,000 fewer international students in Australia by July 2021 if travel restrictions remain.

But the insights from Study Group paint a more positive picture. Australia’s rise in market share of international students is predicted to be only second to Canada which will see 6% predicted growth. The number of international students choosing the US and UK is expected to fall.

Study Group identified key factors for universities in navigating opportunities for international students.

Comprehensive online learning offering

Most students want to be on-campus but 2021 remains a COVID-unpredictable landscape.

“Universities need to capture potential students by providing a good educational online experience and building opportunities for social connection online.

“Universities need to convince potential students that their online or virtual offering is high quality, academically rigorous and worth their money and time,” Chevrolle said.

Safety of destination

Universities need to capitalise on Australia’s relatively safe COVID environment and what they are doing to create a COVID-safe study environment.

“Concerns about health and wellbeing are the number one barrier to studying overseas right now. Perceptions of how well Australia has dealt with the pandemic are important when international students consider Australia as an option.

“Australian universities need to develop clear messages that they are ready and able to safely navigate the pandemic,” Chevrolle said.

Parents are the decision-makers

The Study Group research clearly highlighted that parents of international students wield significant influence over if, and where, their children study. Now, COVID-19 is their main concern.

“They see the value of international education but are currently not comfortable with their child travelling overseas to study, despite the availability of vaccines,” Chevrolle said.

Practical reassurances can help steer parents when choosing a university. Study Group found that, for parents in China, an assurance that if their program is delayed, their child’s place will be held for the next available on-campus intake, and a full or partial refund if a program is delayed or cancelled are important measures.

Consider new, familiar or smaller markets

Students from China are the most cautious about leaving their homeland to study abroad. India and Nepal stand out in the research with 83% of high school students from those nations remaining optimistic about studying abroad, and a third of those students planning to study overseas in the immediate future.

“Australian universities have had a tough 12 months and the effects of the pandemic are still ongoing for universities that rely on the contributions of international students.

“But our research does show a silver lining. It is not a matter of if, but when, international students return to Australia and there is plenty of work that can be done to ease that return. Australia has a global and well-earned reputation as a premium destination for international students and that reputation will long outlive the effects of COVID-19,” Chevrolle said.

The full study can be accessed here.

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