The COVID-19 challenge is unprecedented; its scale still is not understood. Colleges and universities around the world cannot know when they will open again to normal activity or to what extent education as usual will resume. But even though higher-education leaders cannot know the answers, given the uncertainty, they must start asking themselves questions about the medium- and long-term implications for teaching, learning, the student experience, infrastructure, operations, and staff.

The coronavirus crisis has led to a complete upheaval in the higher education world, with both classes and assessment shifting online for the remainder of the academic year in most cases. There have been calls for tuition fees to be reduced (or even cancelled), which has caused significant debate among both students and faculty. Some universities are, however, responding to these calls by making changes to their tuition fees. Around 85 universities including Virginia Tech, UC Riverside, and Newcastle University, around the world have made tuition fee changes favouring both domestic as well as international students.


How are prospective international students adapting to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis?

This ongoing QS survey of prospective international students was established in mid-February in response to the growing disruption of the COVID-19 crisis and its ripple effects across the higher education sector. As of 11 August, when these results were pulled, the survey has amassed more than 66,000 responses from prospective international students across 198 nationalities and territories. Of those surveyed, 41% plan to study at an undergraduate level, 35% at a postgraduate by coursework level, 19% at a postgraduate by research level, and 5% seek to study either English language studies, a foundation course, or vocational education and training. Survey respondents were interested in studying in multiple study destinations with the UK leading the pack (41%), followed by the US (38%), Canada (34%), Germany (24%), Australia (22%), and others. The majority of respondents were interested in studying Business and Management (22%), followed by Engineering and Technology (20%), Medicine and Dentistry (7%), Computing (6%), Social Sciences (5%), and others.

Is the study plan of prospective international students have changed throughout the crisis?

study plan of prospective international students

In May, two new questions were added to the survey, in an effort to gauge when prospective international students would like to start their studies and when they expect to start their studies. As the survey has progressed, we can see that the proportion of students who want to and who expect to start their studies overseas in 2020 is gradually declining, while the numbers for 2021 are increasing.

How prospective international students are adapting to online learning opportunities and challenges

Online learning has become the new normal for the higher education sector in 2020. Universities across the globe have shown remarkable flexibility and innovation as they moved operations and communications to online platforms and utilized a range of virtual tools. When looking at trend data from the student survey, we can see that interest in online degrees appears to be very gradually increasing. The proportion who is not at all interested has declined from 42% in March to 36% in August, so it seems like attitudes are shifting gradually.

Where do universities stand when it comes to international student recruitment?

International student recruitment in the midst of a pandemic that restricts global movement is understandably a complex challenge. Many universities are predicting significant reductions to international student recruitment numbers for this upcoming academic year. In the QS university survey, respondents were asked to reveal how they think international student recruitment applications will be impacted by the ongoing coronavirus crisis.

An overwhelming majority (72%) of institutions believe that the coronavirus crisis will decrease the number of international student applications they receive. Additionally, when QS examines the trend data we can see that these sentiments are exacerbated as the new academic year approaches for many countries.

To address the shifts, universities are taking innovative steps to increase their international student recruitment for 2020, and position themselves for a strong 2021. According to the QS coronavirus university survey, 49% of respondents are seeking to diversify the source countries they use for recruiting international students, with a further 20% of respondents still considering their options.

What about Standardized Test Scores?

With many high schools closed or teaching remotely for the rest of the academic year, a growing number of colleges and universities are waiving standardized test requirements amid the coronavirus pandemic. Some went further than that, with leaders of the University of California system voting on May 21 to phase out the SAT and ACT as an admissions requirement over the next four years.

The test will be optional through 2024, when the system’s 10 schools could develop its own admissions test. The system had already eliminated the standardized test requirement because of the outbreak of the virus.

At least two Ivy League schools adjusted their policies for applicants. On April 22, Cornell University suspended its testing requirements, saying in a statement that “due to this extraordinary circumstance,” students could submit applications without ACT or SAT exam results starting in August 2021.

Stick to your original plan, continue with your application process, believe in the process of universities and apply for Fall 2021!