According to UNESCO there were over 5.3 million international students in 2017, up from 2 million in 2000. More than half of these were enrolled in educational programs in six countries: USA, UK, Australia, France, Germany and the Russian Federation. The global higher education market has become a huge industry that was valued at USD 65.4 billion in 2019, and projected to reach USD 117.95 billion by 2027.
But in a world where students either cannot 2013 or will not 2013 leave their home country due to health concerns 2013 can such startling growth continue?
Talking to those in the front-line of the sector around the world, there is confidence the internationalisation of education will continue, but that it will almost certainly look different as both students and institutions adapt to a dramatic change in circumstances.
I think there will be a real sea-change in terms of global mobility across the board with people making greater use of video conferencing and on-line collaboration platforms for international dealings, says Simon Mercado, Dean of the London campus of ESCP Business School, the worlds first business school founded in France 1819 and committed to a multicultural learning approach with additional campuses in Germany, UK, Spain, Italy and Poland. There will be definite echoes of this in the education sector where we will see greater evidence of virtual mobility for both staff and students and a more responsible approach to the cross-border movement of persons and services. I'm not talking about a paradigm shift where people regard physical mobility as something from an earlier era, but I do expect a significant rebalancing.
And some in the sector even seem to believe that this re-setting will present not just challenges, but also significant opportunities.
This pandemic offers an opportunity to reimagine international education and partnerships that span borders, Joanna Newman, Chief Executive and Secretary General of the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU), which represents more than 500 institutions across 50 countries.
COVID-19 has given us more scope than ever before for collaboration the necessary move to online, at such short notice, has prompted innovation and created the potential for more access and inclusion in international education. Universities are still adapting but the technology were using now can be used to expand access to education. This doesn't mean that once this is over, education should be purely online, but blended learning can enable universities in developing countries, in particular, to offer quality teaching at scale. This could mean that international education will be much more inclusive and could ultimately lead to more partnerships between institutions in developed and developing countries, to share content and resources.
Joanna Newman suggests that the students of 2021 could have the best of both worlds, benefitting from institutions mastering the art of virtual learning, but with the opportunity to still have the campus experience. However she acknowledges that actually achieving this will entail careful planning and sustained effort. It is now more important than ever to support student learning and discovery and this is an undeniable challenge as institutions switch to online teaching and upskill their staff.
The shift in focus to online delivery of education since the beginning of the pandemic may be proving so successful, not just because it is so blatantly necessary in an era of lockdowns, but because it may also be providing what a significant proportion of students were already seeking.
Thanks to Covid-19, student demand for online offerings will likely grow, says Mills Soko, Professor in International Business & Strategy at Wits Business School in South Africa. However, even before the onset of the pandemic a number of institutions were already experiencing plummeting enrolment figures for campus-based programmes and corresponding growth in registration for online courses. Likewise, geopolitical factors and instability in some parts of the world, as well as the introduction or tightening of restrictive immigration policies and border controls were making an impact on international mobility in higher education. So perhaps, rather than inflicting online teaching on an unwilling audience, what the pandemic has actually done is accelerate a form of delivery which already made increasing sense to many in the global student community.
However, if international education is to move effectively to a blended model involving both online and physical campuses it is not just teaching challenges which need to be considered and met. We know that teaching online, even with all the modern tools available, can be difficult, says Loretta Donnell, Vice Provost for Academic Affairs at Nazarbayev University in Kazakhstan. However, we also know that creating online assessments is even more challenging.
Some of our colleagues have taken this opportunity to reconsider and recalibrate assessment. In our Department of Sociology and Anthropology, for instance, student capstone projects were not assessed by closed book examinations. All students developed a unique research project and to illustrate their findings, some narrated short videos, while others created research posters to showcase their approach to sampling, data collection, data analysis and preliminary research findings. All of them had to demonstrate that they were developing the skills of independent researchers.
And she also believes that the same flexibility and innovative approach is likely to be needed in the all-important field of research itself.
Our faculty and our students are deeply committed to planning, executing and disseminating original research central to Nazarbayev University's role as a research-intensive university. But the travel restrictions and lockdown regulations for students, faculty, visitors and strategic partners mean we have had limited access to research laboratories. We are therefore developing a system to allow highly measured and careful laboratory access, with strict social distancing and hygiene measures in place. Our faculty, our students and research collaborators, both here in Kazakhstan and abroad, are working on safe and creative solutions to pursue our research mission.
Of the 1.1 million foreign students studying in the U.S. in 2018, 34% of them came from China alone, representing USD 11 billion in fees. But for Joshua Kobb, Vice Dean at Zhejiang University International Business School in Haining, a growing number are looking for alternative options, including study destinations much closer to home.
Over the last several years trends in student mobility have been changing. The US, while still the largest destination for foreign students, has seen the rate of increase in foreign students fall since 2014. As a result, some institutions have seen tuition revenue drop by more than 25%. With the global rise of nationalism and protectionism, students have been adjusting their choice of destinations, favoring host countries with perceived greater safety and better post-study job opportunities.
The COVID-19 crisis is exacerbating these trends. In the immediate-term, outbound students will experience difficulties in obtaining visas. In the medium-term, outbound students will explore destinations closer to home, as well as foreign collaborative programs in their home countries.
As a consequence Joshua Kobb believes that a strategy of overseas campuses and partnerships can make sense for universities who rely on international student tuition. In the new normal, faced with looming structural declines in international student enrollments and subsequent loss of tuition revenue, the pursuit of an offensive delocalization strategy makes sense for higher education. This translates into the establishment of overseas campuses, allowing institutions to attract and serve international students more effectively by creating market proximity and reducing barriers to a U.S. education.
And for institutions such as Zhejiang University, technology will drive other flexible learning solutions whereby students combine the face to face contact they still want in a local classroom with hybrid online learning with other colleges and programs.
The unprecedented challenges presented by Covid-19 will not be dealt with successfully by any one, individual player, but by the whole sector coming together in mutually supportive networks. As Ian Rowlands, a professor at Canada's University of Waterloo currently on sabbatical with the ACU, points out, In a relatively short period of time, institutions have developed new and improved ways of connecting with their students online. However, they now build upon those achievements in the interests of the whole of international education, working with their partners internationally to connect classrooms and curricula in new and creative ways, impacting numerous students. In meaningful partnerships, institutions have the potential to support, not just their own, but everyone's internationalisation at home agendas.
Never has the adage that we are stronger together had such real meaning for the international education community than now.
Kobb points to a recent survey where 87% of high school college counselors in China reported students and parents are now reconsidering plans for studying in the U.S.