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Will B-Schools Boost International Student Numbers Again?

Will B-Schools Boost International Students Numbers Again? main image

It’s been a difficult few months for higher education. With forced closures of business schools, universities, language centers all over the world, the sector has been one of the most adversely impacted by the Covid-19 global pandemic.

As the outbreak progresses, hundreds of thousands of international students are left with no choice but to go back to their home countries and continue classes online, the consequences of which are already tangible.

Business institutions in English-speaking countries such as the UK and Australia – two of the most popular amongst foreign students – are expecting a drop in foreign students at a staggering 50 to 75 percent. In the US, many of the 150,000 students who had been approved to stay in the country on an Optional Practical Training (OPT) program have already left the country fearing unemployment and deportation.

Our exclusive survey data, which analyzed responses from roughly 11,000 prospective international students all across the globe, found that 57 percent have changed their study plans since the pandemic began. Of those, 47 percent are thinking of deferring until 2021, 13 percent want to study in a different country than they originally had in mind, and eight percent don’t want to study abroad anymore.

These are discouraging figures, especially considering that the number of international students worldwide was expected to reach a whopping 8m by 2025.

Nevertheless, there’s still a silver lining. Data shows that international students are still keen to attend foreign universities: in fact, over 80 percent of our survey’s respondents were still thinking of applying in the upcoming year.

Institutions shouldn’t underestimate the importance of this. While the traditional delivery of higher education has received a significant blow, the demand for international students-driven solutions hasn’t decreased – if anything, it’s become more crucial than ever.

But could efficient online solutions be enough to keep international students engaged and boost applications up again after the pandemic?

Experts believe so.

Nick Wailes, Director of AGSM and Deputy Dean at UNSW Business School, said: “Enrolment has been growing 20 percent year on year. We are experiencing a flight to quality in the online learning space. In a Covid world, being able to offer quality online experiences is critical.”

Wailes raises an important point, one that has already been proven by enrolment statistics: many top b-schools featured in our QS Online MBA Rankings 2020 have reported a significant growth in the demand for their online MBA programs in the past year – numbers that might see an increase well into the 2020s.

“Even before the pandemic, technology was pointing to more education being done online,” said Pietro Micheli, Course Director for the Distance Learning MBA and Professor of Business Performance and Innovation at Warwick.  

 “The last recession ushered in innovations like MOOCs and education platforms such as FutureLearn and Coursera, so the severe downturn that we are likely to see could bring another acceleration towards online learning.”

However, if schools want to make e-learning work, it is crucial that they tailor their online offerings to international applicants – something that might have been missed in the sudden online shift within the last few months.

In fact, different students who had to leave the US and move back to their home countries due to coronavirus said they have been struggling to keep up with online learning.

One claims attending live remote classes in a different time zone implies sacrificing precious hours of sleep, as most currently run from 9pm until 2 or 3 in the morning, while others argue that required attendance on Zoom makes it “impossible” to live a normal life at home, surrounded by family members in a non-study friendly environment.

Schools should be taking these factors into account if they want to boost international attendance again. Luckily, this pandemic could serve as an ideal opportunity to do so.

There’s never been a more perfect time to trial new methods of online learning and leverage the latest technological tools, perhaps by investing in pre-recorded lectures and asynchronous learning to make it as accessible and efficient as possible.

Only then we might see a real change for the better, one that helps b-schools navigate the crisis and accommodates the people promoting the future of education  – students.

Written by Linda Mohamed

Linda is Content Writer at TopMBA, creating content about students, courses, universities and businesses. She recently graduated in Journalism & Creative Writing with Politics and International Relations, and now enjoys writing for a student audience. 

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