But despite challenges around border control, Amy thinks it is clear that many providers are working hard to cater for students – and allow them to continue studying, even if it is in the ‘new normal’.
“The level of planning has been amazing and the hours put in by a lot of staff has been amazing. I think in a lot of cases they’ve done a really good job.
“There’s also been some real innovation from service providers, who are trying to pivot to help institutions. There’s a lot of heavy lifting in terms of sheer volume of students queries and how you deal with that, so I think that’s been some real innovation in terms of universities working with vendors. And there’s definitely more openness from universities to work with those tech providers.”
Despite deep set concerns about the impact of the pandemic on international education – with warnings of a “financial abyss” and years to recover – the crisis didn’t actually turn out to be quite that bad. Unbelievably, the UK saw record numbers of international students arrive for study.
It came as a surprise – certainly a relief – to many in the sector. “I was slightly surprised,” said Amy, “but the signs were there. For a start, the UK didn’t close our borders, and we also have a graduate route opening in April 2021.
“It also underlines that quite a lot of international students were not prepared to put their plans on hold, and weren’t prepared to study entirely online.”
The golden age of international education?
So with this good news, and with some political tensions finally settling, are we approaching a golden age for international education?
“I don’t necessarily think it’s going to be a golden age,” said Amy, “but I do think it’s going to be an interesting opportunity. Those universities that can navigate effectively and innovatively have the potential to do very well.”
And Amy and The PIE are closely following the trends that will define the years to come in international education.
“There’s so much innovation and investment into third party providers, platforms like Unibuddy. There’s been a huge amount of change and activity in that space in the last year, which I think is interesting and is sure to impact the sector.
“Transnational education will become more popular. Students are going to have really interesting opportunities to study one year in China and then complete in New Zealand or one year in Vietnam and then top up in the UK. That will be a big challenger to traditional full post-grad or undergrad experiences.”
And as new countries grow in popularity for international students, Amy says the ‘traditional players’ should see it as an opportunity – not a threat.
“India is the big one with their national education plan this coming out this year. India is the big country where there’s going to be a lot more opportunity to work collaboratively. I was speaking to an agent last week who said that Poland, Ukraine and Cyprus are all increasingly interesting for his clients. Estonia is doing some really interesting work.
“There’s a lot of other destinations too. There’s a huge opportunity to work collaboratively here.”
Innovation and collaboration will prove key for institutions that look to continue to succeed in international education. And, says Amy, “International education is super connected as a global sector,” so educators should take every opportunity to learn from one another – including by reading The PIE News!