The state of international education

The state of international education

How did The PIE cover an unprecedented year?

Article by Michael Mander

Approaching its 10th birthday, The PIE is the most read news source for international education. Over 4.5 million people from across the world have read its coverage of the international education sector – its trends and its challenges. 

Over its lifetime, The PIE has covered huge stories from the education sector. During some of the most memorable moments of the decade, The PIE was on hand to put it into perspective for international education professionals: from the 2012 US election, to Greta Thunberg’s Climate Strikes – from the London Olympics to Brexit

But there’s never been a year quite like this. How has The PIE fared in covering an international sector that is facing unprecedented challenges?

We spoke to one of the founders and CEO, Amy Baker, about the state of international education in a tumultuous year – and what is coming next. 

“It’s certainly been a busier year than usual,” said Amy, “and our readership went up quite significantly as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold. 

“I think that everyone was searching for answers and also looking to see what was happening in other parts of the world. Now we’re deluged with press releases – so that’s proof that there’s a lot going on in international education.”

While it’s a busy time for international education, it’s also, inevitably, been a difficult time. “The travel bans have definitely been the biggest challenge for international education,” Amy said. 

“Actually, we’ve all been quite surprised by how many students are posting on our website. The PIE is officially a B2B website but we’ve got so many students who are obviously feeling challenged by the fact that they can’t get into certain countries where there are travel bans and we’ve got students posting on our website saying let’s set up a Facebook group, or getting each other’s contact details.” 

Travel bans

Travel bans placed by countries like the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Canada have affected tens of thousands of students. “They still want to be on the move,” said Amy, “they still want to be in the country of choice.” 

After closing its borders in mid-March, New Zealand’s universities prepared for an enrollment drop until the welcome news finally came just last month that the country would – slowly, and in limited numbers – start welcoming international students back

While Australia also pilots bringing international students back to campus, the majority are still stuck in limbo as the country is yet to announce whether they will be allowed back in time for semester one in January. 

But international students hoping to study in Canada appear to have had the rockiest ride of all. 

After first announcing students with a student permit issued prior to March 23 would be exempt from the travel ban in March, the Canadian government then backtracked and announced international students would be banned from travelling into the country.  Then, after revealing students might be allowed back in September, borders opened for international students on October 20

Amy said, “The most read story of the year has been the fact that students were getting taken off of planes when they were on their way to Canada with a study permit. The border officers were saying we don’t believe this is a valid reason to travel because you can study online.

“That was a huge story and a huge issue and, as you can imagine, a huge upset for the students impacted.”


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! 

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