Eduvation Blog

International Prospects for Fall 2021

Good morning, and happy Pink Shirt Day. (If you’re in BC, I hope you’ll be grabbing breakfast from Denny’s!)

Welcome to Day 3 of 5 exploring higher ed internationalization trends. Monday I started with the US Implosion – and likely rebound – and Tuesday the Challenge for Canada. But I skipped past one critical challenge: visa processing times.

Today, let’s look at what we know about international student attitudes right now, the crucial importance of study visas, work opportunities, and the campus experience – and some increasingly optimistic announcements about Fall…



Study Visas… When?

Reader Brian Stevenson pointed out “the biggest threat to fall enrolment this year,” and shared some data with me from Navitas analyst Jon Chew about Canadian visa processing issues…  



Excruciatingly Long Visa Delays

Canada is currently taking as long as 266 days, or almost 9 months, to process international student visa applications – an unforgivably long delay, considering that the UK reportedly has it down to just 4 weeks. (And while transparency is admirable, the fact that Canada advertises this delay on its website really doesn’t help.) Navitas has been tracking Canadian visa processing times (see graph above): since Oct 30 the estimated wait times for visa processing have improved considerably in many markets, particularly Japan (now 2 weeks), Bangladesh (now 5 weeks), and India (now 9 weeks). However, applicants from Vietnam currently face a wait of 24 weeks, and the delays for Chinese applicants have been steadily rising (currently 38 weeks). And the problem will likely get worse: the normal annual surge in visa applications over the next few months may be compounded by the release of pent-up demand as the end of the pandemic comes into view. Analyst Jon Chew says, “Canada’s window is to get things right in terms of visa processing by May 2021 at the very latest, and preferably much earlier than that. This means sending a signal that students will get a result in a timely manner – ideally in no more than 4-6 weeks, to be competitive with the UK, and to provide applicants with sufficient certainty.”


“We have done everything else right in Canada, save our visa processing times. If we cannot get them down to 60 days or less across the board by May, we will lose many students this September, despite all the good policies of the government for the past year. I see this as the single most important public policy measure that we must take to support international students, PSE institutions and our most ambitious immigration policy.” – Brian Stevenson, CEO of University Partnerships, Navitas North America


Even if Canada successfully rolls out COVID19 vaccinations, and CdnPSE returns to campus (mostly) this Fall, international enrolments will hinge on applicant perceptions of visa availability and quarantine requirements RIGHT NOW.



The Promise of Work

For many international students, opportunities to gain WIL experience, work part-time during their studies, or work full-time post-graduation are as crucial as the availability of study visas to their study abroad choice. I highlighted yesterday IRCC’s increasingly generous PGWP policies. But there are also disturbing allegations of institutions abusing expectations…


Growing Focus on Employment

Based on surveys of some 70,000 prospective international students conducted between Jan 2018 and Oct 2020, employment has rapidly risen to be a key determinant of both destination country and university. After living costs and language/culture, post-study employment opportunities are #3 in choosing a study abroad destination country (followed by safety and socio-political climate, and reputation of the education system). Similarly, after teaching quality, international prospects say that career services and industry connections are the #2 determinant of institution (followed by general reputation, welcoming nature, and accommodation).


Human Trafficking in Iowa?

11 international students from Brazil and Chile have filed a federal lawsuit against Western Iowa Tech Community College, a local staffing agency and 2 manufacturers, alleging they were “lured” to Iowa with the promise of work-integrated learning, but were instead subjected to human trafficking and involuntary servitude. Their lawyer asserts that WITCC “never had any kind of a program to teach these students robotics or the culinary arts” and that instead “they worked at a pet food manufacturing company on the line.” The lawsuit alleges the students were paid significantly less than US employees, and further deductions from their paycheques funded kickbacks to the college and staffing agency. The college asserts that “these accusations are completely untrue, sensational, and offensive” – but this is the second such lawsuit filed. Another suit was filed in November on behalf of 8 other students from Chile. The US State Department launched an investigation in Nov 2019, and the college discontinued the program in Mar 2020, citing the COVID19 pandemic.  US News


False Pretenses in Quebec

Quebec education minister Danielle McCann threatened to “tighten the screws” on private colleges in the province which she said were recruiting too many international students, especially from India, without offering real training. 5 private colleges were under investigation by the government’s immigration anti-corruption unit, several owners were arrested or wanted by police, and at least one class-action lawsuit was launched by students. Politicians also took issue with one public institution, Cégep de la Gaspésie, for focusing on delivering English programs to 1,500 Indian students at its Montreal campus.  Le Devoir


Recession Financial Concerns

With rising Gen Z anxiety about post-COVID employment prospects, institutions need to emphasize shorter career-oriented programs, employability stats, part-time and post-grad work opportunities, and career counselling services. With many student jobs in tourism and food service eliminated by the pandemic, and family resources affected by the recession, affordability will also be more crucial than ever: in Australia, food banks saw a 50% increase in demand last year, driven largely by international students.  ICEF Monitor



Insistence on F2F

We need to stay skeptical of prospective student surveys, which often suffer from selection bias, response bias, and a whole range of extremist and positive thinking. Last spring, students overstated their resistance to online study, judging by the surprisingly strong enrolment numbers that followed. Yes, many took lighter course loads. Certainly their institutional preferences shifted. And some who struggled will likely not return for another semester of online. But we definitely need to be cautious about surveys that ask students to forecast their own decision-making. Here are a few things that seem credible, however…


Students Prefer F2F

Aside from working adults, or those with family or health considerations, the vast majority of traditional-age students unquestionably would prefer a F2F education. (What varies is the extent to which they see the pandemic as a significant reason to pivot online, defer or delay.) So it’s eminently credible that a survey of 659 prospective international students last October found that fewer than half believed online learning from an overseas institution would be worthwhile, and 49% believed it would be better to take in-person classes at home instead. They did find some interesting variations by destination country: UK-bound students were fairly evenly split, whereas US-bound learners disliked the online alternative far more. Like many other studies, the survey found that 8% had cancelled their overseas study plans, 16% changed them, and 37% delayed them because of COVID19.  Times Higher Ed


Vaccination & Recruitment

As international students decide on applications and confirm their plans for Fall 2021, national progress towards COVID19 herd immunity may be a key consideration, opening doors to economic recovery and a more traditional campus experience. A global survey of 5,000 international students and applicants last October found that 56% would likely switch destinations based on which countries offered in-person instruction (and 32% said they were “highly likely” to do so). Fully 92% would happily quarantine upon arrival rather than defer study, up from 72% in June.  IDP Connect



Optimism for Fall

Many students want the full campus experience, so a key driver of Fall 2021 enrolment will be the nature of program delivery. (There is more reason to be optimistic than ever before, with vaccines rolling out and of course the second wave subsiding with the arrival of spring – but rising variants and uncertainty about their resistance to the vaccine could still sideswipe us.) At this point, it seems reasonable to hope for the best in September, while planning for contingencies…


uAlberta announced yesterday that it plans “to welcome a significantly increased number of our university community members back to our campuses this autumn” and is optimistic that vaccination, masks and social distancing will allow it “to safely offer face-to-face undergraduate and graduate courses, research, and related support services.” UofA expects to continue with a combination of in-person and remote delivery, using “larger spaces for smaller classes.” Course specifics will be determined by Apr 26, and course registration will be delayed until mid-May. “By January 2022, if not sooner, we anticipate being back to our regular campus routines.” The Quad


Concordia U announced yesterday that, although the province has been urging a return to in-class instruction asap, it will maintain online classes this summer, with some exceptions for teaching labs, courses or studio work. “Students can expect more campus access this summer” for optional activities, and there may be in-person final exams in some courses. The Jun 17 convocation will be virtual. A decision for Fall term will be announced in early May.  Montreal Gazette


SAIT announced recently that the majority of Spring/Summer programming will be delivered online, “supported by virtual meeting technology and simulations.” (Updates about Fall 2021 will be posted “as soon as the information becomes available.”)  SAIT


McGill U announced yesterday “that McGill will return to in-person teaching beginning in Fall 2021. While some components of courses will harness the pedagogical benefits of online teaching, students and teaching staff should plan for a return to more regular rhythms of on-campus academic activity by September.” Student residences will be open, and the first-year housing guarantee will return. Admin and support staff will progressively return to campus, “with the goal of achieving a regular presence” by Sept.  McGill


CdnPSE Announcements to Date

I may have missed a few, but as you know I’ve been sharing CdnPSE announcements about Fall 2021 as they are made public, and keeping track of the wording in my master spreadsheet. So far, many institutions have indicated it is still too early to tell (which is true), but 5 are planning for blended delivery or a gradual return to campus this Fall (Algonquin, RRC, Ryerson, Toronto, Windsor). These announcements came earliest from cities like Toronto, Ottawa and Winnipeg in the midst of lockdown at the time. Another 9 universities have announced an intention to more fully return to campus (Alberta, Brock, Dalhousie, Laurier, McGill, McMaster, Redeemer, Trent, and York). In the spreadsheet, you’ll see these schools marked in green in column “AB.”


Many American colleges have been far more aggressive about returning to campus throughout this pandemic, of course, whether to appease Republican legislators or to “bait-and-switch” optimistic freshmen…


US Colleges Hope for Normalcy

Online learning has decimated enrolments at small liberal arts colleges, has discouraged many at-risk and disadvantaged students from applying for financial aid or pursuing PSE, and has made it extraordinarily difficult to deliver applied, traditionally hands-on programs. So, no wonder many tuition-dependent US colleges are once again promising the traditional on-campus experience this Fall – with some caveats. (Much hinges on vaccination of students and staff – and Anthony Fauci has warned that it could take until “well into the Fall semester” before 18-24-year-olds get vaccinated.) Some early announcements include uWyoming, uMaryland, uCalifornia, California State, and many smaller schools. Although the College Crisis Initiative hasn’t started tracking Fall plans for US colleges yet, they do observe that “almost universally,” announcements made this early have promised in-person instruction, from institutions that rely heavily on ancillary tuition and ancillary revenue. Chronicle of Higher Ed


On the other hand, there is some remarkable caution in the K-12 sector…


Calgary Catholic School District says online learning will continue to be an option for families in the 2021-22 school year. It has 6,000 elementary students registered in its K-9 online school, St Isidore, and 1,500 registered for online high school. “What we’re doing is forward thinking here. We know that the vaccine is getting rolled out, but the vaccine has not been approved for students or children under 16 at this point in time.” So far, 3,400 out of 18,130 students (19%) have moved back to in-person learning this spring. Parents must make their decision for Fall by the end of March.  CBC


Ottawa Catholic School Board has announced the creation of 3 “permanent” virtual schools for September, to include virtual extracurricular and sporting activities. Although Ontario is planning for in-person schooling this Fall, the OCSB says “a small number of students learn best in the online environment.” Interested families must sign up by Feb 25.  Ottawa Citizen


American K-12 schools are still planning for the possibility of more remote learning this Fall. Joe Biden has made reopening schools a priority, but vaccines are not yet available to most teachers and may not be available for young children until late spring or early summer. In the long term, some expect to see an “all-remote option” for students.  ABC News


“There’s going to be some element of the genie not being able to be put back in the bottle. I think that there now will always be a group of families who want a virtual option… We know we’re able to, but are we willing to do it?”Brian Woods, Superintendent, Northside Independent School District, Texas



To sum up: Hopefully CdnPSE will be back “in the pink” by getting back to campus, at least in part, by September. (We should also be ready for hybrid/flexible means of delivery, should the worst case scenario arise with COVID19 variants.) But for fall international recruitment, and hence institutional finances, to be back in the pink too, we need to sort out visa processing times right away, communicate clearly about quarantine protocols and vaccination progress, and ensure we’re offering students meaningful work-integrated learning opportunities.


Tomorrow: Stay tuned for part 4 of 5, which will focus on developments in Australia, New Zealand, and India, and look again at the “weaponization” of international education for political purposes…




Thanks to Jane Antoniak at King’s UC for reminding me about a slick series of 6 one-minute videos they released last November, addressing the international student experience…



A Place to Call Home

King’s UC is an affiliated college at Western U, and international students explain that it’s the small classes, close-knit community and warm, friendly people that make King’s feel like home. (Although they also describe the outstanding programs in their individual testimonials.) These 6 one-minute vids were shot on campus last fall under social distancing guidelines (you can tell when the students play ping-pong or Uno wearing masks). The first is an overview video, while the other 5 are helpfully titled based on the country of origin of the student: Rwanda, Jordan, Bermuda, India, and China. (Much better, if you ask me, than emphasizing people’s names alone in testimonial titles.)  Youtube Playlist



As always, thanks for reading!  Please do let me know if you’ve spotted something cool or thought-provoking about internationalization (or anything else), at your campus or elsewhere.

Be safe and stay well!


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