Eduvation Blog

More Global, Less Pandemic

Good morning, and happy Monday!

If you’ve heard me deliver a (virtual) conference keynote, campus workshop, or leadership retreat in the past 11 months, you’ve heard me emphasize that the COVID19 pandemic has massively accelerated pre-existing trends in higher education – all except ONE.

Internationalization, which has been growing rapidly in CdnPSE and worldwide, suffered a reversal in 2020 every bit as painful as the travel, tourism and hospitality sectors (which account for 75% of pandemic job losses in Canada). And because international enrolments have become critical to the financial sustainability of many colleges and universities (especially in Canada and Australia), there is no other single topic that will impact the future of higher education as much in the years ahead.

I’ve been accumulating a ton of data and ideas on this theme, waiting for an opportunity to focus on it – but somehow my plans have repeatedly been derailed by skyrocketing COVID19 infection rates, stubborn politicians, institutional declarations of insolvency, presidential elections, recognition of Black history month, and plenty of other interesting and urgent topics.

This week, I’m going to try a different approach to the Insider, by devoting 5 consecutive issues to an in-depth look at internationalization of higher ed, during the pandemic and after. (The rest of the news will just have to squeeze into the room that’s left!) Today, we’ll start with a look at pandemic impacts on US internationalization, and some recommendations for American colleges that are also valuable for institutions elsewhere.


Pandemic Précis

In general, since my summary last Tuesday, the positive trends are continuing. Infection rates are declining throughout the northern hemisphere, vaccinations are progressing, mortality is improving…

Tragic Toll: Nonetheless, the US is approaching half a million COVID19 deaths (498,000 at press time). In the first half of 2020 the virus cut American life expectancy by a full year. Worldwide, the pandemic has taken roughly 20.5 million years of life away from people (not to mention the year all 7.7B of us “lost” in lockdown). It will likely take all of us years to forget this shared crisis.

Vaccinations: The US has been making good progress on vaccinations (enough doses to give one to 18.7% of the population so far). By comparison, Canada is limping along with just 3.7%, largely because of manufacturing delays in Europe. Justin Trudeau promises 14.5M doses by June; Joe Biden is promising >100M doses by Apr 30. Of course, Israel has put all other nations to shame, having already administered enough doses to give one to 79% of the population, and allowing much of the country to reopen. For the long run, there’s more good news: it looks like the Pfizer vaccine can be stored at normal freezer temperatures, and that a single dose can be up to 93% effective.

Variants: The only real threat to life returning to some kind of normal by the end of 2021 lies in the highly infectious, somewhat vaccine-resistant variants – both those we have detected to date, and any new ones that arise while we’re still vaccinating. Canada now has identified 660 cases of the UK variant, but the South African variant has proven much more resistant to vaccines, and could still pose a threat even if we can achieve our vaccination goals. In the worst case, epidemiological models forecast Canada could see a surge of 20,000 new cases a day within a month, if PHO restrictions are lifted. Ontario has extended stay-at-home orders for Toronto, Peel Region and North Bay until Mar 8.

If it makes you feel better: a mathematician at Bath U (UK) has calculated that all 2 quintillion SARS-CoV-2 viral particles in the world would easily fit inside a 330mL cola can. (Somehow that doesn’t make me feel any better.)

Trust Bill Gates to make it worse: after accurately predicting that a global pandemic would likely kill million, now he’s warning that bioterrorists could engineer the next viral pandemic. Making our preparations for testing, tracing, containment, treatment (and yes, low-density campuses) all the more essential.

Let me know if you think this more concise précis approach is better. Certainly it’s less depressing for me to write!


“While COVID19 and the current political challenges are temporary, institutional leaders must make decisions that determine the destiny of their institution for years or even decades to come.”NAFSA, APLU and INTO Report, Oct 2020



International Implosion

Few countries have been as successful as the US in recruiting international students – or have seen such a massive decline in the past 5 years. First it was Trump, then COVID19…

Declining US Enrolments

New foreign enrolments at US colleges (on-campus and online) dropped 43% last year, thanks to the pandemic, but had been declining for years under the “actively unhelpful” Trump administration. The IIE found that ~40,000 international applicants deferred enrolment at hundreds of US institutions last fall, costing the sector $1.8B in revenue so far.  Times Higher Ed

Especially in Red States

In particular, the states facing the biggest declines in international enrolment from 2017-19 overwhelmingly voted Republican in the 2016 election: Texas (-8.6%), Michigan (-7.8%), Indiana (-6.2%), Ohio (-5.5%) and Pennsylvania (-3.4%). By comparison, Democrat-leaning states saw much smaller declines, or even increases(such as New York +4.7%, and Massachusetts +8.1%). International students may be more attracted to cosmopolitan areas, which tend to lean Democrat, but they are likely making the decision “subconsciously.” Postgrads, on the other hand, might be looking for a hospitable location for employment after graduation. Times Higher Ed

Impact on US Grad Schools

While foreign students make up just 5.5% of US college enrolment, they comprise 20-50% of many graduate programs, particularly in STEM fields. As a result, new grad school enrolments in the US fell -39% last fall (-26% at the doctoral and -43% at the master’s level), mainly because of travel restrictions for students from Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa. (Chinese enrolments dropped -37%, and Indian students -66%.) If vaccination programs succeed and borders reopen, it’s possible that American grad schools could see “an explosion of pent-up demand” in Fall 2021.  Chronicle of Higher Ed

A New Dawn

In many ways, American higher ed is just now emerging from “one of the harshest immigration climates in a generation,” as the Exec Dir of the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Ed and Immigration puts it. US colleges “have been on the front lines seeking to shield students from animus and unjust policies.” There is cautious optimism, knowing that legislative change and a resolution to the COVID19 pandemic will still take considerable time.  PIE News

“It will be hard to reclaim the ground our nation has lost in recent years. For decades now – and particularly during the last four years – federal de-prioritisation of investments in research and higher education, inaction on important issues affecting immigration and infrastructure, and implementation of short-sighted policies that harm inclusion and international talent recruitment have done significant damage to the government-university partnership.”Barbara Snyder, President, Association of American Universities


Biden Bounce?

Applications aren’t enrolments (or even applicants), but after 3 years of flat or declining numbers, international applications to US colleges for Fall 2021 are up +9% as of Jan 22, from most of the top source countries – except China, which is down -18% from last year. Applications from India are up +28%, Canada +22%, Pakistan +37%, the UK +23%, and Brazil +41%. (Perhaps it’s a “double cohort effect” reinforcing a “Biden Bump.”) New York U has seen a +22% spike in international applications (perhaps validating their “transnational” strategy, with campuses around the world). Domestically, the Common App shows a 10% increase in applications, but just a 1% increase in unique applicants. (Applicants are hedging their bets, perhaps to see which institutions will offer F2F classes come Fall. And as more elite institutions have gone test-optional, applicants are trying their chances.)  Forbes

So, with most of my readers in Canada and Australasia, why start with the US picture? Because ultimately American higher ed is our biggest competitor for international students, and institutional prestige.

“Neither the UK nor Canada has made particularly significant gains in prospective student interest. It is in fact the magnitude of the US’s decreasing popularity that has driven the US from being the most popular country in Jan 2018 down to the 3rd most popular country in Oct 2020.”Carol Pang,



New Strategies

Throughout the week I’ll be sharing summaries of recommendations for international recovery from a wide range of sources. Here are a few offered specifically to US institutions, but which I think are more broadly applicable…

Innovate or Die

NAFSA warns US colleges that reducing global engagement and infrastructure to save money could backfire, allowing Canada and other competitor countries to continue gaining market share. Instead, they urge innovation and expanded partnerships, and increased investment in advising, automated and self-help tools to support online students in a range of time zones, and even local support personnel if possible. NAFSA’s analysis suggests new revenue potential in “fee-funded programs, micro courses, and digital badges,” particularly those delivered to international students abroad. (Again, accelerating the trend to microcredentials I described last week.)  They urge the development of quality partnerships with foreign institutions, agents, and pathway providers, and suggest the best way to counter cheaper online competitors will be to emphasize practical work experiences, online or with employers in the students’ home countries.  NAFSA

“It is a foregone conclusion that international student enrolment will continue to suffer for the foreseeable future. As the world continues to grapple with the effects of the global pandemic, it is clear that that US higher education institutions must realign, rethink, and rebuild despite diminishing resources, or they will be sidelined.”NAFSA, APLU and INTO Report, Oct 2020



Supporting Foreign Students

To ensure the slump isn’t permanent, the American Council on Education proposes “A New Compact” to address financial and cultural barriers, discrimination and racism, internationalize curricula, enhance student inclusion and success, and build lifelong relationships with alumni overseas. “Limitless growth in cross-border enrolment” simply isn’t sustainable. Proactive institutions will adopt a “lifecycle approach” that enhances inclusion pre-arrival, during studies, and after graduation, and will link internationalization to sustainable development. They will consciously promote networks for students “ranging across academic research and faculty, to diaspora, to local city and community networks built through community engagement, as well as alumni and employer networks created through proactive career services.” And they will work to transform US-centric approaches to thinking and relating, honouring multidimensional identities and experiences, and absorbing a broader cultural mindset.  ACE

“The future requires a different kind of conversation about international student inclusion and success: a new compact that recognises that the same trends heightening risks in the near term also generate opportunities to produce better outcomes for international students in the long term.” American Council for Education



Value and Unbundling

The COVID19 pandemic, and its repercussions (health concerns, online delivery, lost opportunities for experience) “could potentially have dire consequences for international student mobility in the coming years,” warned the OECD in its 2020 Education at a Glance report, and the impact will be greatest in countries like Luxembourg (48% international students), Australia (27%), and New Zealand (20%). OECD Director of Education Andreas Schleicher predicts that students are unlikely to continue paying full tuition merely to consume online courses, without the opportunity for social and intellectual interactions with faculty, researchers, and peers. He anticipates an unbundling of educational content, delivery and accreditation, and “broadcasting knowledge” will be available inexpensively from plenty of nontraditional sources. Digital delivery must be used to enhance but not replace interpersonal interactions.  PIE News

“In the short term, the online world is going to be very important. But if universities are just broadcasting knowledge, they’re going lose their value proposition.”Andreas Schleicher, OECD Director of Education & Skills


Tune in tomorrow as I continue the focus on international education, with a look at CdnPSE’s situation specifically, and some more strategic possibilities…



COVID on Campus

Since Friday, I have added 2 more COVID19 cases associated with CdnPSE. (Many cases go unreported, but see my master spreadsheet for a running tally.)

Durham College reported another case at its Whitby campus on Saturday. Because it is related to a previous case, the cluster is considered an outbreak in the Electrical shop.  DC

Red River College reported a case at the Exchange District campus on Friday.  RRC



CdnPSE Updates

Just a few more stories I should squeeze in…

MUN in Lockdown

Memorial U of Newfoundland closed its St John’s campuses Feb 9 as a “circuit-breaker” in response to an outbreak of the UK variant in the region. President Vianne Timmons wrote to the campus community on Friday, “for the foreseeable future, we’re home.” MUN may not resume normal operations, even when the province lowers its pandemic alert level, but will provide “lots of notice” when a return is possible.  MUN

Recovering from Cyberattack

Lakehead U is still recovering from last week’s cyberattack. On Friday, the University tweeted that “the only systems affected by the incident continue to be our University-owned computers and servers.” The goal was to get crucial services, including the D2L LMS, Gmail and Zoom, back online by today so that classes could resume. In a Saturday tweet, Lakehead advised that the winter study break will be extended by 4 days, and that classes will not resume until this Friday. The website, Gmail, Zoom, portal and LMS were restored Saturday morning.  Twitter


As Laurentian U seeks to renegotiate its relationships with its federated universities, elsewhere in Ontario an affiliated university sees advantage in going it alone…

Huron Seeks More Autonomy

Huron UC, the founding college that helped establish Western U in 1878, is now contemplating academic independence, establishing its own Senate and granting its own degrees, starting with the graduating class of 2026. Huron hopes to negotiate ongoing access to Western’s health services, libraries and recreation facilities for its students, but the arrangement would give Huron much more autonomy to launch new programs and set its own admissions requirements and curriculum. Extensive consultation is planned before the Huron Board of Governors votes on the question, and then it will likely take 4-6 months for the province to decide on degree-granting authority.  Western Gazette



As always, thanks for reading!  Let me know if you’ve spotted something cool or thought-provoking, at your campus or elsewhere.


And I hope your week gets off to a great start!


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