Eduvation Blog

UK Aftershocks and Optimism

Good morning, TGIF and Happy Yukon Heritage Day!

We’ve made it through a full week focusing on the theme of international student mobility trends and forecasts, and the successes and challenges facing higher ed in the US, Canada, and Australia/NZ. (And also a look at student expectations, the importance of study visas, work opportunities, and returning to campus.)

Today, we round out this week’s look at our top competitors for international student recruitment with the UK, still reeling from Brexit’s impact on EU enrolments and mobility, but going more global as a result. (England may be the land of my birth, but I disavow any responsibility for anything that has happened there in the past 50 years.)

And since it’s Friday, I wanted to be sure we wound up on a more positive note, so I include some reasons for optimism about the future of internationalization efforts.

But first –



COVID on Campus

As Canada’s pandemic curve has ebbed, reports of COVID19 cases associated with CdnPSE have also been quiet much of this week. One notable outbreak did make the news yesterday though. (Many cases go unreported, but see my master spreadsheet for a running tally.)


Ontario Police College (in Aylmer) suspended classes yesterday after an outbreak of COVID19 affected 18 people, so that all staff and students could undergo testing. Classes began in January with 438 recruits from across the province, even while K-12 schools were closed and a stay-at-home order covered much of southern Ontario. (Aylmer has also been the location of numerous anti-mask protests.)  London Free Press



Postscript: Fall Plans

In the past few days there’s been a deluge of CdnPSE announcements about plans for Summer and Fall 2021 (see my master spreadsheet for more details.)


Algonquin College announced yesterday that it will “extend the cancellation of all on-campus events until August 31, 2021” (or will deliver Spring term courses online).  AC


Aurora College (NWT) announced earlier this month that it is planning to offer “most programs and courses” F2F for the 2021-22 academic year, starting this Fall, but will “continue to offer enhanced programming by distance” for some programs and courses.  Aurora


Ontario Tech announced Wednesday that “plans are underway to offer courses on campus that have experiential components” this Fall, as well as small tutorials or graduate seminars, where PHO permits, but “we expect to continue holding most medium to large classes in a virtual format.” ONTech


uOttawa announced Wednesday that “planning has started for a revitalized campus experience for the Fall 2021 term.” They have “an ambitious plan to provide a full, enriching on-campus experience with an increase in in-person and hybrid learning formats.” Students will be offered “increased residence options and greater access to many on-campus co-curricular, community and wellness activities.” “Every effort will be made to accommodate students who do not or cannot attend in person to continue their programs at distance.”  uOttawa


UPEI says it is planning a return to a “more normal” academic experience this Fall. Some online options will continue, but with as much F2F as possible. A survey of UPEI students found significant mental health and academic challenges during emergency remote instruction. (Summer session will remain largely online.)  CBC



Brexit Aftershocks

Last month we looked at the impact of Brexit on UK enrolments, the Erasmus study abroad program, and even the separatist movement in Scotland…


Brexit Damage

Brexit means that EU students no longer pay domestic tuition in the UK, no longer access British student loans, have limited postgraduate work rights, and rights to bring family members along with them. 2 years ago, Boris Johnson’s Department of Education commissioned a study which concluded that Brexit would cost UK universities 57% of their EU student enrolment, and C$110M a year. Since universities would enroll fewer EU students but could charge them much higher tuitions, revenues at elite institutions like Oxford and Cambridge were projected to increase. (Unsurprisingly, the government refused FOI requests to see the report until after its trade negotiations with the EU were concluded.)  Inside Higher Ed


Post-Brexit Turbulence

UK universities report a 17% increase in international applications for Fall 2021, at least from outside the EU – but a 40% decline in EU student applications. (As I outlined last month, this is the first cohort of EU students not entitled to free tuition in the UK.) Scottish universities in particular have seen applications from non-EU countries rise 27%. “We are taking nothing for granted, as applications don’t necessarily transfer into acceptances, especially when there is a great deal of volatility regarding students and the pandemic.” Applications are up from China (+21%) and India (+25%), but particularly from the US (+61%). Analysts point to a new 2-year postgraduate work visa as a particular incentive.  PIE News


“It’s no surprise the number of EU students has dropped due to the uncertainty surrounding the impact of Brexit. It’s a drastic loss that’s likely to be felt by certain universities more than others. It’s vital the UK government works hard to ensure European students feel welcome in the UK.”Laura Rettie, VP Global Communications,


“The growth in non-EU applicants from a wide range of countries also shows the UK remains a fantastic global destination for prospective students, with the introduction of a two-year post-study work visa beginning to pay dividends.” Cat Turhan, Policy Analyst, the Russell Group




Looking Eastward

While Brexit has started to negatively impact UK applications and enrolments from the EU, many British universities are successfully recruiting from Asia and beyond, and TNE is part of the discussion there as it was in Australia/NZ


Shift Towards China & India

Uncertainties about Brexit were still nebulous back in 2018 and 2019, but already enrolments in British institutions were shifting. The Higher Ed Statistics Agency reported that international enrolments at UK universities rose +12% in Fall 2019, thanks to a +23% increase in non-EU students, particularly from China. Chinese enrolments were 35% of non-EU students, and rose +56% between 2015-19. Just 14% of non-EU enrolments came from India, but they have been rising much faster, at +228% between 2015-19. (Indian students likely responded to more open PGWP options.) New EU enrolments dropped -2%, largely at the postgrad level, an acceleration of a trend that began with the Brexit vote.  PIE News


China Visas Halve

But then along came COVID19, and UK study visas to students from China dropped by more than half in a year. Chinese students still accounted for 30% of international study visas, but the number fell to 52,698, from ~120,000 the year prior. This was offset somewhat by visas to Indian students, which rose +50% to account for 26% of international study visas, from just 11% the year before. UK visa application centres were all closed in April and May 2020. (Missing from these statistics, of course, are foreign students studying online who may not yet have obtained a visa.)  Times Higher Ed


Rising Challenges from China

David Pilsbury, international VP at Coventry U, warns of “a new competitor on the horizon, which is China.” Already the world’s biggest educational system, China has been rapidly expanding its PSE and rising in international rankings, while implementing an “internationalization at home” agenda. Combined with potential concerns about health and security, Chinese students may be much more reluctant to study abroad post-pandemic, he argues. “If we think we can resume business as usual, we are very much mistaken.” UK higher ed needs to develop high quality TNE and part-year mobility opportunities, and find a way to charge more for it.  Times Higher Ed


“Brexit affects 30% of [the UK’s] international student population. We’ve got geopolitical tensions with China, and this is 25%… So in the next 2 years, we have risks that are touching on half of the international students that we’ve got in the country. On the back of that, we’ve also got a global recession, which is likely to have an impact on the rest…”Janet Ilieva, Founder, Education Insight



Redoubled Efforts

The UK government has ambitious goals for international recruitment, and British universities in particular are accelerating efforts at TNE in the wake of the pandemic…


Britain Comes Out Swinging

The UK’s updated International Education Strategy reaffirms the aim of hosting 600,000 international students and growing the economic impact to C$62B annually by 2030, through streamlined visa processes, improved PGWPs, “alternative student finance,” and establishing international teaching qualifications (iQTS). Transnational education (TNE) will also be crucial “to establish a leading, sustainable market position for the UK.” Priority markets include India, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam and Nigeria, but other important markets include Brazil, Mexico, Pakistan, Europe, China and Hong Kong. The UK will also launch an “Education is GREAT (Britain)” campaign.  PIE News


“As providers look to innovate, students discover the advantages of online education, and teacher uptake of new technologies increases, it appears likely that the coronavirus pandemic has catalysed online study to become a long-standing feature, central to global education.”Steve Smith, UK international ed champion



The Future of TNE

TNE will look very different by 2030, write 4 British higher ed experts, thanks to “rising Asian economic conditions, the waning of globalization as we know it, restructured geopolitical arrangements, and post-COVID19 economic and mobility constraints.” Asian higher ed systems are maturing, leaving Western institutions to compete primarily on brand prestige. Student flows are shifting toward cheaper destinations including China, Sweden and Germany, and there is downward pressure on fees. Too many institutions have responded by downsizing the existing business model, in hopes of returning to “business as usual” post-COVID. Instead, institutions need to consider “optimal workforce structures and operating models for a new era… scalable and technology-enabled systems and environments, and differentiated investment and revenue strategies.”  HEPI


“Higher education has grown into a global business while running in many instances as though it is a cottage industry… The game has changed.” Chris Patton, Michael Wells, Hamish Coates & David Pilsbury



Cautious Optimism

If you’ve been reading this newsletter since last March, you’ve read at least 750,000 words (out of a million) that detail the challenges, risks, and threats posed by the pandemic and its ensuing recession. It has been a demoralizing year for those engaged in international recruitment, and you need as much hopeful optimism as we can find. Here’s what I have seen lately…


Cautious Optimism

A December survey of 425 respondents working at universities in 61 countries finds 45% feel optimistic about international student recruitment in 2021, while 29% are neutral. (The optimists may be the 42% who reached or exceeded their enrolment targets last fall.) Half intend to diversify their source markets. 25% have offered tuition discounts to students studying online from their home countries, and 29% are considering it for this year. Key factors will be government policy: 56% would like to see more accessible student visas, 44% extended PGWPs, 21% relaxed quarantine requirements, and 18% an easier path to permanent residency. Only 61% of respondents believe that the introduction of a COVID19 vaccine will affect recruitment for next year, perhaps because they expect it to take time. Just 21% believe vaccines will allow a “full return” to F2F teaching by Fall 2021, while 46% expect it by Jan 2022, and 19% not until late 2022.  QS


5 Reasons for Optimism

Navitas analyst Jon Chew shares 5 reasons for optimism about international student mobility despite the disruptions of COVID19. Firstly, ~94% of prospective students have remained committed to studying overseas throughout the pandemic – and the determination has only grown with time. (As of Nov, 55% are still planning to defer a year, though, and 15% are willing to consider a different country to make it happen.) Secondly, new opportunities for online and TNE will expand the existing market, not cannibalize it. “The acceptance of exclusively online delivery is unlikely to be sustained,” and the core motivations for 5.5M who want to study abroad cannot be replicated online. Thirdly, the economic recovery may come swiftly, depending upon government stimulus and vaccination efforts. (Some analysts hope for +6.4% growth in global GDP in 2021!) International student mobility may recover long before the “epidemiological end-point” at which we achieve global herd immunity to COVID19; it may be sufficient to immunize travellers and the most vulnerable in society. Fourthly, pro-migration policies will emerge to support population growth in many developed countries. (Canada sits at 0% population growth this year, but has raised its target to 1.23M new permanent residents in 2021-3.) And finally, international ed will focus on long-term strategic relationships and collaborations, not just short-term recruitment tactics, to ensure more resilient, diversified and sustainable growth ahead.  Navitas Insights



Obviously, the story of international education in 2021 isn’t yet written, and we’ll be checking in on it again from time to time.




Just after my university marketers’ roundtable yesterday, Charmain Harvey of Concordia U shared a brand new institutional video, which dropped on YouTube last night…

Next Gen Now

This peppy 2.5-min video features plenty of rapid cuts between shots of students, researchers, melting ice shelves, smoldering wildfires, BLM protests, and cute little kids. (What, no puppies?) Researchers talk about their efforts to tackle transit congestion, use AR in neurosurgery, find new applications for 5G networks, build smart sustainable cities, and bridge gaps between communities through the arts and journalism. “The challenges of one generation shouldn’t be left for the next generation to solve. So Concordians are tackling them now… We don’t have all the answers, but we’re asking the right questions.”  YouTube



As always, thanks for reading!  Let me know if you’ve spotted something cool or thought-provoking, at your campus or elsewhere. And while I’ve got absolutely no shortage of topics for future issues, let me know if there’s something you would particularly like me to tackle!

 Have a great weekend!



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