Eduvation Blog

Internationalization in a Pandemic

What follows is a selection of coverage from the Eduvation Insider this year focused on internationalization of higher education…


Biden Time: What Changes Tomorrow


Biden has made it clear that he intends to tone down Trump’s “America First” policies, re-engage with international organizations, and regard foreign countries as potential partners rather than competitors…

Environment: On Day 1, Biden will rejoin the Paris Climate Accord (which should be good news for most of the planet), restore protection for national monuments, and reverse Trump’s orders to undermine environmental protections – but he will also cancel the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline – with major implications for Canada, and especially Alberta. (Reportedly Justin Trudeau raised the issue on his congratulatory phone call to Biden after the election.) Biden has issued a $1.7 trillion Clean Energy Revolution plan that includes heavy investments in green technology. Congress is expected to pass clean energy legislation to promote zero-emissions electricity and discourage the use of fossil fuels. New York Times

Keystone XL is what Canadian media will be discussing on Wednesday, of course (assuming nobody burns down the Capitol or sets off a nuke). The impact will be at least 2,000 pipeline construction jobs in Alberta, an even more diminished energy sector in that province, and a political liability for Alberta premier Jason Kenney, who made what Rachel Notley calls a “massive gamble” on Keystone XL, investing $1.5B and providing even more loan guarantees. The environmental benefits will also be tangible, though. Improving emissions targets, funding for the green energy sector, and tightening pollution restrictions will all have spillover effects on Canadian companies and regulations.

Immigration: On Day 1, Biden will issue a proclamation terminating the “border wall emergency,” ordering agencies to reunite children separated from their families at the border, and he will introduce legislation to create an 8-year path to citizenship for ~11M undocumented immigrants. Those who arrived as children, the “Dreamers,” will have an even shorter path, and the legislation also provides grants for workforce development and ESL. Biden will also reverse Trump’s “Muslim bans.” Globe & Mail

Again, the US will immediately seem more welcoming to international students and faculty, and millions of illegal residents will find it much easier to pursue PSE. Regional universities and community colleges will benefit from enrolment and funding growth, strengthening the system. Eventually, the US will even start to regain some market share of international students, becoming tougher competition for Canadian and Australian/New Zealand institutions.



Brexit and Higher Ed


The British Exit from the EU

In a June 2016 referendum, 52% of voters in the UK opted to leave the European Union  after 47 years. The PM at the time, David Cameron, promptly resigned, and Brexit was delayed 3 times thanks to snafus in parliament, 2 elections, and protracted negotiations with the EU. Cameron’s successor, Theresa May, ultimately was defeated by Boris Johnson in the Jul 2019 election. Effective Jan 31 2020, a one-year “implementation period” began, and at the end of 2020 the UK ceased to participate in the European common market and customs union.


No More Freedom of Movement

Brexit will mean an end to freedom of movement between Britain and the EU. The millions of EU citizens currently living in the UK, and British citizens living in the UK, will retain many of their former rights – but Brits “will no longer have the automatic right to live and work in the EU, and vice-versa.” In many ways, this is what the Brexiteers wanted: to stop immigration, particularly from former communist nations in Eastern Europe. Visiting time for tourists will be limited to as little as 90 days, travel health insurance will be a new hassle, as will bringing along the family pet.  AP


Instant Economic Damage

Details of the new trade deal with the EU weren’t circulated until Dec 31 – “the day before the new rules took effect.” The impact on UK businesses was immediate. Customs issues held up freight shipments both in and out of the country, supply chains and foreign markets needed to be reconsidered, European stocks moved from the London exchange to Amsterdam or Paris. Tariffs on EU goods being reimported into the EU make it impossible to use UK distribution centres. Last year, Britain experienced “its deepest recession in more than 300 years,” and the Bank of England is warning that the Brexit deal will cost the UK a further 2% of GDP for years. Analysts are predicting a “double-dip recession.” But then, Brexit was always about sovereignty and national pride, economic realities be damned. Much of the real damage will only become clear once the pandemic has passed: England’s third national lockdown began Jan 5.  New York Times

“For many businesses, this is what Brexit has quickly become: a logistical, regulatory and administrative burden for which they were unprepared.”New York Times


Much like American “Trumpists,” the “Brexiteers” don’t seem too concerned about the manifold impacts of the decision on UK higher education…


Foreign Tuition


Even before COVID19, UK universities were concerned about the financial impact of reduced student mobility from the EU on their enrolments and tuition revenues…


$12B Revenue Anxiety

Throughout spring and summer 2020, British universities were panicking about the impact of reduced international student revenues. In April, Universities UK estimated a $12B annual loss of foreign student fees, and urged government to provide a “transformation fund” for partnerships and mergers. A London Economicsreport concluded that a 47% decline would cost 30,000 jobs in the sector. Scottish universities projected a $700M deficit, thanks to COVID19 and Brexit, and feared a government-led amalgamation could be in the works. Even the UK’s wealthiest university, Cambridge, was considering delayed sabbaticals, a voluntary part-time working scheme, and perhaps pay reductions or redundancies to address a revenue drop of hundreds of millions of pounds. Three-quarters of UK universities slipped in the QS World University Rankings for the 4th consecutive year (ever since the Brexit vote), and 13 universities could face insolvency, based on one analysis. Mid-ranked institutions without substantial financial reserves, but with high exposure to international enrolment, faced the greatest risk.


Bullet Dodged?

And yet, by September 2020 it seemed clear that UK universities had hit a record 44,300 undergrads enrolled from outside the UK and EU – a 9% increase over the previous year – according to the UCAS application service. (And UCAS stats usually account for less than half of international enrolments.) Only acceptances from students in the EU were down, about 2%, because of Brexit. (Then again, the actual impact on Erasmus+ grants won’t be felt until 2022.) Just a few months earlier, vice-chancellors warned that a “sector-wide financial crisis” was coming, but enrolments may have been helped by “negative sentiment towards the US,” and the fact that Australia and New Zealand’s borders remained closed. Domestic enrolments also surged, thanks to the A-levels being waived: 36% of UK 18-year-olds enrolled, also setting a new record. Deferrals rose only slightly, from 5.4% to 5.7%.  The Guardian


Erasmus Lost


Massive Student Mobility

The EU founded the Erasmus program in 1987, to provide PSE students across member states opportunities for study abroad, work abroad, and apprenticeships across Europe. Each year it supports about 200,000 exchange students. Countries pay into the scheme based on their overall GDP. The Guardian

In 2017, ~16,500 UK students went abroad under the program, while ~32,000 EU nationals came to UK institutions. That trade inbalance meant that the British government was hosting twice as many students as EU partners received from Britain, because of the longstanding appeal of British education. The $40B Erasmus+ program is expected to send 10M people abroad from 2021-27.

“Erasmus also seems to help strengthen a European identity among participants. As this, sadly, is not aligned with the spirit of Brexit, one can only wonder whether it contributed to the decision of the UK to terminate its participation.”Barbara Lorber, Erasmus alum


Replacing Erasmus with Turing

In December, Boris Johnson announced that the UK was pulling out of the “extremely expensive” Erasmus scheme, but that British students will still have access to a new domestic program to be called the Turing scheme, after mathematician and codebreaker Alan Turing. (The decision does not take place immediately; the UK participates in Erasmus+ until the current program ends in 2022.) The Turing scheme appears to be a one-way outbound exchange program, to send UK students to top-tier universities around the world.  Politico


Turing Shortcomings

PIE News reports that the UK plans to commit Ł100M ($174M Cdn) to Turing, to fund 35,000 UK students heading abroad. They note that it may apply to students in schools, as well as PSE, but that individual institutions will need to negotiate mobility deals with each foreign partner institution.

The Higher Ed Policy Institute observes that the commitment to Turing appears to be about half the UK’s share in Erasmus, and that it will target “students from disadvantaged backgrounds.” But typical Erasmus grants were only about $6,000 Cdn – hardly enough to cover all the expenses of study abroad. (Hence critics complain it is a middle-class perk. A 2010 study found that UK participants were white, middle-class, academic high achievers.) Furthermore, replacing bilateral mobility agreements with unilateral ones will be a big challenge.

Times Higher Ed adds that the Turing scheme does not replace Erasmus+ funding for staff exchanges for teaching and training purposes.

Of the 167,000 UK participants in Erasmus+ from 2014-18, 7,081 were in Wales and 13,957 in Scotland. Both governments have emphasized the importance of the program, but feel their concerns have been ignored by London. Northern Ireland, which is staying (partially) in the EU, has agreed to fund about 7,000 Erasmus+ students.  PIE News


Unequal Impacts

Julia Pieza writes that declining EU enrolments (potentially half of all EU students coming to the UK) will hit institutions quite unequally. As it stands, London and Southeast England benefit most from inbound international students, but a disproportionate number choose to study in less expensive regions like Sheffield Central and Newcastle upon Tyne East. Russell Group universities like Oxford and Cambridge will likely continue to enroll EU students, but they will be paying higher tuitions – perhaps Ł100M more each per year. These same powerhouse brands are already negotiating “Brexit-blind” partnerships with EU institutions. Less prestigious UK universities, on the other hand, could lose Ł100,000 a year. Higher tuition fees will also reduce social diversity and equity, attracting more students from higher socioeconomic backgrounds in wealthier nations.  Higher Education Policy Institute


“Ending UK participation in Erasmus  – an initiative that has expanded opportunities and horizons for so many young people – is cultural vandalism by the UK government.” –  Nicola Sturgeon, Scottish First Minister


“Mobility is by nature reciprocal. UK universities will lose culturally and intellectually by not having short term international students in their universities.”Kostis Giannidis, President, Erasmus Student Network


Declining Prestige

University reputation surveys are of course sensitive to geopolitics and perception, so Brexit began impacting the world ranking of UK institutions in 2019…


UK Universities Losing Prestige

Thanks to Brexit and budget cuts, declining research impact and student:faculty ratios, and declining international student numbers, three-quarters of UK universities slipped in the QS World University Rankings for the fourth year running (since the Brexit vote). MIT, Stanford, and Harvard held on to the top 3 spots, but other US institutions lost ground. 26 Asian universities (in China, South Korea, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia and Taiwan) rose into the top 100, contributing to the dislocation of others. Guardian


United Kingdom No More?


Rather like the MAGA insurrection movement in the US, the populist Brexit decision has polarized the nation – but also the parliaments of its constituent countries…


PSE Shake-up in Scotland

In August 2020, the Scottish Funding Council launched a consultation to cope with a projected $700M deficit facing its universities in the wake of COVID19 and Brexit. “We will be considering the overarching framework that can further develop a connected, collaborative ecosystem for learning and teaching and research; reflects government and tertiary education objectives; and secures accountability for public funding.” Academics feared that their institutions might lose autonomy on fundamentals like program offerings, or might even face involuntary mergers. The Scottish government made it clear that it would be opting out of the UK’s “restructuring regime.” Glasgow Times


Separatist Scots?

After 313 years in the United Kingdom, anti-British sentiment is on the rise in Scotland again. In the 2014 referendum, 55% of Scots voted against independence – a fairly thin margin. The Scottish legislature has managed to insulate Scotland from many policies out of London, including retaining free university and some pharmaceuticals. But now, with widespread Scottish distaste for Brexit, Boris Johnson, and his mishandling of the pandemic, support for the Scottish Nationalist Party is growing. In next May’s election, the semi-autonomous legislature in Edinburgh might have a strong separatist mandate.  Washington Post

“Assuming Scottish public opinion continues on its current trajectory, 2021 is going to be a crunch point for the U.K.’s constitutional survival.”Jamie Maxwell, Glasgow journalist


Quebec as a Model

McMaster political science prof Catherine Frost observes that Scotland is using a 1998 Canadian ruling on Quebec secession as a model for a legal path to independence. Canada’s Supreme Court acknowledged the province’s right to secede, and established a “clear majority on a clear question” in a referendum as a lawful means to do so. The 55% who voted to stay in 2014 did so knowing that “EU membership was still a perk of union. Now, independence offers the best chance for Scotland to rejoin the EU.”  McMaster




More Global, Less Pandemic

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.


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




The Challenge for Canada

Oh Canada!

International students have become increasingly crucial to CdnPSE for sustainable finances and viable enrolment. We can see what happens without international revenues by looking at Laurentian U…


Essential to CdnPSE

Enrolment at Canadian colleges and universities rose for the 4th straight year in 2018-19 to 2.1M, reports StatsCan, but “driven solely” by a +16.2% increase in international student enrolment. Domestic enrolments declined -0.5%. During the decade 2008-18, CdnPSE enrolments in formal programs rose +10.9%, while international enrolments tripled from 101,304 to 318,153, driving 57.2% of the total growth. International students, 16.2% of CdnPSE enrolments in 2018, paid 40% of all tuition fees and contributed ~$4B to institutional revenue. 28% were from China, 23% from India, and 7% from France. Business, management, and public administration have consistently been the top fields of study for international students over the decade, although the number enrolled in the humanities also doubled. International students are also a crucial immigration pathway to Canada: almost a third of those graduating with a bachelor’s degree, and half of those with a master’s, became permanent residents within a decade of their first study permit.  StatsCan


Safe, Stable, and Welcoming

Surveys of international students in May and Sept 2020 have found that Canada remained one of the most popular study destinations in the world, considered both “safe and stable” and “open and welcoming” (a combination not all competitor countries possess). In May, New Zealand and Australia were among Canada’s key competitors. By last Fall, Canada’s position had improved but the UK was now a key competitor, thanks to policy changes there.  CICnews


Pandemic Impact

Of course, how Canada has handled the pandemic leaves something to be desired…


No National Coordination

Unlike New Zealand, Canada’s pandemic response has remained largely at the provincial level, aside from border restrictions and student visa processing. While some think PM Trudeau should declare a national emergency and impose some consistent restrictions across the country, the feds have focused primarily on emergency financial support for individuals and businesses – in the event the provincial premiers decide to impose a lockdown. “During a pandemic, Ottawa is constitutionally supreme if it chooses to be,” argues uOttawa’s Amir Attaran.  The Tyee


Canada was Attractive in May

Navitas surveyed ~400 agents in 63 countries back in May 2020, and found that New Zealand, Australia and Canada were all well respected for the way they handed the COVID19 pandemic, and demonstrated they were safe and welcoming for international students. Although Canada came in third on those metrics, we came in first for the growing amount of interest in us as a study destination, which they estimated at 21% share of the market post-COVID19 – a gain of 55,000 students, if international student mobility remains at 2019 levels. (The CESB may explain some of our advantage.) The agents estimated the US would lose up to 160,000 students. Obviously, if global student mobility declines even -20%, Canada stands to lose -50,000 students, even with increased market share.  Navitas


Impact on Canada

Universities Canada reports that, although international enrolment rose +45% from 2015-19, in 2020 it fell -2.1% thanks to pandemic border closures – reducing the $4B in tuition and ancillary revenues as well. (International undergrad tuition is 9.7x domestic fees at uToronto, and 8.2x at McGill.) UBC is projecting a $225M deficit this year. And while IRCC changes to PGWP eligibility helped preserve enrolments last fall, “the huge gains in foreign students of the previous 5 years are likely over” – particularly as the Biden administration improves the appeal of study in the US.  Reuters


What’s more, the pandemic pain has not been evenly distributed. As I’ve observed before, community colleges and polytechnics throughout North America are experiencing much greater enrolment declines than are universities during this pandemic. And top-ranked institutions seem to be growing their applications and enrolments at the expense of less prestigious, smaller, or more remote competitors.


Northern Challenges

CdnPSE saw 92,000 fewer international students on university campuses last year, a 28% decline overall – but institutions in the far north saw an average 34% decline. Yukon U saw a 40% decline in 2020, from 215 to just 130 students. Aurora College (NWT) saw minimal impact because they enroll so few international students.  CBC


CdnPSE at Risk?

Some of the most telling (and controversial) graphs in HESA’s annual State of CdnPSE report last Fall mapped institutional margins (% operating surplus without considering donations) vs dependence on international students (% international enrolment). HESA emphasized that Ontario colleges in particular were highly dependent upon international enrolment and had grown it rapidly in recent years, leaving some institutions (like Canadore, Cambrian and Seneca) potentially exposed by the pandemic disruption. Thanks to healthy margins, though, they could likely weather several semesters by drawing on reserves. Of greater concern were the 10 Canadian universities already operating at a loss pre-COVID19 (at least, without considering income from donations and endowment returns), and particularly those also highly dependent on foreign tuition. Usher singled out Concordia, uSte Anne, St Thomas U, MSVU and uWindsor as potentially most at risk from border closures (although Concordia and STU responded to set the record straight).  HESA



Government Generosity

Canada’s management of the pandemic hasn’t really been world-class. (I mentioned last week that Australia’s Lowy Institute ranked us #61 out of 98 nations.) Where we have been making a positive impression on international students, though, has been in federal emergency supports and visa flexibility…


PGWP Flexibility

Last August, IRCC announced that international students would be allowed to complete up to 50% of their approved CdnPSE programs online from their home countries, and still be eligible for the Post-Graduate Work Permit (PGWP). On Feb 12, IRCC expanded that flexibility to allow 100% of such programs to be completed online from abroad, provided they were in progress by March 2020. Last month, IRCC announced that ~52,000 international grads with an expiring or expired PGWP could apply for an 18-month extension. (By comparison, the UK still requires foreign students to complete at least one term F2F to be eligible to work there.)


“Their status may be temporary, but the contributions of international students are lasting. This new policy means that young students from abroad who have studied here can stay and find work, while ensuring that Canada meets the urgent needs of our economy for today and tomorrow. Our message to international students and graduates is simple: we don’t just want you to study here, we want you to stay here.” — Marco Mendicino, Canadian Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship



Of course, like Australia and New Zealand, if we try to prevent the global spread of COVID19 variants by tightening our borders, it will cause frustration for international students and CdnPSE trying to recruit them…


New Border Restrictions

On Jan 29, in response to the global spread of more virulent variants of COVID19, Canada announced new restrictions on incoming “non-essential” travellers. (Truck drivers and airline cabin crews are welcome to hit the town, no tests or quarantines necessary. Sheesh.) Incoming travellers are required to take a COVID19 swab test, and wait out 3 days for the results in a government-approved hotel, at their own expense. If the test is positive, they then proceed to a government facility for the remainder of their 2-week quarantine; if the test is clean, they spend that quarantine at their own home. But for many international students, the prospect of paying $2,000 for 3 nights in hotel seems “exorbitant.” UBC’s director of international student development, Michelle Suderman, says they are trying to negotiate an arrangement with government to allow students to self-isolate at their institutions, which would be “healthier, safer… much more welcoming… as well as being substantially less expensive.”  The Ubyssey



Sino-Canadian Relations

Yesterday, Canada’s parliament took a strong stand against China which is almost certain to have repercussions. (That’s not to say that I think it was wrong – I watch John Oliver after all – but it’s going to make things more difficult for CdnPSE’s international recruitment to recover.) After all, Canada’s Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor have been detained in China since Dec 2018 in retaliation for Canada’s arrest of Meng Wanzhou. And now…


Parliament Declares Uighur Genocide

Yesterday Canada’s House of Commons unanimously voted to declare China’s treatment of 1 million Uighurs in western Xinjiang a genocide, and to call on the International Olympic Committee to move the 2022 Winter Olympics from Beijing. (Notably, PM Justin Trudeau and his Cabinet abstained from the vote.) Foreign affairs minister Marc Garneau urged a credible investigation in response to the allegations: “We remain deeply disturbed by horrific reports of human rights violations in Xinjiang, including the use of arbitrary detention, political re-education, forced labor, torture and forced sterilization.” According to the Associated Press, “China’s envoy to Canada told Canadian parliamentarians over the weekend to butt out of China’s internal affairs.”  AP


“We remain deeply disturbed by horrific reports of human rights violations in Xinjiang, including the use of arbitrary detention, political re-education, forced labor, torture and forced sterilization.”Marc Garneau, Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister



Remember what happened last April, when Australia had the temerity to suggest an investigation into the origins of the COVID19 pandemic might be a good thing?


China Threatened Boycott of Australia

Last April, a dozen Australian universities had already announced losses of $3 billion as COVID19 halted Chinese enrolments. Then, Australia’s support for an independent inquiry into the origins of the Coronavirus sparked threats of retaliation from the Chinese ambassador to Australia. (Apparently, “veiled threats about student flows are part of the sabre rattling during political disputes.”) THE


CdnPSE has seen before what can happen when our politicians speak truth to foreign power…


Saudi Students Recalled in 2018

Back in Aug 2018, Canada urged the Saudi kingdom to release imprisoned civil rights activists, particularly Raif Badawi (whose wife, a Canadian citizen, lived in Quebec) and his sister Samar. The Saudi government was outraged by “blatant interference” in its domestic affairs, and immediately expelled Canada’s ambassador, suspended all Saudi Arabian Airlines flights into Toronto, and recalled all Saudi citizens from Canada with 4 weeks’ notice – including 15,000 Saudis enrolled in CdnPSE at the time. (Alex Usher calculated that it cost CdnPSE ~$140M in revenues – and warned that it was “best not to think about” China’s president Xi Jinping doing the same, since Chinese students were worth “well over a billion dollars” to CdnPSE every year.)  Globe & Mail


Well, now we HAVE to think about it…



The Way Forward

Even without yesterday’s declaration, CdnPSE was going to face heightened competition from the US, Australia and UK (more about them later this week). Sad to say, much of our success in the past 7 years has not been because of our own superb marketing efforts, academic or research excellence…


Canada Loses its Edge

In many ways, CdnPSE’s “meteoric rise” in international recruitment since 2014 has been because its major competitors (the US, UK, and Australia) were stumbling or deliberately imposing anti-immigrant policies. All 3 countries have far more universities in the World University Rankings top 300. Joe Biden’s administration will radically shift perceptions of the US as welcoming to foreign students. The UK’s refocusing from EU to global enrolment will lead to more competitive policies. And Australia will re-enter the competition later this year, “stronger and more determined to grow.” Trade tensions with China, and India’s serious economic recession, will affect 75% of CdnPSE’s international students. “With the UK on the move, Australia hungry to get back in the game and the US possibly resurgent if Biden wins in November, Canada may only have a six-month window to differentiate its offer.” Louise Nicol, director of the Asia Careers Group, urges CdnPSE to focus on employability.  University World News


“With the UK on the move, Australia hungry to get back in the game and the US possibly resurgent… Canada may only have a 6-month window to differentiate its offer.”Louise Nicol, Director, Asia Careers Group



Next Year in Canada

Moody’s warns that pandemic impacts on international enrolments may well continue into the 2021-22 academic year. “We’re not assuming the vaccine is going to be in place for the fall. Even if in Canada the vaccines are available, that doesn’t mean it’s going to be available for the international students.”  Reuters


“We’re not assuming the vaccine is going to be in place for the fall. Even if in Canada the vaccines are available, that doesn’t mean it’s going to be available for the international students.”Michael Yake, Moody’s



Faced with the pandemic, many institutions have accelerated their efforts to pursue transnational education (TNE), delivering higher education abroad through partnerships, microcampuses or even satellite campuses. Yesterday, we saw the latest such announcement from CdnPSE…


Ryerson, UPEI Satellites in Cairo

Ryerson U will launch a satellite campus in Cairo, Egypt starting Sept 2021, in partnership with Universities of Canada in Egypt – an international branch campus also hosting UPEI programs in entrepreneurship, computer science and mathematics. Ryerson’s expanded programming will begin with media production, sport media and fashion, civil engineering, electrical engineering, and mechanical engineering – and the Faculties of Communication & Design and of Engineering & Architectural Science intend to expand their degree programming in future. At least 50% of the faculty and staff are anticipated to be Canadian citizens, and faculty members will have housing options and transportation services arranged for them.  Ryerson Today


Many analysts are urging higher ed to explore virtual TNE options during the pandemic and beyond…


Going Global Online – TNE

RBC Human Capital argues that the pivot to online learning this year provides a significant opportunity for Canadian universities to reach a global market online – although investing to grow, when they’re being asked to cut, will be difficult. “As Canada pursues a knowledge-driven economic recovery, the digital export of PSE could attract talent, create high-value jobs and help colleges and universities reimagine themselves in a pandemic-disrupted world.” 13M students are currently earning online credits from a foreign institution or open platform – roughly double the 6M studying on-campus in 2019 – and the market will continue to grow. Assuming a “broadly inclusive” economic recovery, the global middle class could surge from 4B to 5.7B by 2030, with almost half the growth in India alone. They even suggest a collective online “Canada U” pathway program, which could allow students abroad to earn MOOC-like credits and undertake remote work experiences, before enrolling in Canada or elsewhere for their upper undergraduate years.  RBC


(This sounds a lot like the Global Freshman Academy program launched by Arizona State U and EdX back in 2015 – which fizzled because, ultimately, freshmen and sophomores need the on-campus experience even more than juniors and seniors do. And it holds little promise for applied programs that demand hands-on labs. But clearly online TNE has gained traction in the Ontario government, whose Virtual Learning Strategy emphasizes “expanding access for Ontario’s institutions to the global marketplace for virtual learning.”)




International Prospects for Fall 2021

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.




Across Borders, Down Under

Today, let’s look at the happenings and prospects for Australia and New Zealand, where closed borders and a greater dependence on international enrolments has resulted in even more disruption, job cuts, and innovative approaches to TNE. We’ll also see the forecasts from international agents in Asia, and a bit more about how international ed is being “weaponized” for political purposes…




Australian universities in particular are much more dependent upon international enrolments than most countries – and their borders have been closed even tighter for the past year…


Charter Flights to Australia

Australia has weathered the COVID19 pandemic so well because of government’s willingness to lockdown the economy and close borders at the first hint of an outbreak. It’s what has made it possible for the economy to start recovering, and life to return almost to normal much of the time. But for the 3rd-largest export sector, education, airtight border closures have been a disaster: Universities Australia reports that revenues dropped A$1.8B last year, and at least 17,300 jobs were lost. It looks as though that damage will be compounded in 2021. Charles Darwin U is one exception: they brought 63 students in from Singapore last year, by chartering a plane and arranging quarantine facilities, and they are hoping to bring 700 more in 2021, starting in April.  ABC


Dependence on China?

Although the pandemic has knocked education down from Australia’s 3rd to its 4th largest export, enrolments are more diversified than many other sectors of the country’s economy. China accounts for 49% of traded Australian goods, half of mining and 32% of agricultural and fishing exports – but just 31% of higher ed. (India contributes 16%.) “If our education sector is to be criticized for selling too much to China, then the resources and agricultural sectors should be criticized even more.” In Australian universities, 38% of doctoral researchers are international students, and more than half of research funding comes from international student fees. While it can certainly be dangerous to allow our institutions to become over-exposed to a potentially fickle market, “the way to hedge against volatility and uncertainty is not to abandon a market.”  Sydney Morning Herald


TNE Opportunities for Australia

A new report from the Melbourne Centre for the Study of Higher Education examines challenges and opportunities for transnational education (TNE), whether offshore (through twinning, franchise, or branch campuses) or online (explicitly developed for particular countries or markets). TNE can enhance the cultural and economic positioning of Australia, while allowing more students to study in their home countries and reducing “brain drain.” Of Australia’s 84,000 TNE students, 70% are in Singapore, China and Malaysia, although opportunities also exist in Europe, Hong Kong, and Vietnam. Institutions perceive their biggest challenges to be internet firewalls, clear criteria for joint programs, and difficulty transferring proceeds. The report urges better market intelligence, perhaps collectively on behalf of the entire sector (like the British Council), and more formal agreements between governments to overcome many of the risks and challenges to TNE. It concludes that effective price points for online courses may need adjustment, and that the next frontier may be online programs tailored to specific countries and markets, shared online platforms with partner institutions, and potentially MOOCs and microcredentials.  Melbourne


TNE 2.0 is Online and On-Campus

We’ve seen many institutions worldwide (particularly universities) experimenting this year with online delivery to students living in campus residence, or in study centres abroad. Several Australian institutions are now delivering curriculum online to students studying in Shanghai. Starting in March, “Uni Sydney, with Study Group Australia through its Taylor’s College pathway provider, are combining with Shanghai Institute of Technology to do this at the new Sydney Shanghai Centre.” U Western Australia reports that >50% of its Chinese enrolments are studying at learning centres at 4 partner institutions: Nanjing U of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Northeast Forestry U, Southwest U, and Soochow U. (They also have learning centres for articulation students at 3 other campuses.) Monash U opened its own site in Suzhou last year, for freshmen who may be able to transfer to Australia in 2021.  Campus Morning Mail


A Decade to Recover?

Simon Marginson, director of the Oxford’s Centre for Global Higher Ed, says international student mobility will take at least 15 months (early 2022) to return to pre-COVID levels, but that Australia may have to wait 5-10 years to fully recover. He predicts that student mobility will resume unevenly, starting with countries with relatively low pandemic casualties in South East Asia, and that high-demand countries like the US, UK and Germany will recover within 2-3 years of a return to “normal.”  PIE News



New Zealand

New Zealand has managed the COVID19 pandemic more effectively than any democracy in the world, thanks to able leadership by Jacinda Ardern, and a strict commitment to a “COVID zero” policy. But of course, NZ universities have paid a price. As part of the country’s $52M recovery plan for international education, some exceptions are being made to the airtight border closures – but at a price to the students too…


Offshore Pathways

With international students locked out by pandemic travel and border restrictions, many institutions have developed networks of microcampuses or online platforms to deliver transnational education (TNE) to would-be on-campus students. Last fall, Education New Zealand’s 8 universities partnered with UK-based ESL pathway provider NCUK to provide new options for overseas students to start their NZ education in their home countries. The Global NZ Education Pathways initiative will offer 3 flexible paths into NZ universities, through NCUK’s International Foundation Year program (focused on ESL, study and cultural skills), International Year One program (allowing students to start first year courses at >80 approved study centres in 30 countries), and Pre-Master’s Program (focused on advanced academic ESL). Students will have access to >$300,000 in scholarships annually. Intakes begin March 2021, and students will ladder into NZ programs, online or in-country, in 2022 or 2023.  PIE News


Pathway Sites in China

In January, the NCUK announced the first of two uAuckland International Study Centres in China, to open Mar 1 at the International Business School of Beijing Foreign Studies University. The move expands on NCUK’s existing network of Study Centres, and uAuckland’s existing undergrad and postgrad partnerships with BFSU, to offer pre-university preparation under the uAuckland brand. “This collaboration with NCUK and the University of Auckland, both already partners of our university, opens up new opportunities for our students and provides a March intake which is of interest to many students.”  PIE News


Border Exceptions

Last October, the government of New Zealand announced that 250 international graduate students would be allowed to enter the country, starting with some in November, and the remainder through 2021. Priority will be given to PhD students conducting research that requires them to be on campus. The students will need to spend 14 days in the government’s “managed isolation and quarantine” facilities, and take a series of COVID19 tests.  PIE News


Then in mid-January, the government announced that 1,000 international undergrads caught offshore when borders were closed will be allowed to return gradually to the country, beginning with 300 students in April. Institutions will nominate students for government approval, with those closest to graduation a priority. Again, they will spend 14 days in government quarantine, at a cost of $3,100, and will need to apply for a new student visa at a fee of $250. That, compounded by airfare costs and a new requirement to demonstrate $20,000 to cover living costs, may be prohibitive for some students. There has been no word about additional financial support for international students. PIE News



Decline of Globalism?

With rising populism, geopolitical tensions, and of course border closures and air traffic disruptions due to the pandemic, many wonder whether the momentum of international student mobility will be permanently reduced post-COVID…


A Post-Mobility World?

With growing travel and border restrictions, geopolitics, concerns about carbon footprints of travel and other “friction” for cross-border education, 4 international ed experts suggest we may be moving into a “post mobility world.” Instead, we can expect growth in TNE, whether branch campuses, microcampuses, study abroad centres, overseas collaborations and 2+2 agreements, scaled global online education or internationalization at home. TNE provides global perspectives to more students, opportunities for staff development, a pipeline for future enrolment, enhanced visibility and reputation abroad, enhanced relationships with overseas government, access to international employers and work experiences, and a global alumni network. But TNE needs to be developed with meaningful engagement with the local context, and not merely be “a pale version of our home campus projected thousands of miles away.”  PIE News


“TNE is a political act undertaken in a world of increasingly aggressive application of hard and soft power – in a progressively more risky and turbulent world where neoliberalism and globalisation continue apace but are also continuously challenged.”David Pilsbury, Jenny Lee, Hillary Vance and Fabrizio Trifiro



International Ed “Weaponized”

Student mobility is becoming increasingly politicized, thanks to populist and xenophobic movements, but it has also been “weaponized” by some governments seeking geopolitical leverage. The Trump administration attempted to cancel thousands of visas for Chinese students, China and Taiwan have imposed reciprocal bans on students, and China has threatened to restrict student flows to Australia. “China is trying to influence geopolitics through international education,” affecting partnerships, research funding, offshore campuses and more. To manage the political risks, institutions must build more multilateral relationships, and individual students and researchers need to do the same.  Times Higher Ed


“Sadly, international education has been weaponised. Learning abroad is no longer just about serving individual students’ educational needs and institutional partnerships, but about nation-states’ political, diplomatic and economic agendas.”Ly Tran, Prof of Education, Deakin U



When I discussed the implications of Canada’s declaration about the Uyghur genocide on Tuesday, I should have remembered this example from 2010 (thanks for prompting me, Dan Seneker)…


uCalgary Delisted by China

In Dec 2009, uCalgary conferred an honorary degree on the Dalai Lama – the thoughtful spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists and a unifying symbol of the Tibetan state, who has been in exile in India since 1959. In 2013 he was voted the most popular world leader (tied with Barack Obama) – but certainly not with the Chinese government. Other universities had given the Dalai Lama honorary degrees in the past, including UBC, without repercussions – but in Feb 2010 the Chinese government removed UofC from its list of accredited institutions. This prompted confusion and anxiety among the 600 Chinese students at UofC, many of whom reportedly transferred, and new enrolments reportedly dropped from hundreds in 2009 to a dozen or so in 2010. Then-minister of advanced education Doug Horner and then-president Elizabeth Cannon travelled to China in Oct 2010 to negotiate, and by April 2011, uCalgary regained its accreditation there.


Globalism at Risk?

Denis Fred Simon, an expert on Chinese affairs and formerly the executive VC of Duke U’s joint campus with Wuhan U in China, is concerned by the way that escalating Sino-American tensions have focused on security concerns about education and scientific collaborations. Even in times of turbulence, academic cooperation previously “held the relationship together,” but now “have themselves become the source of disagreement and tension.” Recognizing emerging economic competition, American and Chinese universities need to establish a code of conduct to respect IP and open access, and address issues of academic freedom and self-censorship by students abroad. The COVID19 pandemic has caused a surge in nationalism, “globalism is at risk,” and international education “hit a brick wall.” But, Simon observes, “innovation is occurring because of necessity… We can deliver more value through technology than we appreciated. If COVID19 has done anything, if it has caused us to think outside the box a little more, then that’s a good thing.”  Chronicle of Higher Ed



Agents are Optimistic

Rather than end on a discouraging note, here are some more optimistic forecasts for 2021 and beyond…


Optimism for India

Many analysts expect outbound student flows from India to rebound quickly in the wake of the pandemic. With a population of 1.4B and a fast-growing economy, India has 500M young people and nearly half of the population will belong to the upper-middle and high income ranges by 2030. India’s new National Education Policy aims to boost PSE participation, research, university rankings, and 4-year undergrad programs in particular. In 2019, >750,000 Indian students went abroad to study, particularly in the US (26%), Canada (19%), and Australia (15%). Since 2015, enrolments have declined sharply in the US while skyrocketing in Canada. There has also been growing acceptance among Indian students of blended delivery models during the pandemic, or programs that begin online to transition to on-campus later.  ICEF Monitor


Optimism in India

International agents throughout Asia reported up to 40% fewer outbound students for Fall 2020 compared to 2019, but many were more optimistic about 2021. Those in China and South East Asia are projecting a return to 80-90% of 2019 levels in early 2021, and a full recovery by late 2021. Agents in South Asia (India) are far more “bullish,” though, forecasting 4% growth in the first half of 2021, and new student flows 25% higher than 2019 by Fall 2021. The real question will be not if but where they choose to study abroad.  Navitas Insights


Agents Worldwide

A recent survey of 775 agents in 19 countries across 5 continents finds that 86% are optimistic (63% “highly”) about the rest of 2021 – primarily because they expect travel restrictions to lift, COVID19 vaccines to be distributed, and job opportunities for students to improve. They seem confident in their abilities to recruit students through largely online means, but 84% are ultimately concerned that student entry restrictions could continue due to the pandemic. Canada was far and away the most popular study destination for clients of 62% of these agents, while just 22% sent students to the UK, 8% to Australia, and 2% to the US. Canada became “even more popular” during the pandemic because of flexibility in study and work permits. The study authors predict, however, a rebound in US enrolments thanks to the Biden administration’s vaccination efforts, and change in tone on multinational cooperation and immigration.  ICEF Monitor


“While e-learning may indeed have tenure in one form or another, it’s unlikely to become a substitute for the experience of studying abroad… The desire to encounter unfamiliar cultures, immerse oneself in a new language and learn how to live in a different country will not be lost to the pandemic.”Linda Cowan, Managing Director, Kaplan International Pathways




UK Aftershocks and Optimism

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.) 


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




Fallout of a Biological Fukushima



Biological Fukushima

Globally, the COVID19 pandemic has now surpassed 133M cases, and the death toll stands at >2.8M. Case counts in India hit a record of 126,789 new infections yesterday, despite having partially vaccinated >90M people. Japan’s hospitals in the Osaka region are on the “verge of collapse” as 70% of beds are filled with COVID19 patients. (How are the Tokyo Olympics still planned to start in 3 months??) Iran has reported 3 straight days of record infections after millions defied travel restrictions and gathered to celebrate the 2-week holiday, Nowruz. Brazil is now reporting >4,000 COVID19 deaths per day in what is being called “a biological Fukushima.” (To make matters worse, the Brazil P.1 variant may pose a much greater threat as it spreads worldwide than the UK variant, since it seems to be more resistant to existing vaccines.)


Vaccine Optimism

South of the border, things look a bit more optimistic as Joe Biden is promising that all American adults will be eligible for the vaccine 10 days from now, on Apr 19, and California’s governor expects to fully reopen the state’s economy by Jun 15. Meanwhile in England, Imperial College London researchers report that COVID19 infections dropped 60% in March, and deaths are declining, thanks to progress with vaccinations (now >60% of UK adults) and national lockdown measures. The vaccine is “breaking the link between cases and deaths.” Thanks to vaccinations and infections, UC London researchers even calculate that the UK will pass the 73.4% threshold for herd immunity on Apr 12 – next week! (42% of Brits have been exposed to the virus, 60% immunized, and 10% have “pre-existing immunity.”)


AZ Drama Continues

For several months, the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine has struggled under a cloud of uncertainty (see “AstraZeneca’s Unforced Errors”). Now, the European Medicines Agency has announced a “possible link” between the AZ vaccine and the occurrence of rare blot clots in the brain, but advises no restrictions on its use since its benefits far outweigh the risk. (Reportedly 4 in 1M, and only 1 fatal.) “A causal relationship… is considered plausible but is not confirmed,” said the WHO. So far, there have been no reports in Canada. Many countries worldwide have suspended use of the AZ vaccine for people under 50 or 55, although Britain draws the line at 30 and Spain at 60. The African Union has dropped its plans to buy AZ doses from India, and instead is exploring options with J&J. Mexico and Brazil say they will not limit the use of AZ at all. Oxford is pausing its vaccine trial with children and teenagers.


Forget Canadian Exceptionalism

Our national sense of “Canadian exceptionalism” and our pride in universal healthcare will be challenged in the weeks ahead, as the third wave of the COVID19 pandemic places unprecedented pressure on our health system. The Atlantic is already running headlines about “Canada’s Vaccine Mess,” in sharp contrast to our collective compliance with PHO directives. (They credit much of our problem to a lack of domestic manufacturing capacity, thanks to controls on drug prices, and contracting internationally for vaccines simply “in the first quarter of 2021.”) So far, we’ve been comparing our pandemic response to our southern neighbours, who have endured “the biggest public health catastrophe in… the modern Western world’s history.” But now, Canada is on track to surpass the US in terms of relative infection rates, and the CDC has us under a level-4 travel advisory. Currently a third of Americans have received at least one dose of COVID19 vaccine, and 19% are fully vaccinated – compared to 16% and 1.9% of Canadians.


“In Canada, we’ve obsessed a lot about who gets vaccinated in what order, and I think, in the US it’s been much more ‘Just let ’er rip!’”André Picard, Globe & Mail columnist



3 Rising VOCs in Canada

Canada has identified >15,000 VOC cases so far, and >90% have been the UK B.1.1.7 variant – but almost 1,000 cases of the Brazil P.1 variant have been confirmed (largely in BC, Ontario and Alberta), and >270 cases of the South African B.1.351 variant (largely in Quebec). Canada is one of very few countries battling simultaneous outbreaks of all 3 VOCs simultaneously. Variants already make up 70% of all cases in Ontario. Several epidemiologists say that variants of concern compose more than half of BC casesdouble what has been publicly reported. (BC has confirmed 877 cases of the Brazil P.1 variant so far, and those numbers doubled over Easter.) Hospitals in BC report a third wave of COVID19 since Easter, as ICUs hit new records and models forecast they will exceed capacity by mid-May. BC set a daily record yesterday, with 1,293 new cases, and new rules will expedite temporary closures when a workplace has 3+ employee cases. BC will no longer routinely do genome sequencing for confirmation of VOCs, since “we assume that anybody who is positive for COVID19 needs to be treated as if they have one of these highly transmissible viruses.” Instead, the focus will be on “escape variants” that don’t respond to immunization.



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