1. The price of oil
The global oil industry might seem a far cry from international education, but the economies of several important student source markets depend on oil exports and will undoubtedly be affected by the rock bottom prices carried over from 2015. Russia, Venezuela, Brazil, Saudi Arabia and Nigeria all rely heavily on the oil industry, meaning low oil rates could have trickle down effects on potential students and their families as well as recent graduates with fewer job prospects to return home to. If oil reliant GDPs continues to suffer, there is also a high risk of currency devaluations. The impact could be even more damaging in Saudi Arabia where government subsidised programmes, like the KASP scheme, are already being pared down.
2. ESL face-lift
A hot topic in 2015 was the UK’s stagnant English language market, attributed to tightened immigration policy, a strong British pound and economic and political concerns in key student markets. In this tough climate, schools are finding themselves facing increased competition for a declining market share. As a result, providers are overhauling their course offerings and coming out with fresh programming.
Agents are among the drivers of change as many report that employment-focused students want an added value to their English language learning. We can expect to see more UK schools revamping their curriculum to stay afloat, which could set a new expectation for English language courses globally.
3. Instant message marketing
Everybody knows that if you haven’t integrated mobile into your digital marketing plan then you’re a step behind your competitors and the students you’re trying to recruit. The huge uptake of instant messaging apps (like WhatsApp, Viber and Tango) could signal the next wave of mobile marketing that gives student recruiters personal, direct contact with potential recruits. Text message communication is more immediate, messages can be more targeted and earlier adopters have found conversation rates are higher than from communication on traditional social media platforms.
4. Refugee crisis
Educators took it upon themselves to find solutions for the students and scholars who were among the millions of refugees seen fleeing war and persecution in 2015. There are few signs that the flow of humans, particularly from the Middle East, will abate in 2016. We can expect to see refugee and migrant support and credit recognition coming up in discussions frequently this year in the HE environment as more educators move to provide scholarships, assistance and language training. Educators should also brace for a hardline political response to the situation in the form of tightening work rights and visa policy in countries across Europe.
The big one obviously will be the US elections in November and while whoever wins won’t affect legislation until 2017, it will be easy to predict how immigration policy, especially for STEM graduates, could be affected based on election results. Other general elections to watch will be in Portugal and Peru and parliamentary elections in Iran.
Last year saw new governments put in place in Nigeria, Burma, and Canada that could create opportunities for foreign educators in the coming year. Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari has already said he will provide free higher education for STEM students and prioritise improving primary education in rural areas where teachers are scarce. The election of Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma shows the country is slowly re-opening and will be keen to improve its education system in order to boost economic growth. Meanwhile, Canada could create an easier path to post-study citizenship and residence under newly elected Justin Trudeau’s government.
6. Student services
Student welfare has always been part of the experience international educators provide to their foreign students, but institutions are learning that these students have different needs to their domestic peers. Student services was a big theme in 2015 and will only continue to develop in the coming year on the back of projects like the Wharton-QS Stars Reimagine Education awards shortlisted initiative from Renison University College. The programme introduced cultural integration into class curriculum by pairing Canadian and international students based on mutual interests in order to build a psychological connection and help prevent cultural segregation.
Despite a reported mismatch in student needs and resources to meet them, 2016 will be marked by greater efforts to find innovative ways to put social integration, mental wellness and student welfare at the heart of international student support, enhancing their experience and outcome.