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Leaders predict competitive landscape in 2024

The PIE caught up with industry leaders across international and higher education to find out their predictions for 2024, and heightened competition, AI, immigration policy and more demands upon leadership are on their minds.

Effective leadership, AI and policy changes are at forefront of sector leaders' minds. Photo: Unsplash

Cries of concern will grow louder on privacy, equity and fair use of AI, ETS CEO predicts

While 2023 celebrated artificial intelligence, 2024 will celebrate human intelligence, predicts ETS CEO, Amit Sevak. 

“In 2024, major paradigm shifts in how we learn and work will accelerate. Leadership, AI, skills and mindfulness will be the main drivers reshaping education around the world,” Sevak shared with The PIE.

Strong leadership and advocacy will be key: Sevak predicts that elections in the US, and around the world, will influence education policies for the rest of this decade.

Immigration policies will take centre stage, he told The PIE, and these policies will drive more students to Canada than the US among other dramatic shifts in global student flows.

In 2024, we can expect that university leaders will fret over funding, student unrest and the value of degrees, said Sevak.

Reevaluating what and how we learn

In 2023, we saw examples from across the world of university leaders coming under fire for cuts being made, particularly to modern languages, as was the case in Aberdeen and in West Virginia, to name a few.

“Real leadership at all levels is our best hope for innovative solutions, better measurement and student success,” said Sevak.

“Amidst conflict, disruption and change, ignited educators will provide learning spaces that create calmness, security and intention.

“From K-12 and higher ed to early career and workplace, the impacts of the emboldened education leaders, teachers and evangelists will be seen and felt by learners everywhere.”

Despite this emphasis on human intelligence and leadership, Sevak predicts AI will continue to explode across education.

“AI start-ups will be funded at higher rates. Many will seek access to student data to run their models. Cries of concern will grow louder on privacy, equity and fair use of AI. Regulators will be hard pressed to keep up. New research around the ethical use of AI in education, like those we launched at ETS this past year, will define new standards for its valid, fair and impactful use,” said Sevak.

“AI is here to stay and will move into every corner of education”

“The genie is out of the bottle. AI is here to stay and will move into every corner of education.”

Committed to diverse talent?: policy pressure

For Lil Bremermann-Richard, CEO of Oxford International Education Group, thoughts of a new year lead to reflections on the value of the UK’s international students, and how new policies will play out in their favour, or not.

“International students bring vast cultural, social and economic benefits to the UK. Financially alone, a single year’s cohort of new international students adds almost £26 billion to the national economy, after deducting any costs associated with hosting students,” said Bremermann-Richard.

Throughout the year, many in the UK sector have questioned government rhetoric surrounding international students, arguing that policy changes being made are not in line with the value of the country’s international students.

It was announced that as of January 2024, international students on UK taught master’s courses will be banned from bringing family members with them as dependants.

It’s worth noting that others in the sector expressed a sense of relief at the news, in the hope that it eases pressures such as accommodation.

However, Bremermann-Richard told The PIE that limiting dependant visas will make it impossible for many students to study in the UK.

“If we are truly committed to attracting diverse talent, we need to take into consideration the financial costs that could be involved to secure care alternatives, or to travel back and forth,” said Bremermann-Richard.

“We also need to remember that students have lots of options; if presented with a choice of studying in the UK and leaving their dependants behind, or studying elsewhere, like Canada for example, with their family, many will choose the latter.

“This policy excludes a large pool of people from studying at our universities, to the detriment of the UK and our higher education sector.”

Integration of outbound and inbound priorities?

Ron Carson, chief marketing officer at Terra Dotta too shared his predictions for the new year with The PIE, anticipating that competition for international students will continue to grow – especially among US institutions.

Terra Dotta’s recent survey The State of Globalization in Higher Ed 2023 concurs with this increasingly competitive landscape – 41% of US international education professionals surveyed noticing heightened competition from other countries for international students.

“This same group reports that cost is the primary factor driving this competition, as studying in other countries is considered less expensive,” said Carson.

“As the enrolment cliff in the US approaches, more US institutions will move to a data-driven approach to attract and retain international students as well as implement programs to support student success,” said Carson.

“Visibility across global programs will be key. More institutions will integrate their often siloed study abroad and international education departments in 2024.

“Transparent and easy-to-access data on the “global” view of global engagement at the institution will be helpful to leadership as they try to secure more international market share.”

Online access

In 2024, Carson predicts strong and growing demand internationally for quality virtual education that allows students to access top-tier institutions without physically traveling abroad.

He told The PIE that an increased presence of online learning could be a “game changer” for US institutions in addressing the cost issue as a barrier to study abroad.

“This, combined with a prediction for US international education policy changes and more schools adopting enhanced data driven programming, will be key to advancing international education in 2024.”

THE also announced a new ranking of Online Learning which will launch in December 2024.

“We want to help students understand, much better, the places that are providing an online learning experience and we think this will provide universities with invaluable insights into their online provisions,” said the company’s data scientist, Billy Wong.

Charlie Iannuzzi, president of online education provider, Beacon Education, believes the Chinese education market has stabilised and is likely to remain that way in 2024. However, he predicted it will not return to the pre-pandemic high growth, therefore the new landscape may present real challenges to international institutions.

“You can’t apply the old playbook. When you take slower growth; layer on increasingly sophisticated and patient students and families who are comfortable balancing geography, tuition, program quality, lifestyle, post-graduation employability and visa availability; and add more accessible and efficient application processes and criteria, you get a ton of [applications] without commensurate enrolments,” Iannuzzi told The PIE.

He suggested that an effective strategy for institutions is to compete by localising, outsourcing to in-China teams and service providers and building exclusive partnerships. He advised that HEIs will need to adapt to a “rapidly iterative” new media landscape and deliver unique value propositions to untapped student pools.

“There are tons of ways for universities to engage more deliberately and many are already seeing good results. It’s just no longer easy; it’s going to take real strategy, effort, and execution to deliver.”

More changes to come for Australian sector

Both the Australian higher education and VET sectors can expect a year of significant change in 2024, shared Claire Field, of independent consultancy, Claire Field & Associates.

Field, who has previously held senior positions in the Australian and NSW state government and who established Australia’s first national VET regulatory agency – the predecessor to ASQA – said that for universities in 2024, the issues which will have the greatest impact are more likely to be domestically-focussed.

“Even before the final report of the Universities Accord Panel is released and the Australian government outlines which recommendations it will proceed with, changes have already been introduced which will give the government greater oversight of and intervention into universities’ operations.”

In 2024, new higher education student support regulations come into effect in an effort to improve the support universities and other higher education providers offer students.

This means that significant fines apply for each incident of non-compliance with the new regulations, along with “quite extensive” annual reporting requirements, said Field.

Further significant changes are likely to come, shared Field, noting consultations underway on a new National Student Ombudsman and measures to address gender-based violence in higher education.

Of course, the Australian government’s new Migration Strategy released at the end of 2023 contains a suite of changes which will impact the international education sector and Field predicts that if well implemented, the changes are much more likely to affect VET providers than those in the higher education sector.

The changes include easier pathways to permanent residency for graduates with skills needed in the Australian labour market, and moderated post-study work rights. However, it’s the new Genuine Student test that Field said will “prove decisive for the VET sector”.

“For international VET students the test poses a much greater challenge. In some of the key countries Australia recruits international students from (eg India, Nepal) an Australian VET qualification sadly does not deliver a significant wage premium for graduates,” said Field.

“With local VET qualifications available in their home country at a lower cost – it will be much harder for these prospective international VET students to meet the Genuine Student test.”

This could mean a shift in international VET enrolments, said Field, one that steers away from providers offering business and marketing courses and towards those offering IT, nursing and other courses linked to occupations in shortage.

“The consequences of the shift could see a number of well regarded, quality, colleges being forced to close their doors if they cannot either sign pathways agreements with higher education providers (so that their international students will ultimately graduate with degrees and hence meet the Genuine Student test) or successfully pivot to enrol more domestic VET students.”


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