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Intra-regional mobility fails to take off – IHEF 23

Student mobility trends remain largely the same as they were before the pandemic, despite predictions of significant disruption, according to higher education professor Simon Marginson. 

Sxpectations that students would abandon long-haul mobility for closer to home destinations are not being realised. Photo: Unsplash

Students are still choosing long-haul mobility over closer to home destinations

Speaking at the International Higher Education Forum 2023, Marginson said that predictions of a pivot to online learning and intra-regional mobility have not been realised. 

“There’s no evidence yet that there’ll be a major change in the post-covid situation compared to the pre-covid situation,” the University of Oxford professor told attendees.

“One of the lessons of the last two decades has been that online education is never a substitute for in-place learning,” he said. 

Marginson argued that “widespread” predictions, including from those “who want to monetise online learning”, that digital learning would replace face-to-face education were wrong. Instead virtual education is supplementing and supporting those with less access to traditional education. 

Similarly, students are still choosing long-haul mobility over closer to home destinations, despite expectations that this would change as a result of the pandemic .  

“Online education is never a substitute for in-place learning”

“I think people will continue to aspire to come from the Global South and the East and the South East into Europe and the Anglophone world,” Marginson said. “The socio-economic benefits of doing so have not really changed.”

The UK and US are expected to continue as strong attractors of students, while growth from India is likely to continue in a “volatile” fashion. He referred to recent restrictions imposed by Australian universities on students from certain regions of India as an example of this ongoing turbulence. 

“The stronger India gets economically, the stronger its higher education will become, but also the stronger its capacity to send students out of the country as well, so you’ll see both of those tends continuing,” Marginson predicted. 

The professor also discussed the geopolitical shift to a “less western dominant world”, with countries such as India, Turkey and Brazil adopting a “middle-position” in the face of political tensions. 

“All of this is going to play out long term in mobility,” Marginson said. He pointed to events of the past decade including Brexit, the US decoupling from China, and the Russia Ukraine war as having “spectacular and immediate effects on student mobility”. 

The Universities UK International event took place over two days online and saw representatives from the sector discuss topics including the financial sustainability of universities, the role of higher education in responding to humanitarian crises and challenges for international admissions.

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