While education groups have called for a united response to deal with the current crisis, the UKEAS student survey revealed that international students are just as divided about the provisions that should be in place for the next academic year.
Conducted in April, the student survey featured respondents in Nigeria, Ghana, Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines and Taiwan who are looking to study in the UK in autumn, 80% of which were planning to enter postgraduate studies.
“Generally, students are hopeful to get to the UK as soon as possible but a significant number think autumn will be too rushed for their own personal situation or for the UK getting back to full health,” the survey explained.
In Thailand, 64% of students disagreed or strongly disagreed with starting the 2020 academic year as normal, compared to 44% of Ghanaians and 76% of Nigerians who agreed or strongly agreed.
“While students are generally cautious and concerned about Covid-19 we can see that prospective autumn 2020 students in each country are evaluating its impact on their study plans in different ways,” the report noted.
“Much of this is down to the challenges the students are facing in their own home countries, the remaining time left to make a decision (be it an early, medium or late market), and how the UK is forecasted to recover and offer an attractive and safe study environment.”
In Taiwan, safety concerns are paramount. Taiwan is considered to have dealt with the coronavirus pandemic exceptionally well, with businesses and schools having remained open.
According to UKEAS, there has been a slight drop in interest in the UK among Taiwanese students; almost half said they supported delaying the start of the academic year until 2021.
“I’m currently waiting for news from my university and what their suggestions are,” said one student respondent. “However, I personally don’t feel safe to leave this autumn since I’m sure it’s going to take a few more months for the virus [levels] to go down.”
Meanwhile, in Ghana and Nigeria, financial concerns play a larger role. UKEAS said that with 30% of students on government scholarships, there are worries they will not be offered this year.
In Nigeria, half of the student surveyed holding offers said they are hesitating to make payments while they continue to assess the situation in the UK.
The report further noted the potential for a significant decline in students from Nigeria due to the fall in oil prices in late March and the impact this has on exchange rates.
“Prospective autumn 2020 students in each country are evaluating its impact on their study plans in different ways”
According to Universities UK International, universities are “working through different scenarios and alternatives to ensure that as many international students as possible are able to continue and start their studies as planned”.
“There is likely to be a significant impact on this year’s recruitment and admissions cycle for international students as a result of Covid-19,” a UUKi spokesperson added.
“This includes investigating pushing back term start dates, providing first term teaching online before starting international students in the January term next year, or blended approaches where students study online before coming on to campus when conditions permit.”
The prospect of starting courses online has also been met with a mixed response. In all six countries surveyed by UKEAS, significant proportions of students were either for, against or unsure about whether they would accept online substitutes to in-classroom learning.
Part of this reluctance to adopt online learning may stem from access to course content and no reduction in fees.
“We are aware of some issues that international students are facing with accessing course content in their home countries, having returned due to travel restrictions,” said National Union of Students vice president (welfare), Eva Crossan Jory.
“Institutions and the UK government must do all they can to ensure that international students are getting the best possible experience from online learning and should provide all students with resources to enable this if interest in studying online is going to improve.”