However, the education consultancy has warned that this figure will be conditional on the availability of visas, flights and the acceleration of the pandemic.
Drawing on data across student markets in seven countries – Ghana, Malaysia, Nigeria, Philippines, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam – UKEAS explained that a significant number of offer holders are still undecided about their decision to study in the UK, and are continuing to closely monitor the Covid-19 situation.
“At best, we may see a high proportion of students arriving in the UK later than usual”
“At best, we may see a high proportion of students arriving in the UK later than usual. At worst, our students/families may feel that overseas study has become too challenging a project to undertake,” Richard Jones, head of Partnerships at UKEAS noted in the report.
Jones said that across the group of countries, UKEAS is projecting total September 2020 UK university enrolments to be approximately 56.6% of that achieved in the previous period.
Given the limited time between now and September, he said UKEAS does not anticipate any significant swings in this projection.
“[But] this is contingent of visas being accessible and the availability of reasonably priced flights,” Jones warned, adding that much will also depend on global news reports highlighting outbreaks and lockdowns in certain UK cities, the possibility of a ‘second wave’ and the resumption of international travel.
“The projection accounts for students who are still undecided and assumes no significant deterioration or improvement to current conditions in the UK… [and] means we expect 43.4% fewer total enrolments in September 2020 than in September 2019.”
According to the reports, Nigerian student enrolment numbers are projected to be around three-quarters (77.8%) of last September’s figures, while enrolments from Thailand and Malaysia are projected to be less than half (40.9% and 40.2% respectively) of that achieved in 2019.
For the January 2021 intake, however, UKEAS is projecting 24.8% more students across the group of countries than was achieved in January 2020.
“This forecast is very encouraging, and we are preparing for a busy few months ahead, working with partners to secure these hopeful students,” Jones explained.
And while modest to significant improvements in enrolments are projected to come from Malaysia (+34.6%), Ghana (+ 50.7%) and Vietnam (+ 61.1%), enrolments from the Philippines are projected to be up some 400%.
Jones told The PIE News the reason the Philippines is projected to increase 400% “is because we usually have very small January enrolments there, so any increase looks much bigger as a percentage”.
Some additional reasons for the disparities, Jones explained, come down to the level to which Covid-19 has impacted the individual countries, and student and parent sentiments regarding the safety and financial viability of studying abroad during the crisis.
In the case of Taiwan, many Taiwanese students are cautious about leaving their surroundings to study overseas in 2020/21 as the country has had fewer than 500 Covid-19 cases and seven deaths during the pandemic, no lockdowns, and few to no restrictions on daily life.
“Currently, there is a lot of concern about second outbreaks in Europe and what a ‘second wave’ in the UK would mean to the overall UK student experience,” reads the UKEAS report.
It highlighted that there is also a fear of students bringing the virus home on their return: “The living situation is no small concern given that Taiwan has some of the world’s most densely populated cities where three or more generations may live together in the same house.”
Similarly for Thailand, which has also managed the pandemic well, “there is a low appeal for online study, and students feel safer in Thailand due to the low level of coronavirus cases and easy access to testing and treatment”.
“Parents are not convinced that the UK (or many other countries) offer a safe enough destination”
“Students also feel coronavirus social distancing restrictions will impact their social experience of overseas study,” explained Jones.
However, he noted some differences between student groups, with pathway and undergraduate students more willing than postgraduate students to join their overseas program this academic year.
“Students are also gradually becoming aware that competition for September 2021 could be higher.”
For Malaysia, these are “even more challenging times” than in other UKEAS countries, due to a weak exchange rate, unemployment at the highest in 30 years and a struggling export market.
“Parents are not convinced that the UK (or many other countries) offer a safe enough destination,” noted Jones, adding that more families considering Australia, Singapore or local institutions due to being perceived as safer, cheaper and quicker to achieve ‘in-person’ teaching.
By comparison in the Philippines where the rate of infection has remained relatively high, most students are excited about studying overseas.
“Students want a full campus experience, and an online start has not been met with enthusiasm,” he said.
“January 2021 starts have become an attractive option, especially if the UK can offer an ‘in-person’ environment by then.”
A January start dated is also predicted to be favoured by families in Ghana and Nigeria, as students looking to proceed with applications or enrolment are faced with obstacles such as a lack of transcripts or official qualifications while schools and universities are closed, visa centres not yet open, and no available flights to the UK as of yet.
Discussing the findings during a webinar, CEO of UKEAS, Pieter Funnekotter said that the organisation is trying to “salvage September”.
“We’re looking to try and salvage September because the world right now is a scary place and each of our markets has been reacting differently to it,” he told delegates.
“And then the flipside is to try to maximise January. What’s been so helpful that so many universities who haven’t traditionally offered a January start are offering that option.”
“The more proactive we all are at helping students navigate their needs, options and situations, the better conversion and retention will be,” added Jones.
“It is essential to stay actively engaged with students who have already converted since they may have cold feet at the last minute.
“For example, motivational case studies of past students, how to get the best out of the post-study work visa [and] things not to miss in the UK.”