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US: HEIs anticipate decline in int’l enrolment

Most (88%) US higher education institutions anticipate that international student enrolment will decline in the 2020/21 academic year, with a third (30%) anticipating a “substantial” drop off in numbers, according to a new Institute of International Education survey.

US institutional closures as a result of Covid-19 in spring 2020. Image: IIE

85% of institutions anticipate a decline in the interest of US students to go abroad in the coming academic year

The institutions represented in IIE’s second Covid-19 snapshot survey – conducted from April 16 to May 1 – hosted 519,456 international students on their campuses in 2018/19, or 47% of the total population of international students in the country.

“We saw that 92% of international students from these institutions have remained in the United States”

138 of the 599 responding institutions (31%) indicated 3,144 international students were not able to come to the US in spring 2020 as a result of travel restrictions related to Covid-19.

This finding is similar to the first snapshot survey, suggesting that the majority of international students were already on campus for the spring semester.

“Institutions reported that over 251,000 [251,385] students were on their campus in spring 2020,” explained Mirka Martel, the report’s author and IIE’s head of Research, Evaluation & Learning during a press briefing.

“Since the Covid-19 outbreak, institutions reported that 18,551 international students have left. As a result, we saw that 92% of international students from these institutions have remained in the United States for the spring, whether on campus or in another location.”

According to the report, 68% of institutions who plan to have international students enrolled in summer 2020 anticipate some students will not be able to come to their campus. 78% plan to offer online enrolment to these students, while 72% are allowing students to defer enrolment until the fall 2020 semester.

For the summer semester or term, “19% are offering deferment to summer 2021 or beyond, and only 13% are offering refunds,” noted the survey.

Looking ahead to fall semester and the new academic year, 70% of responding institutions indicated that they anticipate that some international students will not be able to come to their campus in-person, primarily due to ongoing travel restrictions or visa delays.

Some 88% of institutions said they anticipate that international student enrolment will decrease in the 20/21 academic year. While 16% said they anticipate the drop off will be ‘slight’, a third (30%) of institutions said they are anticipating a ‘substantial’ decrease.

Image: IIE

Most institutions (75%) said they are giving students the option to defer enrolment to later in the fall or to spring 2021.

According to Open Doors, international students make up 5.5% of the student body at US HEIs. In 2018/19, over one million international students were in the country, with half of these students coming from China and India.

Additionally, nearly 342,000 US students studied abroad for academic credit in 2017/18, with the most popular destinations being the UK, Italy and Spain.

Most institutions reported US students studying abroad in European countries affected deeply by Covid-19: UK (72%), Italy (63%), Spain (71%) and France (60%).

“Given the prevalence of students in Europe and the early March travel restrictions placed on European countries, the vast majority of students (81%) returned to the United States,” noted the survey.

Most institutions indicated offering support services to students returning to the US, such as assisting with travel costs (57%) and coordinating travel back to the US (53%).

“These potential declines could be exacerbated by a global recession”

“IIE’s historical analysis has indicated that despite health crises in the past study abroad has been resilient,” the survey explained.

However, the outcome of Covid-19 may be further complicated by economic implications.

Most respondent institutions (83%) said they have proactively cancelled summer study abroad programs, with approximately 85% anticipating a decline in the interest of US students to go abroad in the coming academic year.

“These potential declines could be exacerbated by a global recession, which would make study abroad more financially difficult for students,” the survey concluded.

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