Western higher ed bracing for COVID-19 impact . . .
The global pandemic is creating major disruptions for the millions of university and college students who study in other countries, including Canada. Dr. Simon Marginson, a leading international education expert from Oxford University, said these won’t just be short-term complications related to travel, campus closures, and other logistical issues. Rather, health and economic considerations may mean that it will take five years for international student numbers to rebound. That is unwelcome news for Canada, Australia, the U.K. and U.S., where universities and colleges have come to rely on revenues from international tuition fees, primarily from Asian students.
Health, economic concerns will be major factors . . .
Many students from East Asia will continue to go abroad for their degrees, but concerns about health security could encourage them to choose schools closer to home. Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan all seem to have avoided the worst of the crisis or are in the recovery phase (at least for now), and all have impressive higher education sectors. In addition, the economic fallout of the crisis could put foreign degrees out of reach for families who have recently joined the middle class. A case in point is India, the source of the most international students in Canada. In 2008-2009, some 5,000 Indian students studied here; as of 2018 that number had increased to more than 172,000, with many enrolled in Canadian colleges. If the Canadian job market slumps, that could reduce the number of applications by people motivated to remain in Canada to work after completing degrees.
Longer-term trend favours East Asia . . .
East Asian universities’ ability to absorb the demand for foreign students could be a preview of a longer-term shift. The region’s universities have not only been rising in international rankings, but also positioning themselves as destinations in their own right, including by offering popular degree programs like business and engineering in English. In the future Malaysia may become an attractive and affordable option for students from emerging economies who are unable to pay the hefty fees charged by Canadian and other Western schools.
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