The last two years have been a roller-coaster ride for international students, fraught with anxiety and uncertainty about the future amid the coronavirus pandemic, regulatory barriers and the looming global economic recession brought upon by it.
As borders worldwide open and international students, particularly from Asia, return to study overseas, the new normal is marked by financial and emotional stress. On top of traditional language and cultural barriers, students face new economic and social integration challenges in the post-COVID era.
Asia – led by China and India – makes up 72% and 52% of the international student population in the United States and the United Kingdom* respectively, and has the potential to contribute almost 80% of the growth in foreign students by 2025.
However, Indian and Chinese international students need institutional support to keep coming back to higher education institutions in the West. Shrinking student demographics negatively impact the workforce and economic competitiveness. If the US and UK are committed to increasing international student enrolments, they will need to streamline the regulatory bureaucracy associated with recruitment.
New challenges in the new normal
While in-person international education programmes have now resumed post-pandemic, getting students back to campus isn’t as easy. The global economic downturn may lead students and their families to economise on the expenses related to studying abroad.
Students may defer their higher education plans abroad, drop out or opt for remote learning, which may be cheaper than on-campus courses.
International student mobility is slowly bouncing back. India sent 12% more students to the US in 2021 than in 2020, while in 2020 there was a drop in Indian student numbers of 16.7% compared to the previous year. The UK attracted 60% more students from India and 3% more from China in 2020-21, as compared to a year ago.
To attract and retain international students in an economically and socially turbulent environment, it is imperative for educational institutions to create a safety net by providing more logistical support, better and more comprehensive initiatives for inclusion and interactive channels that address their well-being.