opening campus
New surveys find that a majority of US universities are gearing up for on-campus activities come September. Source: Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images/AFP

Most US universities are looking to opening campus fully next semester, supported by improved enrolments and relaxed travel restrictions compared to the same time last year. A new Institute of International Education (IIE) survey of over 400 US universities showed that 86% are conducting in-person study come fall, with over half of these expecting to use a hybrid model involving both in-person and virtual instruction.

The IIE COVID-19 Snapshot Survey Series also shows a 43% increase in international student applications for the 2021/22 academic year, with a majority of this growth seen in doctoral universities. This corroborates another recent IIE survey, which found nearly 60% of doctoral universities have received more international applications for the fall 2021 semester. Coming after the 3.5% decline in total student enrolment this past spring semester, these IIE reports paint an optimistic picture for international education in US universities.

“In a comparison to where we were this time a year ago, the noted change here is that there were no institutions who anticipate to offer only virtual instruction this fall,” said Mirka Martel, IIE’s head of research, evaluation and learning. “We anticipate the recovery to come in phases, tied to vaccinations and travel guidelines. But there is definitely a concerted effort by US higher education institutions to reopen their campuses and encourage all students, including international students, to return to in-person study.”

Opening campus part of post-pandemic recovery

As the US population gets vaccinated, 64% of US universities are planning to offer the COVID-19 vaccine to its students, faculty, and staff. According to the latest guidelines from the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), all US universities and colleges with a fully-vaccinated campus community may resume in-person classes at full capacity. So while only 14% of the institutions surveyed currently have a vaccine requirement, this number is expected to grow in line with CDC guidelines.

US universities

Nearly nine out of 10 US universities will be opening campus fully come fall, one survey found. . Source: David Ryder/Getty Images/AFP

A major factor in effective vaccination is getting the right vaccine. US universities only recognise vaccines that are approved by the federal government, which follows the recommendation of the World Health Organisation (WHO).

As of June 3, 2021, WHO said the following vaccines have met the necessary criteria for safety and efficacy: AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine, Johnson and Johnson, Moderna, Pfizer/BionTech, Sinopharm and Sinovac. Students who have received other vaccines should consult their university before making travel arrangements.

With these findings, US universities seem ready to rebound from the pandemic. In fact, over 75% plan to spend at least as much or more on recruiting international students as they ever have, while 48% have adjusted testing modes and requirements. At the same time, many have updated their digital services to better serve international students. For example, over 75% had updated their process for submitting applications and immigrations online.