study overseas
Source: Mario Tama/Getty Images/AFP

High school leavers across the world want to study overseas despite the challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. Research by education technology company Cialfo shows that 60% of prospective international students still want to see their plans through,  soldiering on as major study destinations launch versions of recovery campaigns.

“Understanding student recruitment: impact of the pandemic and beyond” surveyed 3,785 high school students across 100 countries. Each provided insights on how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected their plans to attend university abroad. While the survey results paint an optimistic picture for their future study overseas, US high school graduates say they bear additional concerns.

Major worries include being unable to enjoy their student experience (76%) and failing to reconcile paying full fees for an online-only experience (58%). International students are well aware of the financial resources required to study overseas; those from Asia Pacific and North America are most concerned.

study overseas

A student walks on campus as classes begin amid the COVID-19 pandemic on the first day of the fall 2020 semester last year. Source: Sam Wasson/Getty Images/AFP

“While this reinforces the enduring value of an international education, the ongoing challenges related to the pandemic make it a far more nuanced topic,” Cialfo co-founder and CEO Rohan Pasari told CNBC Make It. “Where reputation and academic requirements were once key considerations — today, students also care about safety, social justice, environmental impact and health, amongst others while selecting a destination for their studies.”

Shifting strategies to study overseas

Students are motivated to study overseas for the same reasons as before; gaining new life experiences (76%) and exploring different cultures (53%) are chief among them. At the same time, they are reconsidering their priorities in view of current circumstances. Besides university reputation (72%) and academic requirements (70%), they are also thinking about future job uncertainties (51%) and COVID-19 related safety and travel restrictions (50%).

One strategy students have employed this year is diversifying study destinations, or switching to an altogether more welcoming country. “In the short term, we think that students will apply to universities in multiple countries — hedging their best bets to ensure they’re not caught off guard if a certain country’s border regulations change,” Pasari commented.

study overseas

Going to college is a different experience during the pandemic. Source: Mario Tama/Getty Images/AFP

Universities and governments are catching up with student demands too, aiming to reinvigorate enrolment in fall 2021 and beyond. Pasari suggested more institutions will introduce multi-articulation degrees, which are delivered in branch campuses. This is the closest a student can get to international education without leaving their home country.

Canada is now viewed as the top destination for study overseas; consistent, considerate updates on travel and safety guidelines have gained student trust, despite admitted visa and flight issues. The UK is undergoing a similar scenario, where student sentiments have improved thanks to immigration measures offering sweeter options for students and graduates. Government and immigration decisions influence students more than ever before, given the transformed landscape of higher education during the pandemic.

The US is placing itself on the road to recovery, too, as evidenced by a recent government commitment to international education. The Departments of State and Education want to “implement policies, procedures and protocols so as to facilitate international education and authorised practical experiences while promoting programme integrity and protecting national security.” Advocates in the US are hoping this will inspire greater support from the Biden administration, particularly in friendlier policymaking and interagency coordination.