UK universities
Students wait in a queue to receive a dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in London. Source: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP

UK universities have all the pieces in place to successfully attract international students post-pandemic, according to analysis by a Universities UK International (UUKi) spokesperson. At the same time, UUKi Assistant Director for External Affairs Andy Howells quoted the recent IDP Crossroads 4 survey in calling for a “bolder, braver, and louder” approach in the months to come.

Though Canada remains the top education destination based on student perception, Howells believes that UK universities have what it takes to rebuild the British appeal. “IDP also points out that the propensity for prospective international students to change destination to get what they want — for the majority, an on-campus experience — is high and getting higher. There is opportunity here for the UK, if only we can get these positive messages to break through,” he encouraged.

Here’s a glimpse at the appeal of UK universities during this time.

UK universities

Will universities that go above and beyond to support students see greater returns post-pandemic? Source: Niklas Halle’n/AFP

UK universities remain flexible

Not only has the UK kept its borders open to international students, but UK universities are also extending remote learning concessions until April 6, 2022. This means newly arriving international students can begin studying remotely (if health and visa protocols require) without compromising future work rights.

Plus, students who started remotely as early as autumn 2020 have until September 27 to enter the UK and still qualify for the Graduate Route — which launched earlier this month. This gives students an extra three months to get back to the UK; for many, this keeps their dream of seeking employment abroad alive.

Allowing students to start online and travel later has allowed UK universities to retain students and enrol new ones. The rise in the number of visa applications is testament to this. For example, Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) data shows a 30% increase in visa applications from Indian students alone.

Travel support during the pandemic

After India was added to the country’s “red list,” UK universities offered to quarantine returning Indian students at their facilities and potentially cover their costs. On top of that, several institutions extended additional support measures for returning students with airport pick-ups. According to the IDP survey, 34% of UK students testify to receiving physical and mental health support. Against a global average of 24%, one could surmise that UK universities are doing better than most.

International student welfare was also addressed on a critical level through the London Higher and UUKi international student guidance, released back in March 2021. These measures sought to equalise eligibility for home and international students for “hardship funds, flexible and coordinated student fee payment plans, and proactive engagement with all students to ensure they know what support is available and how to access it”.

“This has contributed to us being viewed as one of the best destinations for looking after international students by those who do come, if not yet by those still contemplating their arrival,” Howells noted. Additionally, over 50% of the UK population have been vaccinated, which is promising for the recovery of the travel, retail, and education sectors in the coming months. International students are eligible for free vaccines, too.