Does Covid-19 Mean the End of International Education as We Know It?

Until Covid-19 hit more than six million students crossed borders each year across the world for tertiary and higher education programmes of one year or more, and there was a large traffic in shorter visits by students, researchers and academic staff. The pandemic stopped international mobility in its tracks, leaving thousands of current students stranded, overturning the new cohort arriving in countries that began their academic year in March, and imposing what seems likely to be an online only start in many countries which begin the next academic year in September/October. While East Asian nations such as South Korea, Singapore, China and Vietnam have managed the pandemic relatively well, all victories over the virus are provisional, while in major destination countries including the US, UK and Russia there are continuing health risks. In student source countries in South Asia and Africa populations are severely affected both healthwise and economically by Covid-19. The picture is uneven in Europe, but it will be some time before Erasmus returns to normal. Even in countries where Covid-19 appears to be under control, each planeload or trainload of students from countries still affected will pose challenges for international education.

Across the world institutions have done remarkable things in developing online programmes at need – though while these can provide a formative intellectual experience, they do not offer the intense immersion in knowledge, the cohort experience, the broader vocational and life-skill learning, and the cross-cultural encounter including immersion in the host country language and environment, that face to face international higher education ought to provide. Family capacity to invest in international education has also been severely disrupted by the pandemic. When a broadly accessed vaccine rolls out and the world returns to a more stable condition, will international education spring back as it was? Or will the role of online education increase and travelling reduce permanently, as many are predicting? Will the balance of numbers in the different student source countries change and will the map of provider countries alter? What will be the fallout in those countries and institutions that are especially dependent on international students in financial terms? With ‘buyers’ scarcer than before, what kind of experience will higher education institutions provide? Will the shared experience of the pandemic ultimately bring people closer together in and through international education, or will it lead to a world where mobility, understanding and cooperation are reduced?

The webinar brings together a panel of three leading experts on international higher education, from UK/Europe, the Americas and Australia/East Asia, where the pandemic been equally disruptive but the effects in international education are playing out differently – and a participant audience from across the world.