Blog 🏛️ University 20th November 2020

In Conversation with BridgeU Schools: How is The International Higher Education Market Changing?

Profile image of Zahra Onsori
Zahra Onsori University Content Writer
How do BridgeU schools see the international higher education market changing? We asked 3 of our international school counsellors. Here’s what they had to say.

There have been a lot of articles and column inches devoted to predicting the future of  the international higher education market. 

As universities all over the world adapt to the changes wrought by COVID-19, there’s been a lot of discussion about the potential for universities to make greater use of virtual recruitment channels if they are to successfully connect with their international student audiences. 

We’ve written a few such articles ourselves. And don’t get us wrong – it’s an important conversation. 

But in the rush to understand how 2020 has reshaped the landscape of international higher education, is it possible that we’ve not sought enough insight from the people on the other side? 

Like their counterparts in universities, educators in international schools have had to adapt quickly in order to ensure that their students can continue learning in a remote environment. 

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You may remember that, a few months ago, we surveyed our community of international students and counsellors to see how COVID-19 had impacted BridgeU students’ university applications, across both our 2020 and 2021 matriculating cohorts. 

Our analysis found international students were still resilient and broadly determined to pursue their global higher education ambitions where possible. 

But we found some students switching away from traditionally popular destinations such as the USA, UK and Canada, with other countries growing in popularity. We also found that both students and counsellors were concerned about the uncertainty surrounding international travel, as well as students’ ability to secure a visa. 

So how have our international schools adapted to cope with this uncertainty? How have our counsellors and career guidance professionals used virtual methods to connect with universities? And what advice do BridgeU school counsellors have for universities looking to engage with a wider international school audience? 

As part of one of our recent webinars, we asked three of our counsellors in three very different countries how they’d been affected by the events of this year – and what they think the future holds for international higher education admissions in light of recent events. 

Watch: 3 BridgeU counsellors share their predictions for the future of international higher education

The View from Stockholm

Phil Spires has years of experience working as a Principal, both in Sweden and other countries. He’s currently the IB Coordinator at the International School of the Stockholm Regions (ISSR) 

ISSR currently has 265 high school students out of a total of 700 students. 

International applicants are considering destinations closer to home

Phil notes that, even before COVID-19 hit international schools worldwide, he was dealing with a number of transitions from the ‘old’ normal. 

Predictably, the presidency of Donald Trump and the continued uncertainty around Brexit had already begun to have an effect on where Phil’s students were choosing to study, with more of his students looking at destinations closer to home. 

For example, Phil explains how it used to be that as many as 35 of Phil’s students would apply to the UK through the UCAS process. This academic year, there were only 4 applicants. 

It was a similar story with US applications, with only a handful of Phil’s students choosing to apply through the Common App and/or Coalition Application this year. 

At the same time, Phil notes that an increasing number of students are now considering European destinations. He has seen more of his students express interest in countries like the Netherlands, not to mention Sweden itself. 

Students will have greater agency over their university decision making

Phil has found the BridgeU platform to be particularly helpful in ensuring his students are making informed university searches and choices. In turn, it’s also made it easier for students to have more informed conversations about their next steps with him and their parents/guardians. 

But more generally, Phil notes that his students are often much more well-informed about a particular university course and its modules than he. He observes that he’s now often a sounding board for students after they’ve already done their preliminary research and come up with their shortlist of choices. 

Universities will need clearer messaging about the kind of educational experience their students can expect

Unsurprisingly, Phil notes that the number of messages and enquiries he’s received from universities has increased since the COVID-19 crisis began. 

The problem is this leaves international students with a lot of information to sift through. Phil argues that universities will therefore need to find better ways of distilling the vital information that students will need to make the most informed choices, whether that’s webinars or virtual tours. 

Phil believes this is particularly essential at a time when more degree programmes are moving to online delivery (more on this later). 

“I would want some assistance in looking at the product the universities are offering, how we can tie that to the students’ needs.”

Phil Spires: IB Coordinator, International School of the Stockholm Regions

The View from Blantyre

Khethiwe Hove is the Careers Guidance adviser at St Andrews International High School in Blantyre, Malawi. 

Khethiwe observes that her school hasn’t seen as serious an impact from COVID-19 as some of her counterparts in Europe and America. She attributes this to governments across Africa acting swiftly in closing schools. 

But, of course this means that, like many of her peers and colleagues in our community of international schools, Khethiwe had to swiftly adapt to an online teaching and learning environment. 

Virtual fairs & online events can help to reassure parents & students worried about the impact of COVID-19 

Like Phil, Khethiwe thinks that this crisis has changed her students’ outlook on studying at a university overseas. She’s found that both her students and their parents are now looking at destinations closer to home – for example universities in South Africa. 

But Khethiwe has been keen to show her students that COVID-19 considerations don’t have to mean an end to their international study ambitions. 

She’s used BridgeU to help organise online events and virtual university fairs.  

Their aim? To reassure parents and students that an international education is still viable by having universities address them in person.  

“I’m pleased that BridgeU has added that platform where we can connect directly with universities and they are happy to connect directly us and put across their message to everyone concerned.”

Khethiwe Hove: Careers Guidance Adviser, St Andrews International School of Malawi

Khethiwe believes that, amidst the pessimism surrounding the impact of COVID-19, it’s easy for many international students to overlook the fact that many destination countries have, slowly but surely, adapted to the existence of COVID-19. 

Virtual events, Khethiwe argues, allow universities to show students and their parents that they’re making their campuses safe for their international undergraduates. 

Khethiwe thinks that the move towards virtual and online events will offer opportunities to students across Malawi and give them a better understanding of what’s on the horizon.

The View from Cairo

Michael Francis is the Director of University and Careers Guidance at the British International School of Cairo. As well as being responsible for university and careers guidance, Michael teaches maths at BISC and is a member of the schools’s senior leadership team. 

Like Khethiwe, Michael saw the COVID-19 crisis as an opportunity to forge strong links, both with the community local to BISC, and a wider international community of universities. 

Michael quickly contacted universities at the onset of COVID-19 to let universities know that BISC students were still interested in an international education. 

Michael had to quickly adapt to teaching classes and offering university and careers guidance in a remote setting. He tells us that, at one stage, his year 12 (now year 13) students hadn’t had contact with a single university. 

Students are still interested in international higher education – and many are happy to study remotely

Mary Struzka-Tyamayev, Director of the Center for Global Education at Simmons University, reminds us that, in 2020, higher education providers have not had to deal with one crisis, but two.

Michael’s experience has been subtly different to that of Phil and Khethiwe. 

He explains how many of his students (and their parents) are still interested in pursuing a degree at an international university, with 98% of his last graduating cohort deciding to study internationally. 

But Michael notes that his 2020 graduating cohort have elected to start their undergraduate degrees from the comfort of their own home. 

Students are now distributing their applications across a wider range of countries

Michael has noticed that his students are now more likely to submit applications to three or four different countries.

In the past, Michael may have discouraged his students from spreading their international applications too widely, but now they are applying to multiple countries as a contingency, in light of the uncertainty caused by COVID-19. 

Of course, applying to more countries means more research and this is where the BridgeU platform has come in handy. 

“They’re at home with their parents. They find it great! They’re still getting an international education, they’re still going to some of the very prestigious institutions.”

Michael Francis: Director of University & Careers Guidance, The British International School of Cairo

Virtual fairs can help students to better prepare their university applications

There’s been a lot of talk about Zoom fatigue – and students are understandably growing weary of so many virtual events. But Michael has used the BridgeU platform to ensure that students are using BISC virtual fairs to better prepare their university applications. 

BridgeU allows Michael to maintain his university and career guidance provision remotely. He’s used BridgeU to set homework and agree deadlines with his students as they’ve built their university shortlists and finalised their applications in the platform. 

Michael also used BridgeU to encourage his students to research and prepare in advance for a BISC virtual university fair. 

BISC’s virtual fairs have provided students with an intensive period of time to learn more about a wide range of international universities. In turn, they’re then able to do more informed research on the BridgeU platform as they prepare their applications.  

This has meant that the number of Year 13 students choosing to apply early to destinations like the US and UK has almost doubled this year. 

How do our schools predict the international higher education market will change?

All three of our international school counsellors were optimistic about the opportunities presented by the COVID-19 crisis. 

Much like the other international higher ed professionals that we’ve spoken to, our three webinar participants felt there were opportunities for universities to adapt their international enrolment strategies in a world that has become more virtual in 2020. 

It’s notable that both Michael and Khethiwe were excited about the potential for virtual fairs to open up opportunities to a wider range of local students in their regions. They also saw an opportunity for international schools in specific regions to collaborate on, and share the benefits of, virtual university events. 

But our counsellors also agreed that universities would need to develop clearer messaging to potential applicants about the benefits of their degree offering at a time when many courses are being taught remotely. 

This comes at a time when universities are offering their undergraduate degrees remotely. What kind of holistic experience can international students expect when they apply to a university in another country? 

In Cairo and Stockholm respectively, Phil and Michael have noticed that international student recruitment is becoming a much more overt and competitive marketplace. 

The question for universities is – how will they stand out from the crowd? 

Get in touch

Learn how BridgeU can help you align your enrolment strategy with your international student audience.