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Will the pandemic mean more foreign students switch to online learning?

Will the pandemic mean more foreign students switch to online learning?

For some, university is a time to meet new people, explore a new city, go to parties, and spend all-night studying in the library. 

There’s also, of course, the small matter of classes and graduating with a degree. 

Like it did with so many things, the pandemic put a crashing halt on the former, with students from all around the world forced to switch to online lectures and virtual socials in 2020.

While this presented challenges, feedback from many students (see below) has in fact proved that online classes are able to successfully convey course material – in the majority of cases – just as well as in-person teaching. 

The price of tuition fees are increasing in many countries, which begs the question; could the appeal of living with family – instead of in student accommodation – start to outshine the ‘traditional’ campus experience? 

This set up could prove particularly appealing to international students which makes up 20% of the population. Although these students would miss out on the expat experience of living overseas in a new country, they would save the often eye-watering international student fees and still leave with a degree from a prestigious institution.

What kind of socio-economic – not to mention cultural – impact would this have? has investigated data that has emerged in light of the pandemic. 

Widening access 

Vitaly Klopot, Chief Innovation and Commercial Officer at Arden University, told the pandemic had “supercharged” a trend towards online learning that had already begun due to technological advancements, increased digital literacy and a desire for more flexibility . 

“In many ways you can think of the switch to online learning like the development of Netflix and similar streaming services a few years ago. All of a sudden, it meant that people could access the shows they wanted to watch whenever they wanted,” Klopot said.

“While many students will, of course, be keen to head back to campus, we’re also likely to see a renewed clamour for flexible study options. Why should a student not be able to study a module when they’re more productive in an evening, while they’ve got some respite from childcare, or in between shifts at their day job?”

“Online learning is enabling a widening of access and participation – it’s creating an environment in which people who previously felt cut off from higher education can aspire to get a degree, and making courses more accessible for those who are unable to move to a new city or commute to a campus-based location. That can only be a good thing,” Klopot explained.

Wider losses

But while there are certainly benefits to students from online learning, universities will need to balance fee expectations with investing in these new offerings. 

Could they lose out on some of a lucrative revenue source from international students if they prove unwilling to pay the same amount for remote courses, which might not cost the university much less? 

There are also wider economic and social implications. 

British think tank the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) argues the potential loss of international students is a concern. 

Its research shows that one year’s intake of incoming international students is worth £28.8 billion to the UK economy, with these economic benefits spread throughout the UK due to the dispersed nature of the student population.

HEPI director Nick Hillman states: “The benefits reach every part of the UK, from Land’s End to John O’Groats. 

“But international students do not just bring financial benefits. They also bring educational benefits by making our campuses more diverse and exciting places to be. 

“To make the most of these benefits, we need to provide a warm welcome, ensure our educational offer remains competitive and help international students secure fulfilling careers after study.”

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