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4th Mar 2020

COVID-19 triggers cancellations and delays but most students intend to follow through on study plans

Short on time? Here are the highlights:
  • A growing number of industry events and exchange programmes are being cancelled due to the fast-spreading coronavirus
  • A number of countries are either banning travellers from the most severely affected nations so far – China, Italy, South Korea, and Iran – or imposing 14-day quarantines for visitors from those countries
  • Italy has suspended school group travel
  • Some Asian countries’ schools and universities will remain closed until at least mid-April
  • A new survey finds that a majority of responding students in Africa, Asia, and Australasia say their plans to study abroad have not been affected; even so, a significant proportion (27%) say they will have to change their plans

Due to the rapid spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, many exchange programmes have been cancelled as have a growing number of industry events, most recently the annual Asia-Pacific Association for International Education (APAIE) conference which was planned for March 2020 in Vancouver. 

A number of destinations, including Australia, New Zealand, the United States, Canada, and Japan, have travel bans in place. This Guardian report provides an overview of travel restrictions in place as of 29 February.

Editor’s note: Bans on travel, and on large public gatherings, will be changing daily so make sure to check the news regarding any destination you may be travelling to or receiving students from. For example, currently Australia is reviewing and revising its travel bans weekly and New Zealand is doing the same every two days.

In the US, the world’s largest host of international students, several colleges are reporting that students have been exposed to places where confirmed cases of coronaviruses have been reported, and/or asked to self-quarantine.

Then there are the complete shutdowns. Some schools are closing temporarily in an effort to stop the virus’s spread, including in the US.

Others are turning to online classes to maintain some alternate programming for students affected by closures, travel restrictions, or quarantines. For example, Duke University’s Duke Kunshan campus, established in 2013 in partnership with Wuhan University of China, is now an online-only university “until further notice.” Hundreds of students who have dispersed from Wuhan due to the outbreak to other countries will now pursue their studies at Duke through virtual classrooms, labs, and discussion groups. Similarly, New York University is now offering an online programme for its Shanghai campus.

The abrupt switch to online-only learning has been a big test for university executives and faculty. For example, Jace Hargis, director of the NYU Shanghai Teaching and Learning Center, noted that almost 90% of faculty had little to no experience of teaching online. Speaking to Inside Higher Ed, he added:

“Before day one, a lot of faculty said they were feeling a bit anxious. They weren’t sure what students would think. Now they’re feeling a lot better.”

Asian countries hit hard

Across Asia, entrance exams for universities have been delayed, which may eventually affect the 2020 intake of first-year students. In Japan, schools have been ordered to close until mid-April, and Hong Kong has also suspended classes until late-April.

Meanwhile in China, provinces will reopen schools at varying times in the coming weeks to stagger the influx of students; it will be a serious test of how well the virus has been controlled through the strict measures the country has had in place for weeks. In Wuhan, China, the hardest-hit region in the world, universities will not open until at least 20 April and will then have to offer classes online for at least three weeks.

Exchange programmes cancelled

Italy is a major study abroad destination, particularly for students seeking to learn Italian or to soak up Italy’s unique landscape and culture. In the wake of high infection rates in some parts of Italy, however, these programmes are now also under pressure. Syracuse University is closing its campus in Florence, and New York University (NYU) has also closed its Florence campus.

The Italian government is doing what it can to slow down the spread of the coronavirus, which is currently most prevalent in the northern part of the country. One significant measure has been to suspend all school group travel both within Italy and to other countries until at least 16 March. This will impact ELT schools in Europe – in the UK in particular – for which Italy is a leading sending market, especially for juniors, and to a lesser extent Malta and Ireland.

Most still planning to study abroad

In a new survey of 2,000+ students from Africa, Asia, and Australasia by QS, nearly 3 in 10 (27%) said that their plans had changed due to the virus, while a much greater proportion (61%) said their plans to study abroad were not affected as yet by COVID-19.

Of those students who said their plans had changed, 37% said the multi-country outbreaks have made them decide to defer their entry until next year, while 33% said they are now going to choose an alternate destination for study abroad. Just over 11% of those whose plans had changed said that they no longer wanted to study abroad.

Nunzio Quacquarelli, QS’s CEO, said in a related statement:

“Today’s findings come at a crucial time for the global higher education sector, as universities start planning for the next academic year. The data suggests that although the coronavirus is creating a great deal of uncertainty, the impact is mostly one of timing. In response, the sector should aim to be flexible on application deadlines and delayed start dates.”

For additional background, please see:

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