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Year in review: What we learned in 2020

Year in review? Do we have to?

We might all feel a certain reluctance to revisit the year just past, what with its turbulent politics, more apparent climate change effects, and not to mention the worst and most disruptive public health crisis of the last century.

But of course there are also plenty of lessons and important insights to be had as we get ready to turn the page to the new year and to especially to the ever-more-real prospects of recovery and rebuilding for the future.

A little help from your friends

This is not a new lesson but this year powerfully reinforced just how important relationships are within the international education community: among colleagues, with our students, and with agents and partners abroad.

Looking ahead, there is every indication that students will rely even more on agents and trusted advisors to navigate new options and study pathways in the post-pandemic landscape, and that agents will play a key role in the recovery in 2021 and after.

Getting smarter about online learning

With the first COVID lockdowns late in Q1 2020, the world’s educators and students made an abrupt transition to online learning. This shift was unprecedented in its speed and scale, and it wasn’t always pretty, but there were a number of important insights gained along the way that will now fuel the next phase of investment and development in digital delivery.

In terms of longer-term impacts, the pandemic will likely be seen as a major accelerator in the more widespread use of hybrid and online learning as well as a more rapid adoption of non-degree credentials.

Digital recruitment comes to the fore

This was also a year in which we all necessarily leaned into digital recruitment channels with a completely different scale of effort and investment. Underpinning that digital footprint was the very clear and pressing demand from students and partners for more frequent and personalised communication. The idea of around-the-clock recruiting, which had been fuelled in part by digital channels in recent years, certainly gained new currency this year as a result.

And we saw a great deal of emphasis on expanded content marketing strategies, virtual reality, virtual campus tours, and – in what could be counted as one of the pleasant surprises of the year – the surprising effectiveness of well-executed online fairs and events.

Building back better

The conversation is already taking shape around global recovery, and it relies heavily on terms like “reset”, “new models”, and “building back better”. What many in the industry have begun to imagine is not only a return to pre-COVID business levels but the emergence of new modes and practices of international education that are more equitable, accessible, and sustainable for the future.

Be human

Early this year, we set out some key operating ideas for international educators, recruiters, and stakeholders as the pandemic began to take hold. Looking back at those now, they read like first principles for recovery as well: be flexible, be reassuring, be online, and be human.

This in particular seems to us an especially apt sentiment to hold in mind as we welcome in the new year: “Technology is a wonderful thing but international education will never stop being about personal connections and the relationships we build with colleagues, partners, and students. So even as you lean more on digital tools, take care to keep that human element front and centre.”

As always

A special thank you to all of our readers for following along with us during this extraordinary and challenging year. We are looking ahead to 2021 with optimism and hope for the future and we look forward as well to continuing to bring you the latest insights and analysis throughout the year to come.


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