Market intelligence for international student recruitment from ICEF

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Year in review: What we learned in 2022

Well, that felt a lot better, didn’t it? 2022 was not without its twists and turns, but many of us got a lot closer to normal during the year.

Most, if not all, borders are now open again to students and travellers, and our industry took some very important steps along its path to recovery.

There has been a lot to absorb along the way. And as we tend to do at this point in the year, we thought we would take a moment to reflect on some of the important takeaways from the last 12 months.

The pandemic taught us all some important lessons

COVID-19 was of course an historic event, and also the source of far-reaching change for societies and economies around the world. We will be measuring the full effect of the pandemic for some time. but some things are already clear.

For one, our industry is looking at the challenge of diversification with fresh eyes. COVID made it more clear than ever that a reliance on a small number of sending markets is no longer sustainable. We are seeing a greater emphasis on diversification this year as a result, including diversification by sending market, by field of study, and even mode of study (more on which below).

We also learned that digital is going to have an even bigger place in our lives going forward. For many, that means a greater reliance on an expanding toolkit that includes video meetings, social channels, messaging apps, smarter online marketing, and even artificial intelligence.

There is no going back

The pandemic is easing. Student mobility surged back this year, and so too did global travel (if at a somewhat slower pace of recovery). But we learned to do things differently over the last few years, and much of that change is here to stay.

There is no better example of those enduring impacts than online learning. We have seen vast investments and improvements in online programme delivery since 2020, and those will continue to impact our industry for years. Many institutions and schools have maintained or expanded their online and hybrid offerings even as in-person instruction resumed throughout the year. And an increasing proportion of agents are now recruiting for online programmes.

This is all leading us to a reconsideration of what international education means, and who it is for. One recent analysis tells us that for every student who goes abroad, there are another four – and an estimated global total of 20 million higher education students – who would like to study outside their home countries but are unable to do so. (Whether due to family or career commitments or because they lack the qualifications or funds to support studies abroad.) We can expect a greater proportion of international education to be delivered as online or hybrid learning in the years ahead as stakeholders across our industry come to grips with the scale and importance of serving those additional tens of millions of students abroad.

Capacity questions hit close to home

Surging student demand this year has placed renewed pressure on the capacity of some fast-growing study destinations. “Capacity” can mean a lot of different things in this context, including available programme seats as well as the ability to scale student services.

For a growing number of destinations, however, capacity also means the availability of affordable housing for incoming students. This has been a huge issue in 2022 and we can expect that student housing and housing costs will continue to have a huge impact on mobility in the years to come.

Look for continued dramatic increases in investment in purpose-built student accommodation in 2023 and beyond, as well as more innovation around student housing policies and related student services. This is a story that is not going away any time soon.

The new competitive advantage

Not surprisingly, opportunities to work, both during and after study, have rightly been seen as one of the most important levers for shaping destination attractiveness. And so major study destinations have been bidding up their post-study work offers for international students for years now.

In the facing of surging student demand this year, however, a familiar additional dimension of competitiveness has come back into focus as well: visa processing times. The serious processing backlogs that most major destinations have experienced this year have greatly impacted processing times.

Some host countries, notably the UK, made real improvements in this area over the second half of 2022. Others continue to struggle with too-long processing times and a rising chorus of complaint from students, parents, and agents whose collective patience is running thin as we turn the corner into the New Year. We can expect this to be an issue of wider discussion in 2023, and also an increasingly important dimension of competitiveness among major study destinations.

Thank you

Last but not least, we want to take this chance to thank you (as always) for reading and learning along with us. We look forward to continuing to bring you the latest insights on international recruitment in the year ahead.


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