The Impact of COVID-19 on International Student Recruitment

    By May 11, 2020 July 11th, 2022 No Comments
    Coronavirus impact

    Around the beginning of 2020, UK universities were exuberantly celebrating the start of new post-study work guidelines which would have enabled international students to continue studying in the UK for two more years once they graduate.

    With the outlook being very positive, this meant that the UK government’s 2019 International Education Strategy which had projections for up to 2030 felt achievable – from 460,000 international enrolments between 2010 and 2018 to 600,000 enrolments by 2030.

    Then the coronavirus pandemic started to get worse, bringing those plans to a grinding halt.

    International Student Recruitment Challenges in the age of COVID-19

    Over half of the world’s learners are now affected by the impact coronavirus has had – that’s a staggering 890.5 million students around the globe.

    With school and university closures increasing in many countries on a massive scale, concerns about the impact of future international student enrolments, and ultimately, how cash flow will get affected are very high on university managements’ agendas.

    While international student recruiters and agencies have been well-versed in the past in regards to dealing with political and economic uncertainties due to events like the 97’ East Asia currency crisis, 9/11 attacks, 2003 SARS outbreak or the 2007-8 global financial crisis, for instance – the challenges brought about by COVID-19 are of a completely different nature, and unlike any global political or economic event they have dealt with in the past.

    The UK is actually more exposed than other major international study destinations like Germany, Canada or the US, when it comes to annual new international student recruitment. The UK is a hotspot for pathways into universities, top-ranking business courses, undergraduate courses, pathway courses and more.

    Data gathered in a 2018-19 report from the Higher Education Statistics Agency in the UK revealed that over half of international students studying in the UK were new enrolments – 249,080 (56%) were new enrolments out of the total 448,670 international students. UK universities are now facing grave challenges in keeping up with this figure due to the impact COVID-19 has had.

    We recently conducted a survey of our own to assess the impact coronavirus has had – where international student recruitment agencies working with us from around the globe revealed how student recruitment has been affected across a variety of factors:


    • Main courses promoted were Ministay, Summer Camps and Language courses

    • 101 language courses cancelled

    • International students will likely enrol again in summer 2021 and market to reopen around the same time

    • Agencies should consider promotions such as ‘buy now study later’, ‘book now pay later’. specialized language courses, etc.


    • Pathway courses and Language courses were mainly promoted

    • 2 Language course cancellations to report

    • International students to enrol again in September 2020 with market reopening around the same date

    • Agencies should offer a ‘buy now at discounted prices, study later’ deal


    • Language courses and Summer camps formed the majority of courses offered/promoted

    • 100 Language courses cancelled

    • International students to start enrolling by September 2020 and market will also reopen the same month/year

    • Agencies would fare best by making promotional offers including ‘buy now study later’ packages and specialised Language courses

    Middle East

    • Pathway courses, Language courses and Professional courses on offer

    • 27 Language courses cancelled with 3 Professional course and 14 Pathway course cancellations to report

    • International students are expected to book again by September 2020 although market will likely reopen early in June 2020

    • Agencies recommended to push promotional offers like ‘buy now study later’, ‘book now pay later’, specialized language courses, etc.


    • The region saw promotions of Pathway courses and Language courses

    • 40 language courses were cancelled with 50 pathway course cancellations

    • International students quite likely to book again by January 2021 but market will reopen in June 2021

    • Recruitment agencies can cover losses by offering promotions such as specialized Professional courses, ‘book now pay later’ option, ‘buy now at discounted price’, etc.


    • Pathway courses and Professional courses mainly promoted

    • 5 Professional courses reported as cancelled with 95 deferred

    • 5 Pathway courses reported as cancelled with 95 deferred

    • International students expected to re-enrol by July 2020 and market will reopen then as well


    • Language courses and Summer camps mainly on offer

    • 105 Language courses reported as cancelled

    • International students quite likely to book again between July and September 2020 or possibly by January 2021

    • Market may reopen between September and December 2020 or possibly by January 2021

    • Agencies should offer ‘buy now at discounted prices, study later’ packages or ‘book now and pay later’ deals


    • Summer camp courses were promoted

    • 15 language courses cancelled with 10 deferred

    • Students to book again by January 2021 and market to reopen by that date as well

    • Agencies can offer more specialized Professional courses to stay ahead of the curve

    Please follow this link to see the complete survey results.

    So what are the factors affecting International Student Recruitment?

    In addition to the above survey results which are quite an eye-opener for agencies looking to plan out their strategies for international student recruitment for 2020-2021 – there are also certain key factors at play here.

    These factors can influence how seriously international enrolments are affected at all the respective institutions around the world and how long it might take to get back on track.

    Internal factors

    • Agencies that are agile and flexible, willing to offer a variety of promotional deals and offers will fare best.

    • Universities with a high ratio of international students coming from seriously affected countries will likely suffer more than those that have a more even spread.

    • Clear communications, empathy and practical support will determine how quickly agencies can recover from the COVID-19 enrolment fallout.

    External factors

    • Travel restrictions that may be placed at the start of 2021 will decide whether international students feel safe enough to study in the UK or other destinations.

    • However, institutions may also see a ‘boom’ year in 2021 with many deferred students arriving along with new applications.

    • Currency and exchange rate may affect international students’ ability to afford courses they want to pursue.

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