Before COVID-19 struck, around five million students were undertaking degrees outside their home country. Travel restrictions and social isolation measures have and will continue to reduce these numbers dramatically.
The first impacts occurred when travel from China to Australia and New Zealand was blocked from 1 February, just weeks before the beginning of the academic year in those countries, resulting in tens of thousands of students being unable to commence their studies down under.
This pales in comparison with what we expect to happen over the next year, when in normal circumstances we would expect more than a million students to commence overseas studies. The scale of disruption will depend upon whether commencing students are able to travel in time to begin in the Northern Hemisphere in September or the Southern Hemisphere in July or March.
An obvious solution would be for students to commence their overseas studies online and then travel abroad when travel restrictions are lifted and on-campus study recommences. If programmes are being delivered online anyway and social isolation is in place in the destination country, it makes sense to study online from home where costs are lower. Some international students who were already studying abroad have returned home for this reason.
But how likely are students to undertake international degrees online if they can’t travel abroad? At present, students who are not able to travel are faced with three options – begin their overseas programme online, defer commencement until overseas on-campus study is possible or opt instead for a local study option.