International study is becoming more flexible, digital and focused on employability

17 June 2021
Posted by Manoj Shetty

In what remains an uncertain time for the whole world, we continue to monitor the global higher education market. In our most recent research, insights and data analysis projects, we explored what the changing education landscape will mean for universities everywhere and learned more about the new focus on employability and lifelong learning.

Just as universities adapt and prepare, we are also launching new initiatives in response to the evolving needs of our partners and students. We’ll share some of what we’ve done but you can read about everything in more detail, along with our full research findings, in this White Paper.

Cautious optimism about a long-term recovery

Students’ desire to study overseas on-campus, for the global exposure that supports their future work prospects and to fully experience another country, is still strong and not likely to diminish anytime soon. We found that 92% of prospective international students are more willing to quarantine, than defer their academic programme.

Therefore, we expect an international student recruitment global market recovery. Caution comes from the caveat that COVID-19 variants may disrupt this and will need to be monitored closely.

A snapshot of shifting demands

In the overall recovery of the market, some of the traditional anglophile destinations are predicted to perform particularly well. Various political changes are having a significant impact, alongside some long-term effects of the pandemic.

  • The UK’s Post Study Work visa will support growth.
  • Australia may lose out as the UK gains market share and owing to Australia’s borders remaining closed.
  • The new US government’s policies are more favourable for international students.
  • Following Brexit, EU students are predicted to head to universities in France, Germany, and The Netherlands instead of the UK.
  • Asia is set to benefit from increased ‘intra-regional’ movement.

Students seek more digital, blended and flexible options

In navigating the uncertainty, we observe changes in location and modes of study preferences for some prospective international students in the short-term.

Places that traditionally have a larger language barrier and are less emigration focussed, such as China and South Korea, are more likely to consider studying for an international qualification at a campus in their home country.

We have created a Remote Learning Centre in Shanghai, China so students can study their programme online in an on-campus learning environment, interacting and building connections with other students in person. At this unique time, it gives these aspirational learners a fully flexible, blended and dynamic international student experience in their home country. We’re excited to see how centres like these become part of a suite of options for our international pathway students going forward.

Long-term, there is acceptance that the future of education will inevitably embrace flexible study, combining online learning or local study centres with blended, on-campus programmes in the destination country.

Preparing to deliver in new digital modes without compromising quality

With the growing interest in digital learning, the sector needs to prepare to meet evolving student expectations. For universities, their long-term international strategies must include the development of accessible, high-quality blended and online programmes.

With the rapid transition to remote learning during the pandemic, international student experiences of everything from teaching and learning to support and welfare were generally felt to be lacking. In addition to building more flexible academic programmes, global higher education institutions may look to third parties to supplement their provision of online support services.

Digital transformation in K-12 creates a pipeline of ‘digital native’ students

The whole education sector responded rapidly to the pandemic, moving to remote learning everywhere from K-12 to workforce training. This has accelerated the move to a more digital education landscape and prompted a greater acceptance of this change.

We have introduced new online programmes to support our learners, including: Prepare for Success and specialist courses in Academic English Skills. These courses were created with an education-first digital pedagogy approach and are designed to sustain attainment, progression and student satisfaction virtually.

Employability and lifelong learning are becoming mainstream

Employability and how education providers can better link students to job opportunities and support lifelong learning has been a talking point in the sector for some time. Initiatives such as Virtual Internships have become even more popular, with plenty of companies now specialising in what used to be a niche alternative. Plus, higher education providers are embedding transferable skills into the academic curriculum to an even greater extent and thinking to a future in which their graduates will need to regularly train and upskill.

Our Job Ready scheme in the UK delivers a pioneering new model of supporting students to build knowledge and expertise in their chosen field of study and develop professional core competencies by undertaking relevant work experience as soon as they arrive in the UK.

We’re here to help

The future really is bright and everyone in the sector is poised, not only to overcome the challenges presented by the pandemic, but to build on its positive effects.


To learn more, download our White Paper.

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