Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore

Cattolica International

Bring on the digital revolution. Meet the experts. Keri Ramirez, Studymove

What global impact did the COVID-19 pandemic have on the number of international students wishing to enroll in Higher Education Institutions for the academic year 2020/2021? How have these numbers changed compared to the previous academic year?
Like other countries, the Australian higher education sector is dealing with a period of uncertainty, complexity, and confusion unlike anything we have known before and one of the areas which have been seriously affected is the recruitment of international students.
After years of success in attracting international students, during 2020, the Australian university sector experienced its first drop in new enrolments in seven years. Preliminary figures from the Department of Education show that in 2020, the sector experienced a 23% decrease in new enrolments in comparison to 2019. 
Some of the key markets such as China and India experienced the most significant decrease in new enrolments with a decline of 14% and 45% respectively.
Fortunately, the success from previous years in attracting international students provides an exceptionally larger number of international students who initially started their programme in 2018 or 2019 and continued their studies in 2020 helping to reduce the impact of COVID-19.
As a result, the total number of international total enrolments (new and continuing) decreased by only 4% in comparison to 2019.

What standards did international students consider when enrolling for the 2020/2021 academic year?

The story of 2020 for the Australian international education sector was quite different from other countries in the northern hemisphere. In Australia, the majority of international students started their programme in February 2020 just before the disruption of COVID-19. So for a large number of students starting their programme at an Australian university, their decision was based on pre-COVID-19.
However, we should note that there was a second group of students representing more than 52,000 international students who were affected by COVID-19 and started their programme after March 2020.  For this second group of international students, the decision-making process was quite different and there were some factors which they considered in choosing Australia under the new environment created by the pandemic.


a. A successful transfer to online education
Although the process managed by universities in order to pivot from face-to-face education to online was not perfect, there is now evidence which shows that student satisfaction remained high after universities transfer their programmes to an online mode. This gave reassurance to international applicants that the study experience via online channels was a good temporary measure considering the challenging time that the world is facing.

b. Flexibility
The higher education sector offered flexible study options to support the experience of international students. For example, students were allowed to take a lower study load if necessary and many universities created a more flexible academic year with different entry points for international students. 
The Australian Government also implemented a more flexible approach and offered international students (located either within or outside of Australia) access to Post Study Work rights after completing their programme. 

The COVID-19 pandemic made it challenging for international students to complete the administrative procedures necessary to enrol in a Higher Education Institution. How did some countries modify or adapt their enrolment and admission procedures?

Interestingly, the overall admission process within the higher education sector did not change significantly and this created a favourable level of certainty for applicants, their families and education agents. Australia has a great tradition of utilising online channels to facilitate the admission and enrolment process for international students and this assisted universities to face the challenges experienced in 2020.

KERI RAMIREZ is an Economist with over seventeen years’ experience in international education. He previously worked at Macquarie University after completing his Master in International Business. He was the Virtual Marketing Coordinator at Macquarie International which saw him manage, not only the universities international online marketing strategies, but also managed the marketing intelligence reports, student communication and enquiry protocols for Macquarie International.
He established Studymove in 2007 and has completed various consulting projects for numerous Australian and International universities in the areas of benchmarking, marketing intelligence and online marketing.
Keri loves stats and loves telling a story with data! He has presented at various domestic and international conferences including AIEC, APAIE and NAFSA.

Article featured on Worldbound, edition n.6-2021.