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Exclusive QS survey results have revealed how higher education institutions are addressing the coronavirus outbreak.   

As the coronavirus crisis continues, many universities across the globe have been forced to close campuses and shift to online learning platforms.

These unprecedented conditions are inspiring higher education institutions to innovate and create new ways of learning for their quarantined students.

As part of QS’s ongoing coronavirus research, we asked university professionals to reveal how the global health emergency has impacted their operations and how they’re responding to the evolving crisis.

According to our analysts, survey respondents stated that they’d implemented the following measures:

  • Switched some of our scheduled courses online (50%)
  • Delayed the start dates for some of our courses until the following semester (19%)
  • Changed our application deadlines for our next intake (17%)
  • Changed our offer acceptance deadlines for our next intake (16%)
  • Deferred some of our 2020 offers to 2021 (13%)
  • Started conducting our own English language tests (8%)
  • Condensed pre-session English language courses into the main degree (2%)

The impact on student recruitment 

When it came to student recruitment, 50% of respondents believed that the coronavirus would have a detrimental impact on the number of student applications they received at their institution.

In contrast, 26% thought the number of student applications would stay the same, 6% said they would increase, and 18% didn’t know what the impact would be.

To address these shifts in student recruitment, 34% of respondents were currently looking to diversify the source countries which they relied on for recruitment purposes.

However, 30% of respondents were still considering this change, 20% weren’t looking to diversify, and 16% didn’t know.

Institutions are considering a wide range of markets to expand their recruitment activities into: Brazil, Colombia, France, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Malaysia, Mexico, Pakistan, Philippines, the Republic of Korea, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Thailand, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, and Vietnam are all mentioned as new territories.

When asked what student recruitment activities had become more or less important as a result of the coronavirus, institutions gave the following responses:

  • In-person events and fairs: 59% less important, 16% more important, 24% not applicable
  • Digital events: 75% more important, 8% less important, 17% not applicable
  • Qualified one-to-one, in-person meetings: 45% less important, 24% more important, 30% not applicable
  • Qualified one-to-one, online meetings: 70% more important, 10% less important, 19% not applicable
  • Lead generation: 52% more important, 13% less important, 36% not applicable
  • Digital marketing: 73% more important, 7% less important, 20% not applicable

Unsurprisingly, digital and online methods are becoming more vital as the coronavirus forces prospective students and institutions to meet and communicate through digital means.

When discussing the language requirements for international students, 39% of institutions said they wouldn’t be admitting students who hadn’t completed the required language tests, due to coronavirus restrictions.

In contrast, 17% stated that they would be admitting these students and 27% said they were still considering this change.

The Pie News recently reported that more than 1,000 US institutions are now accepting language test results from the Duolingo English Test (a language learning app), either as supporting evidence in conjunction with other English proficiency measures or as stand-alone proof.

The impact on international students

QS also asked institutions how often they were in contact with current international students with news or updates related to the coronavirus. These were the results:

  • A few times a week (39%)
  • Daily or more (25%)
  • Once per week (17%)
  • Fortnightly or less (4%)
  • We’re not contacting our students specifically about the coronavirus (4%)
  • Don’t know (10%)

It seems that while the majority are frequently reaching out to international students with coronavirus-related updates, some are missing out on key opportunities to inform and reassure their international students.

The majority of institutions are using email to communicate coronavirus updates (87%), while almost half are using social media (44%), and some are using phone calls (24%) and WeChat (17%) for communications with Chinese students.

When asked whether the satisfaction and retention of international students has been discussed in planning discussions as a result of coronavirus, 25% said it had been discussed, 36% said it hadn’t, and 39% didn’t know.

For those who had discussed the satisfaction and retention of international students, many emphasized the online learning tools, training those with limited English proficiency on these tools, and reassuring international students and addressing their concerns promptly.

The impact on student mobilities and university partnerships

As expected, student mobilities and global university partnerships have been significantly impacted by the coronavirus outbreak.

Of those surveyed, 21% said they were still hosting recruitment events on campus and 23% plan to send representatives to international courses. However, these activities are looking increasingly unlikely as air travel is restricted and more nations close their borders.

When it comes to international partnerships, 44% of respondents said that they were receiving more attention, while 46% said there had been no change, and 11% said they were receiving less attention.

In relation to student mobilities, 52% said they were receiving more attention, 37% said there had been no change, and 11% said they were receiving less attention.

Locating and communicating with mobile students and staff is easy for most institutions as 28% said that it’s very easy, 42% said it’s moderately easy, and only 8% said it was moderately difficult.

It’s clear that these are uncertain times for universities and students across the globe. QS is committed to supporting the higher education sector by providing up-to-date resources and information on the coronavirus crisis. Please explore our COVID-19 Resources Hub for the latest updates.

Please also refer to our report 4 Essential Tools for Online Student Recruitment for more information on digital recruitment opportunities.


About the Author: 

As the B2B Content Marketing Manager, Sarah Linney is responsible for communicating the insights, research, and market analysis that have positioned QS as a thought leader in the higher education sector. After completing a Communications-Journalism degree at Charles Sturt University in Australia, Sarah worked in radio news and B2B print publishing before joining the content marketing sector. While working at a content marketing agency, Sarah was transferred to their New York office. She then led content marketing efforts at two tech startups in New York as a Content Manager before deciding to make the move to the UK and QS.