After the turmoil caused by Covid-19 and the disruption it has caused to education, particularly for students who had planned to study overseas, I feel there is some light at the end of the tunnel. Vaccination will open up many more options for Asian students who wish to study at a top university overseas, and Biden’s USA promises to be much more welcoming to international students than was the case with the Trump administration.

One of things I find striking about international university applications in 2020 was how little effect Covid-19 had on students’ ambitions to study overseas. Surveys of education agents, the main conduit for international students on their education journeys, revealed that students who were aiming to study overseas in 2021 and beyond largely planned to continue on this path. What did change, however, was when they would go, and in their chosen destinations. Students in East and South East Asia, for example, were looking at universities closer to home at the expense of the USA; or at countries that they regarded as being “safer” such as Canada or New Zealand. The UK’s reputation as being welcoming to international students and providing high quality education does not seem to have diminished, and the EU has seen a rapid rise in interest from Asian students, particularly for degree courses taught in English in the Netherlands and Germany. 

I am seeing many students who had planned to start courses in 2020 decided to defer their places until this year. Not all were able to do so as this required the agreement of the institutions to hold their places or return deposits, something that universities were reluctant to do as they feared the inevitable and sizable loss of income for this academic year. However, a significant number of international students have already confirmed places for 2021 at universities in the UK, USA, Australia and Canada and this will make it more difficult for those that are applying this year (and for 2022 entry, because of the knock-on effect), to get offers from the top universities as they have limits on student numbers. Thus, to be successful, students will need to ensure that their applications are as strong as possible as there will be increased competition for places. Recent second or third waves of Covid-19 in various countries in East and South East Asia have again caused normal schooling to be suspended, and so at this crucial time of the year when students should be preparing for their UK or US university applications they are, once again, having to do so without direct contact with their school counsellors.

James Burnett, Director at IES’s University Prep Service, says “Worryingly, many international students are again being disadvantaged in getting advice and support for their study plans. Pre-Covid, the main sources of information and advice were school counsellors, education agents, and education fairs where they could meet representatives of top universities. With schools shut, education agencies forced to close offices and bans on mass gatherings and international travel, students have struggled to get the necessary practical guidance that they need to plan properly.”

James continues “The next 2-3 months is a crucial period for Asian students who are aiming to study internationally next year. Now is the time for careful planning – choosing universities or courses, strengthening their academic and personal profiles, filling gaps in their CVs, making contact with colleges, preparing for tests and entrance exams, arranging voluntary work or internships, university personal statements, preparing for university interviews: all of these need to be in place by the time of the application. Of course, many schools will continue to give their students the high quality support that they need for their Oxbridge or Ivy League applications, but there is a danger that in a period of increased competition for top university places coupled with the practical issues of making up for lost teaching time and counsellor contact, some students will face disappointment. We hope that the support that IES University Prep continues to give schools and students will help to provide back up in these difficult times.”