Four in 10 universities expecting international undergraduate enrolment rises

The Pathway from International School to Higher Education report from ISC Research also indicated that around half of the higher education institutions it surveyed opted for more detailed interviews and more references during a year when final exit examinations at schools have been cancelled.

Of the 165 institutional respondents in 23 countries, 48% said they were allowing entry to new international students for the 2021/22 academic year without traditional grades or scores. Some 73% said they used detailed interviews and 41% used more references when examination transcripts were not available.

Of the 41% of institutions suggesting they expected an increase in international students for the upcoming academic year, 46% were from the UK, 16% from the US, 13.5% from The Netherlands and 8% from Spain.

“This report calls for global exploration… to identify effective models for change”

“The most common explanation for this related to deferrals from 2020, but also included student acceptance of online study options, shifts in destination preference, and the expansion/ improvement of international outreach because of online recruitment activities,” the report noted.

However, 37% of respondents said they expected the same level of international enrolments and 22% expected lower numbers.

While some higher education institutions “appear to be embracing this period of disruption as an opportunity for change, others do not”, the report contended.

“This report calls for global exploration of challenges faced and changes being implemented by some institutions to identify effective models for change.”

To mitigate disruptions around recruitment fair cancellations, changes to country entry requirements and reduced international recruitment budgets, respondents said they had adapted marketing and recruitment strategies, increased direct social media engagement with students and hosted virtual group events and one-to-one sessions.

During the pandemic, the most prevalent admissions criteria for institutions were secondary school leaving qualification and academic grades, despite the changes in criteria when transcripts were not available.

This is followed by evidence of language proficiency, applicant motivation, knowledge and commitment to subject or discipline applied for, personal statement, interview, and strength of written communication.

Some 68% of universities reported no changes to the weighting of their admissions criteria during the pandemic. “Although some HEIs have applied more flexibility, many have continued to rely on their standard admissions criteria with no change,” the paper said.

Institutions also called for more career preparation and pathways by embedding career readiness into the curriculum through internships and part-time job opportunities, and a focus on specific industry skills, to ensure student success.

The report “calls for transformation of the pathway of students as they leave school” featuring open dialogue across the sector to question whether current model remains fit for purpose and consider new ways of student assessment, skills and qualification tracking, and selection criteria based on equality and accessibility, it noted.

A “growing number” of English-medium higher education institutions are strategically targeting English-medium international schools, with international officers increasingly working directly with international school college counsellors, the research found.

With the growth in English-medium international schools globally over the last decade – the number increased from 7,655 to 12,373 between July 2011 and July 2021 and ISC estimating approximately 450,000 students are exiting the schools during the summer of 2021 – the paper urged universities to engage with international school college counsellors.

“Ongoing groundwork by field-based researchers at ISC Research indicates that most international schools employ dedicated full-time college counsellors to guide students on their higher education pathway in preference to using independent agents,” it said.

“Some HEIs may be missing an important international student audience if relying solely on agents”

“This suggests that some HEIs may be missing an important international student audience if relying solely on agents.”

“When we are looking for students who have the academic background necessary to be successful, and the resources to be able to afford to come to a place like Syracuse University, the international schools market is a really critical part of our recruitment strategy,” the institution’s director of International Admissions Jennifer Mathews noted in the report.

“In addition, many international schools around the world have either a fully English medium of instruction, or are bilingual and still do part of their curriculum in English, which is great preparation to be successful at a US institution.”

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