ApplyInsights: 5 International Education Trends to Watch in 2022

Welcome to 2022, ApplyInsights readers! It’s a new year for the international education sector, and we think it’s going to be a great one. Though the end of the pandemic remains just out of reach, 2022 will hopefully mark a stable return to in-person education around the world.

As we detailed in our 2021 Trends Report, the pandemic shifted student trends. Concerns around cost and safety grew dramatically. Students became more willing to consider alternative destination countries and institutions, though they remained opposed to completing their entire international education online. To explore these trends and more, we’re detailing the top 5 trends to watch in international education in our first ApplyInsights of 2022.

Key Insights at a Glance

  • Travel restrictions and border closures in 2020 and 2021 will lead to an enrollment boom in 2022, though rising costs will also cause students to consider alternative destinations.
  • While hybrid learning and recruitment will continue to develop beyond the pandemic, on-campus diversity concerns will guide recruitment team decisions and plans.
  • Beyond the classroom, labour market trends will push students to different fields of study and help foster the rise of micro-credential programs.

At ApplyBoard, we saw 50% more applications for the January and May 2022 intakes than we did for the same intakes in 2021. We’ve seen strong early numbers for the September 2022 intake too.

AI 2022 Trends callout

1. Pent-Up Demand Will Drive an Enrollment Boom

When the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020, many international students put their study abroad plans on hold. As a result, there were initial fears that new international student populations would drop substantially worldwide. But new international student enrollment actually only declined by around 20% across Canada, the US, the UK, and Australia in 2020.1 And in 2021, student mobility surged once again.

In Canada alone, 50% more new student visas were approved in the first half of 2021 than in full-year 2020.2

Despite this dramatic increase, there is still a wave of pent-up student demand for international education. Assuming new COVID-19 variants don’t force additional lockdowns, 2022 is likely to be a banner year for the international education sector. Students who started courses online, or who waited for in-person classes to return, will head abroad once again to all five big English-language markets.3

The “double-cohort” that many expected to see only in 2021 will spill into 2022. We’ve already seen evidence of this at ApplyBoard, and we expect many institutions will be pushing their capacity limits throughout 2022. However, it’s important to note that this boom likely won’t last beyond 2022. We anticipate that sector growth will stabilize in 2023, returning to the annual 10% increases we saw pre-pandemic.

2. Tuition and Living Costs Will Influence Destination Decisions

If international students have made one thing clear throughout the pandemic, it’s that they haven’t given up on their dreams to pursue their education abroad. But the pandemic caused a major shift in what students consider most important when making decisions about their educational journey. Cost of living and tuition fees became the top considerations for students looking at all major English-language destinations.4

Here at ApplyBoard, we saw a major spike in students looking for programs with low tuition rates in 2021:

During the first 10 months of 2021, more than half of all students elected to only view programs with tuition fees of $30,000 or less per year. This trend of students looking for lower-cost programs is likely to continue throughout 2022 and even 2023 as global economies recover from the pandemic. Institutions which are able to offer lower-cost options, or which are located in cities with cheaper living costs, will be more attractive to price-conscious students.

Nearly 60% of prospective international students considering Canada, the US, the UK, or Australia reported that they had reconsidered where to study based on how different governments handled the pandemic.4

3. Hybrid Learning and Recruitment Will Build Momentum

Students will also face new choices—and decisions—regarding how they’d like to complete their international education. The pandemic has forced many students to begin their studies online, and many in the education sector believe hybrid learning is here to stay. There’s still a lot of work to be done to ensure students receive consistent, high-quality education under fully online or hybrid models. But 2022 will be the first true test to see what students choose when in-person, hybrid, and online programs are all available.

There are bound to be some bumps along the way. For example, although US domestic students showed rising interest in online studies pre-pandemic, international students remain largely uninterested in completing their degrees online:

But institutions have a real opportunity to overcome new resistance by investing in their online offerings. Online courses can reach a broader audience, provide an avenue to deliver introductory and transitional courses, and help schools adapt to still-changing pandemic conditions.

The same opportunities also exist for hybrid student recruitment. Throughout the pandemic, recruitment teams developed webinars, digital recruitment fairs, online tours, and a wealth of other hybrid tools that will continue to help reach more students, even post-pandemic. Institutions will have choices to make in 2022 on their recruitment strategies, and we expect that many will look to balance out their investments between online and in-person.

4. Campus Diversity Will Become More Important Than Ever

Despite the increased accessibility of online and hybrid learning options, campus diversity will remain a core focus for many institutions in 2022. A diverse student body allows students to interact with others from different backgrounds and lived experiences, enriching their on-campus experience. At ApplyBoard, our mission to educate the world includes enabling students from any country to pursue their study abroad dreams.

But diversifying student intake has other benefits as well. Established international student pipelines from multiple countries can help reduce risk for institutions and governments.

As policy shifts abroad limit or change student mobility, recruitment diversity can ensure that international student populations remain strong.

Focusing on alternative markets can also open up a world of possibilities for institutions. While China and India will remain the top two markets for international students for the foreseeable future, other markets are beginning to emerge as major source countries for international students. In our 2021 Trends Report, we identified Nigeria, Kenya, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Egypt, and Indonesia as high-growth-potential markets in the coming years. Establishing recruitment teams in these markets (or investing in existing teams) in 2022 will help drive success down the road.

5. Shifting Labour Trends Will Boost the Rise of Micro-Credentials

Emerging industries and dynamic labour markets also have the potential to shift student priorities in 2022. In all four major English-language destination markets, over 50% of students look to stay and work in the country, at least temporarily, after graduation.4 As a result, post-graduation work opportunities have become a key driver for international student mobility.

We expect that the demand for post-graduation work opportunities will only continue to grow in 2022. But the growing need for employees in new industries and high-demand fields, such as health tech and the trades, is poised to influence what and where students decide to study abroad. The knowledge that they’re getting in on the ground floor of a new sector or helping to solve a labour shortage in a high-demand profession can help assure students that investing in their education will pay off through a stable, high-wage career.

These labour trends also have the potential to drive increased institutional investment in micro-credential courses. These courses are often low-cost alternatives that focus on limited material through condensed programs. Such micro-credentials could allow international students to save money while gaining key skills in new fields, such as cryptocurrency.

The rise (and fall) of massive open online courses (MOOCs) may be a cautionary tale for any institution planning to invest heavily in micro-credentials.

Next in ApplyInsights

Over the next few months at ApplyInsights, here’s just a few of the topics we’re going to dive into:

  • Regional international student trends in the US and Canada
  • Australia’s plan to bounce back from prolonged border closures
  • Job opportunities for new grads in the UK
  • Student visa and letter of acceptance processing times

We’ll also be taking a closer look at some of the trends we’ve identified in this article, including tuition and cost of living expenses. The ApplyInsights team is excited to explore all of these issues and more in the coming year. Stay tuned!

Published: January 5, 2022

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About the ApplyInsights Team

Led by ApplyBoard Co-Founder and CMO Meti Basiri, the ApplyInsights Team analyzes the latest government and third-party data, alongside ApplyBoard internal data, to provide a complete picture of trends in the international education industry. They also work with industry experts and ApplyBoard team members to gather local insights across key source and destination countries, where ApplyBoard has helped more than 300,000 students around the world.

FOOTNOTES:

1. Institute of International Education (IIE), International Student Mobility Flows and COVID-19 Realities. July 29, 2021.

2. Canada study permit data provided courtesy of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC).

3. The United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

4. According to International Student Surveys conducted in 2021 by Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) focusing on Canada, the US, the UK, and Australia as destination markets.