International admissions: encouraging signs for 2021–2022?

International admissions: encouraging signs for 2021–2022?

With the new academic year right around the corner, higher education institutions across Europe are wrapping up their international admissions activities and looking toward the finish line in the student recruitment process, ie the actual enrolment of students and commencement of their studies. But, as in 2020, we are clearly not operating in a business-as-usual environment. The COVID-19 pandemic continues to disrupt travel plans and, in many cases, affect the ability of institutions to offer in-person learning experiences.

Managing admissions processes under such fluid and complex circumstances is, of course, extremely challenging, but one way to counter the uncertainty of this effort is to endeavour to get a sense of the broader trends around us. What do we actually know at this critical stage regarding the status of international student applications and expected enrolment?

To shed some light on this question, the EAIE circulated a short survey from 18 June to 05 July 2021, asking for representatives of higher education institutions across the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) to give us an indication of trends in their application numbers and enrolment expectations. We received just over 330 answers from 37 out of the 49 total EHEA countries, giving us, if not an exhaustive picture, then certainly a set of indications from a geographically, linguistically and culturally diverse range of institutions.

The immediate signs seem to be fairly positive. A majority of respondents (55%) indicate that their application numbers are up in comparison to 2020, while just 13% have seen a drop in these numbers as compared to last year. The phenomenon of rising numbers appears to be quite diffuse geographically, with just 5 out the 37 countries represented in the responses failing to report a rise in numbers.

On the expected enrolment front, the picture is similar, if ever so slightly less optimistic. A smaller majority of respondents foresee a rise in international student enrolments, as compared to the percentage of respondents reporting an increase in application numbers over last year. And in the case of nine countries, growth in expected enrolment numbers was not reported at all.

Rough indications of increasing or decreasing application patterns or enrolment expectations offer a first level of understanding about what the international admissions process will yield this year. More interesting, of course, are more detailed insights, for example with respect to the size of these fluctuations. So, by what kinds of percentages are institutions seeing growth or decline in their application numbers or enrolment forecasts? Which specific countries are reporting the strongest increases or decreases in their international student applications? What percentage of institutions are clear about their plans to offer in-person or online instruction for next year?

Insights into to these kinds of questions are available in the full data set captured by the EAIE snapshot survey, which will be published in early August as an EAIE member-only benefit. Hopefully, these details will help international admissions staff and other key stakeholders reflect on their situation as they consider the international enrolment scenarios they face this year, and place their experience into a broader context. Stay tuned for more on this front, EAIE members!