International schools and higher education institutions share a goal to support the international student pathway to higher education. International schools deliver it through their teaching and learning approach and their dedicated college and career counselling support. Universities adapt their undergraduate admissions process for international students. This has been severely tested during COVID-19.
To better understand how the world’s universities are moving forward in the light of these challenges, ISC Research conducted research with higher education institutions this summer. 165 higher education institutions from 23 countries participated in the research. A free report is now available, along with a white paper containing reactions from international school college counsellors to the research results.
More international entry this year
The report suggests that 41% of universities are expecting an increase in their international undergraduate entry for the 2021-2022 academic year, this despite continuing restrictions to entry for some countries.
Lucien Giordano, Director of International Outreach and Alumni Engagement at Education in Motion which includes Dulwich College International, Dulwich International High School, Dehong Education and Green School said this reflects what his team is seeing across the school group: “The responses from those universities anticipating higher undergraduate entry makes sense to me in terms of the numbers. I think the true driving factors are Class of 2020 coming back in as a result of COVID and political/social concerns.”
He explains in the ISC Research white paper that EiM has been experiencing interesting trends in final destinations of departing students in the last two years: “Last year we saw a doubling of students to Australia, an increase in the UK, a dip in Europe and Canada, and a 14% decline in the US. This year, we are seeing a move closer to pre-COVID patterns with the US favored over the UK.”
Adjustments to admissions evidence
With many examinations cancelled, some universities adapted their admissions processes. 48% of higher education institutions (HEIs) surveyed said they are allowing entry to new international students this year without traditional grades or scores. Instead, they used alternative criteria for their admissions, such as more detailed interviews (73% of HEIs) and more references (41% of HEIs).
Brian Marshall, Director of University Counselling at Raha International School in the UAE said he felt this reflected the reality of what his school has seen this year. “Many universities are deeply rooted in history and resistant to change,” he told the white paper. “I find that the younger the university, the more the admission teams are open to considering a different way to suit the current situation. In general, the resistance to change by some universities has led to criticism, from numerous groups, of universities no longer performing in the role they were designed; that of contributing and leading society to the necessary changes to meet the current and future needs of humanity on this planet.”
Almost one third (32%) of institutions in the research said they had made changes to the weighting of admissions criteria when selecting international applicants for 2021 entry. This included increased weight to English language competency, portfolios, auditions, and grades from previous years and several universities offered more flexibility on evidence submission dates. However, many universities made no changes. The report highlights one UK university saying: “It would be impossible for us to ensure equality across all markets. I think grades are here to stay.”
Mick Amundsen-Geisel, High School Counsellor at International School Yangon in Myanmar told the white paper: “I’m unsure I have seen much evidence of universities adapting to admissions criteria although waiving the SAT requirement has taken some anxiety out of the process, and the expansion of the different ways to show English proficiency has also helped.”
Will Covid be the catalyst?
The report highlights some higher education institutions saying that COVID-19 has provided the catalyst for change that was already necessary. Many cited a recognition of new ways to approach international undergraduate recruitment and admissions. An Australian university said, “Universities must simplify the undergraduate admissions process and they have to be agile to deal with changes in admissions. Local government and governance support is essential otherwise it is impossible to implement any impactful policy changes.”
Several universities highlighted the international school sector as an increasingly reliable international target audience. “It drives a large percentage of our population,” said one university in the US. “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 us, the international schools market is a really critical part of our recruitment strategy.”
Lauren Sharman, Head of Post Secondary Engagement at South Island School in Hong Kong, who contributed to the white paper, complimented some HEIs: “The wealth of online resources from universities has benefitted international students who weren't able to visit campuses. Universities have made themselves highly available online and have been very supportive of counselors.”
Several institutions referenced a new realization of the distinct support necessary for their students from other countries through all stages of selection, application, entry, and retention. “International students are essential to us, so we have to better support them,” said one UK university.
A call for change
The research suggests that some institutions are open and adaptable to change and, as a result, respond to opportunities as they arise, while others are resistant to change and do not recognise the increasing competition for undergraduates from emerging destinations as well as alternative pathways. “Conservative universities that aren’t quick to adapt, have a high risk of losing enrollment,” said one US university.
The report suggests a global exploration of the challenges faced and the changes being implemented by some institutions to identify effective models for change. It also calls for transformation of the pathway of students as they leave secondary education, beginning with open dialogue involving all voices, including that of the student, to consider new ways of assessment, of the tracking of skills and qualification, and of selection criteria based on equality and accessibility, that best supports all people and all pathways.
The research report and white paper are available free to download from the ISC Research website.
A webinar hosted by ISC Research addressing how international schools, universities and partners can work together to support students throughout their pathway decision-making process took place on September 23rd. Panelists included EiM’s Group Director of International Outreach, Lucien Giordano, who contributed to the white paper, and Anne Kuijs, International Recruitment Advisor at Tilburg University, as a representative of the Dutch Research University Consortium. More details about the webinar are available here.
Anne Keeling is the Communications Director at ISC Research