WINNERS

The US

The US seems to have been the only major destination not to introduce a sector-rocking migration policy in the last 12 months. Numbers were confirmed to be back over a million in November, showing that the country, while not the powerhouse it once was, still takes in the most international students across the world. Study abroad saw an incredible increase on 2020/21 numbers, too – a staggering 1,197%. For one university, it was a really great year – VCU was given a $2m anonymous donation for its study abroad efforts.

A snag was a letter from the DOE on third-party guidance – which almost led to legislation effectively banning agents from practicing in the US. It shocked US stakeholders but later clarification noted that study abroad and international recruitment would be exempt. 

AI 

Artificial Intelligence has been one of the biggest talking points in 2023. From the wider release of ChatGPT and the edtech sub-sector jumping on AI technology to supercharge its products, to HEIs debating how it could be used, whether for good or evil, we haven’t been able to stop talking about its implications. 

But, do we actually know whether this could be a winner for the sector? So much of this technology is untested, and players at a big edtech conference in June said it may not be long before we move on to the next big trend. We’ll have to see whether AI is still as much of a big topic at the end of 2024…

Germany 

German universities have been ticking along happily throughout 2023 – but the big story for the country is how it has reached a record 370,000 international students enrolled in the first semester of the 2022/23 academic year. For reference, the US has just over a million foreign students on its shores. 

Germany, with a population of 83 million to the USA’s 300 million, has just over a third of that number. It’s also attracting international students with a nice price point and work opportunities, and Indians are flocking to the country with over 25,000 visa applications over the last two semesters. Speaking of…

Indian students can “simply choose” to go somewhere else

India

While international students from India are seeing some problems with visa delays and loan issues, 2023 has been a banner year for them. Due to their increasing numbers across the world, many destinations – especially new destinations, like Germany, are winning them over. In essence, they have their pick of the litter. 

Sanam Arora, chair of NISAU UK, recently made the point that if the UK government continues on its mission to reduce international student bodies across the country, Indian students can “simply choose” to go somewhere else. As an added bonus, Indian students also recently overtook Chinese students as the most populous demographic in the US figures, having not been far behind in 2021/22 data.  

LOSERS

Politicians 

Across the world, politicians have not endeared themselves to the sector in 2023. A prime example was then UK home secretary Suella Braverman, whose swift decree that international masters taught students would no longer be able to bring dependents from 2024 saw sector-wide outcry. Her successor has also sowed more seeds of worry, with a “review of the Graduate route” to be conducted after James Cleverly’s far-reaching migration announcement. 

Politicians in other countries have fared better, announcing policies that they say are designed to protect students and the integrity of immigration systems.

Canada’s new immigration minister Marc Miller announced measures to “crack down” on “bad actors”, he followed it with a steep hike in proof of funds needed by foreign students. Australia’s comprehensive Migration Review detailed heightened visa scrutiny and a crippling of post-study work rights. Some say other measures are unsustainable, especially…

Australia’s Vocational Colleges

The VET sector in Australia has come under fire throughout 2023. The year began with a slump in visa issuance rates for the sector, followed by a ban on concurrent enrolments and even suggestions from a parliament committee to suspend recruitment on some courses and pause setups of new providers – moves ITECA chief Troy Williams deemed a “death knell”. 

The Migration Review did not help matters, decreeing visa processing would be slower for those going to “higher-risk providers” – something ITECA said made cause for “significant concern”. “The language in the Migration Strategy is reckless and ignores the high-quality skills training outcomes that the majority of international students in Australia receive,” Williams said at the time. With the introduction of an “integrity unit”, here’s hoping VET can flourish in 2024.

Dependants and Women 

Two demographics, often going hand in hand, that may well find it more difficult to flourish in the coming year are dependants of international students and women. Former UK home secretary Braverman’s ban on international master’s taught students having dependents in the UK left students scrambling to secure places before the end-of-year deadline, and marked drops in enrolments from Nigeria and India are sparking cause for concern. 

The Taliban continued to crack down on female education

Noted by HEPI director Nick Hillman was the fact that a large majority of the group bringing dependants are women, meaning that they would be even more adversely affected by the looming changes in the UK. Also affected this year were Afghan women, as the Taliban continued to crack down on female education, including banning over 60 women from travelling to Dubai to take up scholarships.

The Netherlands

At the end of 2022, there were growing concerns among Dutch universities that there would be a crackdown on soaring international student enrolment. In 2023, that came – and began to spell disaster for the country’s internationalisation efforts. In the early months, a halt on international recruitment was requested by then education minister Robbert Dijkgraaf.

Throughout the year, the Dutch parliament continuously debated crippling changes to universities ability to recruit, as well as a bill on internationalisation detailing drastic cuts to English-language programs. That bill will be on the docket for discussion come the new year, after an election spelled even further difficulty for university stakeholders, with far-right populist Geert Wilders firmly taking victory. The sector hopes to battle for more measured reform in 2024.

And yes – that is the same Geert Wilders who was refused entry to the UK for his views on Islam.

End

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