How International Students are Responding to COVID-19

international students COVID-19

Latest QS survey findings shed new light on how prospective international students are responding to the coronavirus crisis, and what they need from universities

An ongoing QS survey of prospective international students is revealing how attitudes and responses to COVID-19 are shifting.  

As of 16 April, 53% of respondents have stated that the coronavirus has impacted their plans to study abroad, compared to only 27% of respondents in the first analysis of the results on 26 February and 35% on 12 March 

Of the 53% of respondents whose plans have been impacted by COVID-19, 46% now intend to defer or delay their entry until next year, highlighting that international students may be deferred but they’re not deterred.   

As such, it’s important that institutions keep communication channels open and consistent, as these students are still interested in international education once the crisis has abated.  

To aid them through these uncertain times, prospective international students are seeking further information in the following areas:  

  • Funding and scholarships (57%)
  • Choosing a study destination (37%) 
  • How to prepare for admissions exams (33%)  
  • Application and essay writing (28%) 
  • Researching which program to study (27%) 
  • Alternative forms of study (23%) 

When it comes to how often prospective international students want universities to contact them with coronavirus-related news, 27% would like daily or more, 32% would like a few times a week, 24% would like once a week, and 7% would like fortnightly or less.  

In a separate survey of higher education professionals across the globe, 19% of respondents stated that they contact international students daily or more, 37% are in contact a few times a week, 17% reach out once a week, and 7% are in contact fortnightly or less.  

This demonstrates that institutions are already taking steps to meet international students’ communication needs, which is increasingly important as the crisis continues.  

Unsurprisingly, surveyed prospective international students preferred email (78%) as their preferred communication method, followed by WhatsApp (31%), text messaging (24%), Facebook (19%), and real-time chat messaging on the university’s website (19%).  

In terms of the formats they’d like to receive the above information in, respondents chose:  

  • Online newsletters (51%) 
  • Dedicated sections on university websites (45%) 
  • Online forums and discussion groups (32%) 
  • Videos (28%) 
  • Instant messaging and chat bots (24%) 
  • Blogs (22%) 
  • Pictures (19%) 
  • Phone calls (12%) 
  • Podcasts (11%) 
  • Printed newsletters (10%) 

This reiterates the importance of online communication channels when reaching out to international students, and the declining relevance of printed materials.  

Prospective international students also selected a range of options for the updates they want to receive from universities during the coronavirus crisis. These include:  

  • Changes to my application deadlines (53%) 
  • Changes to the application process (51%) 
  • Changes to the dates of any entrance exams (44%) 
  • Restrictions on the number of international students the university can enroll (42%) 
  • Changes to my course structure e.g. how much is online learning now (41%) 
  • Measures the university has implemented to slow the spread of the coronavirus on campus (37%) 
  • Restrictions on the ability of universities to make unconditional offers (31%) 
  • Changes to English language test requirements (27%) 
  • How to defer my application (11%) 

The focus on application intricacies and enrollment issues demonstrates that international students are still focused on international study and may be concerned about how to navigate these hurdles during such a tumultuous time. 

Institutions can inform and support these students by providing clear, constant communication about these changes and how their university is addressing coronavirus-related issues as they emerge.  

Interestingly, deferring applications was the lowest priority in this list, which suggests that either students have already made this decision (as per our findings above) or students are focusing on application priorities for the next academic year.  

To explore more insights from QS research, please download our report: The Impact of the Coronavirus on Global Higher Education 


More QS Insights

Building boundaries
Read more

Sign up for industry insights

Receive the latest insights, expertise and commentary on the topics which matter most in higher education, straight to your inbox.

Sign up