Survey reveals impact of epidemic on study abroad plans

A new study by QS has revealed how the coronavirus outbreak is affecting international students’ plans to study abroad.

QS, publishers of the QS World University Rankings and, surveyed more than 2,000 international students from Africa, Asia and Australasia who have been planning to study abroad to see how the coronavirus outbreak has affected their plans. They found that:

  • • Nearly two-thirds (60%) of respondents said their plans to study abroad had not been affected by the coronavirus.

  • • However, over a quarter (27%) of respondents said their plans to study abroad had been affected.

  • • Some 8.7% said they now intend to defer their entry to next year. In addition, 7.5% said that they now intend to study in a different country, while 2.4% said they no longer wanted to study abroad.

Health concerns were cited as one of the main reasons why respondents had changed their plans.

According to a statement on QS’s website, many respondents cited health concerns as the key reason why they decided to change their study plans.

One respondent said: “I got accepted into an MBA programme in Hong Kong; however, I declined the offer due to a few factors, one of them being the proximity to the coronavirus outbreak.”

Another prospective student said the virus has already impacted many students: “The coronavirus has affected so many people, either directly or indirectly, because so many of us were planning to go to Europe or China for our studies, but the outbreak of this disease has scared people away.”

The research published by QS on Wednesday follows the recent spread of the virus across areas of Southeast Asia. Travel restrictions in parts of Asia and Australasia have already stopped thousands of students from returning to or beginning their studies abroad.

Commenting on the findings, Nunzio Quacquarelli, CEO of QS, said: “Today’s findings come at a crucial time for the global higher education sector, as universities start planning for the next academic year. The data suggests that although the coronavirus is creating a great deal of uncertainty, the impact is mostly one of timing. In response, the sector should aim to be flexible on application deadlines and delayed start dates.”

Flexibility needed

In its statement, QS advised universities that allowing students to defer, whether that’s for a semester or a year, and offering greater leniency around strict application processes and deadlines will help ease the burden on prospective students and provide them with “more avenues to study at your institution”.

“With such a large proportion of students deciding to defer until the health crisis has dissipated, universities will need to be more flexible than ever before.”

For the survey, individuals were contacted in 10 countries in Asia, Africa and Australasia with the highest number from Pakistan (17.9%), followed by Nigeria (15.5%), India (15.2%), China (13.2%), Ghana (12.5%), Kenya (7.1%), Bangladesh (5.6%), Indonesia (5.1%), Australia (4.1%) and Nepal (3.7%).

Of the respondents, nearly 60% were planning to study overseas, 29% were already studying overseas and 12% were not studying overseas and had no plans to do so.

The fieldwork for the survey was carried out between 14 and 24 February.