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The effect of COVID on international student numbers

Two years after the COVID-19 outbreak, we can now clearly see the effects the pandemic has had on international student mobility. Governments, funding agencies and institutions around Europe have been researching and reporting on student mobility in higher education and the number of outgoing and incoming students. ACA members have been at the forefront of this effort with relevant reports shedding a light on the effects the pandemic has had on credit and degree international student numbers in EU countries.

The Finnish National Agency for Education (EDUFI) conducted a survey in November 2021, targeted at the 37 Finnish HEIs, the results of which clearly reported the number of credit incoming students in Finland remaining lower than normal in winter semester 2021.

Findings of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) Snapshot Survey on enrolment figures of international degree students in the same period highlighted a different result. According to the DAAD report, the total number of international students in the 2021/22 winter semester increased from around 325 000 in the 2020/21 winter semester to around 330 000 to 350 000 international students.

Following the same pattern, Swiss federal statistics showed that the number of international students heading to Swiss universities continued to rise by 4% (compared to 2019), despite the health crisis and associated travel restrictions. Even though the pandemic doesn’t seem to have affected total student numbers in Switzerland, there has been a slight decrease of third-country nationals in certain universities.

It is clear that credit mobility has suffered more than degree mobility, which comes as no surprise, especially taking under consideration that the uncertainty about the COVID-19 situation made many students postpone applying for a mobility period until the spring semester 2022, as the situation was expected to improve by then with vaccinations becoming more common. With virtual or blended credit mobility schemes currently being explored as a permanent alternative rather than as temporary solutions, we should expect improvements in credit mobility numbers even if the pandemic continues in the next years.