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International educators discuss how the pandemic is shaping the future of higher education at a webinar

Prof Joshua Mok Ka-ho, Vice-President of Lingnan University, participated in the “Higher Education in The Plague Year – the Transformative Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic” webinar on May 21 and shared the influence of the pandemic on students’ decision on studying abroad, particularly those from Hong Kong and mainland China.


The webinar was hosted by the Centre for Global Higher Education (CGHE) and moderated by Prof Simon Marginson, Professor of Higher Education at the University of Oxford, with Susan Robertson, Professor of Sociology of Education at the University of Cambridge, Nick Hillman, Director of HEPI and Prof Mok as speakers.


Introducing the event, Prof Marginson said that the pandemic is “the most important topic of our professional lifetime”, noting that it was proving more transformative than “Brexit, Trump, climate change, and the US-China Cold War.” Prof Marginson noted the effects that the restrictions on international travel are having on the internationalisation of education, on funding, on the value of education, and on communities whose economies rely on the presence of international students.  “The future of higher education will depend crucially on the right calls being made in the next 18 months or so,” Prof Marginson said.


“We do not know how the pandemic will play out, so any conclusions are necessarily speculative,” Prof Mok said. “Some institutions in Australia, the UK and the US have been relying on international students…. Now that borders are controlled, and in some cases locked down, the internationalisation of education is facing huge challenges.”


There are numerous implications for small towns whose economies depend on international students, especially university towns. The restrictions could result in economic problems and job losses in such places, Prof Mok added.


A survey by British Council which interviewed 11,000 Chinese students considering higher education in the UK finds that 39 per cent of respondents were undecided about whether to cancel their study plans or not, Prof Mok said. Twenty-two per cent of the 8,481 Chinese respondents who applied to study this year were likely or very likely to cancel their plans to study in the UK, while 27 per cent said they were not at all likely to cancel or highly unlikely to cancel, according to the survey. Seventy-nine per cent of respondents said they would be concerned about their health and wellbeing if they studied in the UK, while 87 per cent said they were concerned about personal safety.


Prof Mok also shared some preliminary findings of the ongoing survey “Understanding Hong Kong and mainland students’ intentions to study overseas after the COVID-19 crisis” conducted by Lingnan. “Among the 2,579 respondents, only 15.6 per cent said they would be interested in studying overseas, and 84.4 per cent said they would not be going,” he said.


The survey also finds that the most popular destinations for overseas study are the US (17.1%), Hong Kong (13.3%), and the UK (12.2%). “Asian universities could benefit from the situation; many parents are satisfied with how the region has handled the pandemic. They will consequently wish to send their children to nearby Asian countries to study,” Prof Mok said.