Covid19 and International Student Recruitment: There is a way to “bounce back” even without a vaccine…

Let me begin with a disclaimer… A friend recently told me that while a week is a long time in politics, even a day is long in the Covid19 era. This has been true over the last month. However now I find that with most countries gradually getting a  handle on the virus, some planning on the BC(Before Covid19) and AC(After Covid19) strategies can begin. 

I have had well-wishers encourage me and keeping me motivated by indicating that all are affected, many have lost jobs and many businesses are non functional and so all will be back to normal soon. Just let the lockdowns end… Most businesses will indeed see increased economic activities as soon as lockdowns are eased. Restaurants may not spring back to usual businesses immediately but will be functional and recover costs. Even travel agents will start doing domestic travel bookings and well life will take a new turn. Some industries are already doing very well and will do even better. Many IT and Engineering companies can expect greater business in the coming months. Yes, there will be a recession but unlike other recessions from the past, it will be relatively short lived and the economy will possibly see a V or an U graph. But they don’t get it on what “international education trade” will go through…

Take a look at this simple graphic that has been circulating that gives one some indication on the sectors that are affected and the others that have benefited from Covid19. It is simple and broadly accurate.

International Education Recruitment is doubly impacted. The above graphic indicates “aviation and tourism/travel” and also “education” amongst the affected sectors. Aviation has been fully impacted but we do know that it will have to come back albeit in a reduced way as early as in two months with certain changes. Airlines are already re-configuring their seatings etc and the way they can make travel safe. Education has been impacted by about 20% as that is the share of international students on the campuses of Universities as an average with some being more dependent than others. Our sector(international education recruitment) requires both to be in the green to survive. The trade is dependent on “international travel” and we are not sure as when “student travel” will recommence. Thus we can’t even plan. Will it be a period of inactivity for 3 months or 6 months or a year? The focus of the “study destinations” at this time is to contain the health pandemic while some have also started to consider the economic disruption also. This is where my blog pitches in.

I fully understand that the countries have been very sincere in their efforts and have saved lives. Strong leaderships styles have emerged. Jacinda Arden of NZ has been toasted for her approach while that of Scott Morrison has been equally successful though more economically appealing. We have to bear in mind their political affiliations. Boris Johnson went through his own ordeal and has still some work to complete. Justin Trudeau has been admirable. Donald Trump has not been leading as such but “It pains me to say it but Donald Trump is right: we cannot let the cure be worse than the disease,” said Princeton-based Australian philosopher Singer.

“Our leaders are working tirelessly, their hearts are in the right place and their efforts are admirable. But never before has it been so apparent that our political class has a narrow range of life experiences; hardly any of them have ever employed anyone with their own money or run their own ­business.”

I generally applaud them on their effort. I also expect that by June or July, most of the countries would have flattened the curve and eased most of the domestic restrictions. Australia and NZ will most certainly begin face to face teaching in the study semester by July. There will be some social distancing measures for a long time. International trade too will begin including with china. But the question will remain about “international travel”…

This virus arrived in countries due to “international travel” and the countries can’t risk allowing travellers once again to bring back the virus. Even a small number of infected can ruin the containment.

Blocking international travel for too long can’t be the solution in today’s connected world. The arguments given by some political leaders or commentators is that we may have to keep the virus contained till there is a vaccine and once there is a vaccine, then we can gradually open up to international travel. This is bizarre. Bizarre because…

“A vaccine may never arrive and, even if it does, most experts say that a 12 to 18-month timeframe is the best we can hope for. After this, there will have to be a rollout, with the neediest at the front of the queue. This, then, could mean a vaccine is two years away. Yet we have been conditioned to prepare for a six-month window of lockdown, but hope for a shorter time. Even then, there is a push-back now against this timeframe, and agitation to loosen restrictions. This tension between these competing interests has seen the gap of the missing six to 12 months (or longer) ignored.”

So, can we still restart the engine of “international student recruitment”? Even before there is a vaccine and without risking the country’s health?

I believe it is easily possible if we have the will. Students want to travel and gain education and also make their life. There will be a decline in interest for a few years and that is natural but there will be students who will want to follow what is required to still travel. We must bear in mind that students (and work permit holders) often are required to undertake a medical test before being granted a visa. That medical test is taken at a medical facility empanelled by the visa-granting country. This medical test can include a Covid19 test and paid for by the student. The naysayers indicate that there is  a one month gap between the medical test and the travel and the student may get infected during this period. I feel that the risk is small but still if we want to reduce it, we can leave the Covid19 test to be taken within 48 hours of the travel and the visa can be granted subject to this test. The student may only be allowed to travel having met the requirement. On arrival, the student can be required to self-quarantine in coordination with the Universities for a period of time or may take the quick rapid test on arrival paid for by the Universities. It is not such a difficult compromise and if it can help to open up the borders quicker, we must give it a try. It is possible that with more and more advancement in testing and testing methods, even tourism can begin. There are articles that indicate that some airlines are considering a blood test before boarding. I do feel that such are more achievable in short term than the vaccine which might or might not arrive for over a year.

Before I close, just a quick comment on the attempt to offer online study option to “new students” even before the visa is granted with a promise to continue on after they are able to travel and get the visa. This sounds all good but we have to bear in mind that the cost of such delivery is much less to face to face offering and thus an international student being given this option may only be able to buy it at the right price. The right price being about 25% of the total face to face cost. Not a 25% discount. 

And to quote from an article in THE AUSTRALIAN from last weekend…

But there will be many changes. A closer look at domestic manufacturing is in the spotlight, for example. The tourism industry will be hit hard. Some exports, such as iron ore, will continue to do well. However, higher education won’t. Its value as an export sector has been in attracting overseas students to study here. That, at least for now, has ground to a halt. The best we can offer is continuing study online, which is not the reason foreign students choose to study at Australian universities.

Yes, the online learning capabilities of most higher education providers in this country are first-rate. So the product being offered can compete on a global stage.

But the comparative advantage Australian universities have enjoyed has been built on location, location, location. That is, the lifestyle benefits of studying here and experiencing Australia, alongside the potential to migrate Down Under once you are finished.

Sannam S4 conducted a survey and it’s results indicate that the currently proposed price point of online delivery of face to face programs is not acceptable… even as a short-term solution till international travel can recommence.



  1. Medical tests before and after reaching the country should make things much more easy.
    Holding on to things can rather have a detrimental impact.
    Air travel cant and shouldn’t be restricted though the arrangements can be made by a proactive approach by the airlines.


  2. Students are willing to Study online for a temporary period like say a term and they will not be willing to pay more than 25% of the actual tution fee as you mentioned. If this is taken care of then the Universities will get students and later they can join full time on arrival for face to face classes paying full fee.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The solution of conducting a test 48 hours prior and self quarantine after arrival sounds absolute spot on , however the question remains what if students get a visa refusal at a later stage although having started online learning ..there isn’t any guarantee they will get student visa ..
    Enjoy reading your articles , so insightful as always !


  4. Ravi Sir, I am so totally agree with your all points. I think the best idea you have mentioned that student give the Covid19 test to be taken within 48 hours of the travel and the visa can be granted subject to this test. The student may only be allowed to travel having met the requirement. On arrival, the student can be required to self-quarantine in coordination with the Universities for a period of time or may take the quick rapid test on arrival paid for by the Universities.


  5. Mr. Singh when you say “I believe it is easily possible if we have the will” but without the steer of a united national strategy, this is a daunting task for individual institutions. In today’s complex and nuanced environment, the only certainty is that students are looking for value and return on their tuition investment. If we focus on these young people and our ability to enable them to achieve their goals, that is undeniably a strategy that will pay off, for the long-term, for everyone.


  6. Hello Sir, As rightly pointed out by you regarding the online course delivery, Besides reduced tuition cost, students would also prefer appropriate credits are given to them when they later arrive onshore to pursue the course in Australia and also be eligible for PSW though technically they will study less than 2 years towards their degree. Nice article Sir, we are hopeful things would bounce back to normal soon.


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