Staying home to study


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GLOBALLY, people are tightening their belts to cope with increasing living costs. This has resulted in an overall weakening of the willingness to study abroad compared to 10 years ago.

Depressing economic prospects and the rise of nationalism may drive future generations to think more thoroughly and practically before deciding to study overseas, especially in the face of higher costs and uncertainties in terms of expected income and the narrowing chances of emigration, according to international management consulting firm Oliver Wyman.

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The Covid-19 pandemic, together with the adoption of remote education solutions, has also hampered the mobility of international students, the New York-based firm said in its report “Rise, Reboot and Reform: International Tertiary Education at Crossroads”.

“Even so, while Zoom might facilitate the delivery of instruction, it cannot replicate full personal experiences, nor provide a clear pathway to host countries’ job markets, a factor upon which many foreign students weigh heavily in their equation of studying abroad.“Decisions made by households to attend higher education institutions away from home will also be much more discretionary now than before,” the report, released on May 5, read.

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It also noted that the challenges faced by higher education institutions today are greater with the gloomy economic forecast and a growing scepticism of the value of higher education.

Nonetheless, the international education market is still expected to grow as there is potential to be realised from emerging economies such as India and Vietnam.

“It took two decades for international tertiary education enrolment to grow from 1.1 million to 2.1 million students at the end of last century.

“Since 2020 and up to the Covid-19 outbreak, the numbers tripled to six million, which correlates with the robust economic growth of China, Russia, India and Brazil,” the report read.

It said an important factor that drives the need to go overseas to study is the chance to enter the host country’s job market and even obtain citizenship, as well as enjoy the wage premium of highly skilled workers overseas.

“As long as there is insufficient quality education capacity at home, and wage differences endure locally versus overseas, studying abroad will remain desirable to households that can afford it,” it added.

Highlighting how the desire of the middle class for higher quality education has also been accommodated by various destination countries opening doors to this large pool of skilful talents, the report noted that Canada, the United States, New Zealand, Australia and the United Kingdom all provide favourable conditions for students to participate in their respective local job markets post-graduation with the recent reinstatement of post-study work visas.

Students, the report found, desire a higher level of flexibility and technology adoption.

Today’s youths expect tertiary education to help them better prepare for the professional world and lifelong upskilling to remain competitive but the university model has remained largely unchanged for decades, even though the expectations and needs of students have been rapidly changing.

“Both students and parents are becoming increasingly pragmatic about higher education and are putting more emphasis on tangible value over prestige.

“It is time for higher education institutions to lay a solid foundation for longer term transformation.“While the international education market might continue to prosper for another 20 years, students’ behaviours and attitudes will only become more mature, and their options for pursuing higher education are already abundant.

“For any individual school, in a world full of disruptive changes, it has become more a question of surviving than thriving.” — By REBECCA RAJAENDRAM

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