Events around the world this week serve as a reminder to universities that students hold a lot of power - not least because they are paying customers in an increasingly consumerist sector.
In the UK, students at the University of Manchester are beginning to see some results from their occupation of an accommodation tower in protest of their treatment during the pandemic, with the University offering them a 5% rent decrease. The students say the offer is “insulting” and they’ll continue to protest, but it is evidence of how much power students can have, even in these most difficult of circumstances.
In North America, COVID is continuing to pose challenges to the recruitment of international students. Recent reports show that the number of foreign students coming to the US has fallen year on year since 9/11 - can the incoming Biden administration change this? And Canadian universities are subject to lengthy delays in getting their COVID readiness plans approved, meaning thousands of overseas students are unable to return to the country.
But there is some good news - a new survey has shown that international students studying at universities around the world are increasingly willing to quarantine instead of starting courses online.
The data from IDP Connect found that 92% of respondents said in October that they would rather quarantine on arrival and continue with their study plans than defer, up from 77% in June.
Here’s your weekly higher education news roundup from around the world.
UK students win rent reduction following protests
Students at the University of Manchester have been offered a 5% rent reduction following a series of protests and an occupation of an accommodation building. The students have been protesting their high rent costs and treatment by the University during COVID-19, and was sparked by the University’s decision to erect fences around halls of residence earlier this month.
Student groups in other cities across the country have also threatened to withhold rent from universities if their demands are not met, which include lower rent costs, greater flexibility in renting contracts, and better support during the pandemic.
The action in Manchester is the most dramatic so far, and sets an interesting precedent for the rest of the country - if Manchester students managed to negotiate a rent reduction, will other universities follow suit?
Universities across the UK have also said they will be developing a charter to ensure they take a consistent approach to improving low value or low quality courses.
The charter will aim to ensure that universities are transparent and consistent with how they improve the quality of courses that are underperforming in the UK.
US universities battle against falling overseas student enrolment
A major survey by the Institute of International Education shows that international enrolment in US universities is down 43% year-on-year, meaning that 16% fewer international students started at US universities in August 2020 than August 2019.
This comes in stark contrast to other Western countries, with the UK reporting a 9% increase in international students enrolled in courses at universities this autumn.
The drop in interest from international students is likely due to a combination of coronavirus related anxieties, and the Trump administration’s “actively unhelpful” policies towards them.
“This current administration has an anti-immigrant agenda, and that gets woven into all the policies that they promulgate,” Rachel Banks, Nafsa’s senior director for public policy and legislative strategy, told Times Higher Education.
Whether students choose to return both post-pandemic and post-Trump remains to be seen, but data from Open Doors suggests that international students were moving away from studying in the US even before coronavirus.
International students enrolled in Canadian universities face delays in returning to the country
Canada’s issues with allowing international students to return to the country continue, with Languages Canada branding the waiting times “unacceptable”.
The organisation says that only 53% of its members have received approval from the Canadian government to allow its foreign students back into the country.
Ontario and British Columbia are the provinces hit the hardest by the delays. Ontario, which has had 482 Designated Learning Institutions (DLIs) apply for approval, has only had 56 applications passed.
However, speaking to The PIE, Cindy McIntyre, assistant director, international relations at Universities Canada, said that her organisation is “very pleased that the vast majority of Canadian universities have now been approved to welcome international students”.