Weekly news roundup: UK looks at consequences of COVID on recruitment, and US sticks to free college plan

By Nicole Wootton-Cane• Last updated: Oct 31, 2023
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In a week where the UK government updated their international education plan, there has been a mixed picture for the future of international students in the country. 

The plan sets ambitious goals, suggesting that the government is confident that the sector will bounce back after the coronavirus pandemic. 

But another recent report suggests that overseas student intake has dropped significantly on many English university campuses.

Elsewhere, Jill Biden reaffirms the USA’s commitment to free college, and Irish universities look set to stay online for most of the academic year.

Here’s your weekly higher education news roundup.

UK updates international education plan

This week, the UK government released their updated version of their international education plan. 

The report detailed progress they’d made since the plan was released in 2019, such as appointing an international education champion, and set out goals for the future. 

These include an ambition to increase money generated from education exports by 75 per cent, and a goal of growing international student numbers to 600,000 in 2030.

The main significance of the update is that it shows the confidence the UK government has in the country’s potential to attract international students, despite coronavirus. You can read our full round-up of the report here.

Results of a new survey by the Office for Students (OfS) suggest that overseas student intake has dropped by at least a third at some English campuses. 

The survey looks at the first year after the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, finding that at some Russell Group universities there was over a 30% drop in estimated international student intake.

However, the news wasn’t all bad - some institutions, such as the University of York and University College London, actually are expecting international student numbers to rise. 

The week also saw the UK government publish modelling that predicts a £63 million loss of income for universities due to a fall in EU enrolments after Brexit. 

In the report, London Economics estimates that Brexit could cost most UK universities two thirds of their EU enrolments, but that Oxford and Cambridge’s income will increase. 

USA plans to move ahead with free college initiative

Jill Biden, the new first lady, has reiterated the Biden administration’s commitment to a free college plan, despite difficulties they may face in getting it through Congress. 

The free college plan was a crucial part of Joe Biden’s campaign. He wants to introduce free four-year college for students with family incomes up to $125,000 at public institutions. 

He also wants to give Americans the option of going to community college for two years, debt-free. 

You can read more about Biden’s plans for higher education here

US universities are asking the new Biden administration to increase funding for low-income students.

However, critics have pointed out that the desire for government help could be stagnating their own efforts to help those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Speaking to Times Higher Education, experts say that universities are shifting large amounts of their own aid budgets towards attracting wealthier students instead of those who need the help. 

Ireland’s teaching to remain online until widespread vaccine rollout

The Irish Universities Association (IUA) has said that teaching will remain largely online until there has been widespread rollout of the coronavirus vaccine. 

Jim Miley, director-general of the IUA, said that the term is likely to see the continuation of majority online teaching, although they did hope to see an increase in on-campus activity. 

Speaking to The Times, Mr Miley said: “Our ambition is to have some incremental increase in face to face activity in the next term.”

“It may mean that some students who are currently operating almost totally online might have the opportunity for small group teaching on campus if that is permissible under the prevailing public health circumstances.”

However, he conceded that the increase would be “incremental” until the vaccine is fully deployed. 

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Nicole is a specialised study abroad content writer. With extensive experience in study abroad consultancy, She has been...Read More

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