A majority of students from Asia and Africa with offers from the UK’s top 30 ranked universities would prefer a delayed start to the next academic year if online teaching is the method of delivery, a survey from UKEAS has shown.
The Offer Holder Survey was sent to prospective students in Ghana, Malaysia, Nigeria, Philippines, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam, the majority (95%) of which are pursuing postgraduate taught study.
UKEAS said it received 471 responses from offer holders in Asia and 126 from Africa – meaning responses from Asia accounted for approximately 80% of the total respondents.
“We should be very concerned at the low number of students willing to join their course online in September”
When asked if they were willing to start the academic year in September/October 2020 with a high likelihood of online teaching, just 23% of respondents in Asia and 31% in Africa agreed.
The option for a January 2021 intake with an improved likelihood of face-to-face teaching scored far better, with 71% of respondents in Asia and 72% in Africa agreeing.
Some 10% of offer holders in Asia and 3% in Africa selected ‘Not willing to do either’. ‘Not sure’ was chosen by 15% in Asia, and 8% in Africa.
When asked if their top choice university was to start in autumn 2020 with online teaching for at least the first semester, 47% of students in Asia stated they would look to defer to September 2021. 26% said they would join the course online in September, 20% would change university and 7% specified ‘other’.
In Africa, 46% of students stated they would join the course, 29% would change university, 23% would look to defer to September 2021, and 2% identified another option.
“We should be very concerned at the low number of students (especially in Asia) willing to join their course online in September,” noted Richard Jones, head of Partnerships at UKEAS.
“We are hearing these concerns from students preparing to study at universities that have already confirmed this plan.”
Jones added that while there appear to be more students in West Africa who would accept the scenario, “we should remember that they account for only 20% of our offer holder respondents”.
“A January start is available to a majority of our Nigerian students due to the broader availability at popular destination universities,” he explained.
“Also, we are watching the economy in Nigeria as it battles low demand for oil… the capacity for families to buy into international education might decline from the domino effect triggered by the pandemic and world oil prices.
“There is potential for a similar impact as in 2016 when Nigerian student enrolments fell significantly after the devaluation of the Naira.”
The UKEAS survey showed that universities should prepare for a significant increase in deferral requests and the loss of offer holders to institutions who can offer a later start date and an increased likelihood of a face-to-face teaching environment.
Additionally, those students considering online an option expect to see a reduction in fees to compensate for the change in their experience.
“Most students we speak with are unconvinced that the quality and overall learning opportunity of a remote platform will match that of a face-to-face learning environment,” explained Jones, highlighting that the possibility of a 20% tuition fee discount if teaching began online in September only appealed to 33% of Asian respondents and 46% from Africa.
“Whether it is a reduction in tuition fees or scholarships by market, we recommend that universities pushing forward with a September 2020 online start offer some financial compromise with students.
“Without a reduction in fees, further frustration is likely from those who believe the full fee should give physical access and benefit to a university’s classrooms, resources, facilities, and services,” he said.
CEO of UKEAS, Pieter Funnekotter, told The PIE News that after speaking with a number of universities since these results were released, there may be a third option that could limit the damage.
“Should universities proceed with a September start without a January start back up, a blended learning option for students would be preferred. In this scenario, students would participate in small groups and tutorials on campus while viewing lectures online,” he said.
Funnekotter said this would offer a richer learning experience than online-only, “an option not favoured by any market”.
“A blended option would be preferred for our West African students who have indicated a preference for starting in September while hesitating on studying online.
“This flexible approach could allow for lectures to resume if the pandemic further eases later in the autumn semester,” he added.
Earlier this week, the Office for Students warned UK higher education providers against promising students an on-campus experience at the beginning of the next academic year.