An overwhelming majority—86%—of U.S. colleges, universities and other learning programs for higher education plan to bring international students back to campus to study in person in fall 2021.
“Universities are prepping for a strong recovery in international education enrollment as they emerge from the [COVID-19] pandemic,” said Mirka Martel, head of research for the Institute of International Education (IIE) in New York.
IIE has been tracking international student mobility and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on international student travel to and from the United States since February 2020, when the pandemic started to surge in the U.S.
“We release this report more than a year later with a cautiously optimistic outlook on international educational exchange,” IIE wrote in its report released June 10.
“With vaccination rates on the rise in the United States, we note concerted efforts by U.S. higher education institutions to reopen their campuses and encourage all students, including international students, to return to in-person study,” the report stated.
COVID-19 causes fewer hospitalizations and deaths in young people than in the aged, and many young people who caught COVID-19 were asymptomatic.
But because younger people in university settings are both clustered and mobile—interacting among themselves and traveling from campus to home or vacation spots— authorities are eager for them to be vaccinated before school resumes in the fall 2021.
"We would love for all our students to be vaccinated before they go home to either places in the U.S. or places in other countries, because if they go there unvaccinated, they could actually carry the virus to their families and communities," Gerri Taylor, co-chair of American College Health Association's COVID-19 Task Force outside Washington, told VOA in April.
IIE noted the unevenness of vaccination around the world, including places where international students travel from their home countries to their colleges and universities in the U.S.
“At the same time, variable vaccination rates worldwide and the recent outbreaks in India, Latin America, and other locations remind us that institutions will continue to grapple with COVID-19 in promoting a return to in-person study for international students from those regions,” the report stated.
IIE also reported that nearly two thirds of institutions (64%) plan to make COVID-19 vaccines available to students, faculty, and staff on campus, including international students.
But 45% do not plan to require a vaccine before students arrive on campus. Only 14% of institutions have a requirement in place. Most colleges and universities (55%) are still deliberating whether to require COVID-19 vaccinations for students pursuing in-person study abroad, the survey stated.
Among the more than 1 million international students enrolled in the U.S., more than half come from China and India combined, 34.6% and 18%, respectively.
“While institutions are beginning to restart in-person study abroad opportunities for U.S. students, colleges and universities are taking a cautious approach given the uncertainties of global travel at this point in time,” IIE stated.
IIE conducted this survey from April 15 to May 5, 2021. Among more than 1,300 higher education institutions who were sent the survey in the United States and abroad, 414 institutions responded. These institutions represented 44% of all international students at U.S. institutions in the 2019-2020 academic year, the report stated.
Among other findings, IIE noted that international student applications to U.S. universities and colleges are increasing, in line with a resumption of more normal life on American campuses, except community colleges, where applications declined 58%.