What are the challenges of COVID-19 for HE internationalization and global response?

What are the challenges of COVID-19 for HE internationalization and global response?
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The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged many aspects of higher education (HE), with a particularly visible and significant impact on the internationalization of higher education.

These challenges range from the restrictive cross-border movement of students and academics to various forms of international cooperation in teaching and research. [i]. In addition, previous studies show that by 2020. a pandemic will affect some countries and systems more radically than others. [ii] [iii] [iv]. For example, the challenge of a pandemic for countries such as Australia, the UK and the US is more obvious and significant than for any other country. Global student mobility has been declining rapidly, with concomitant changes in mobility patterns and study abroad [v] [vi]. As for the post-pandemic world, many strategies and proposals have been put forward. Some argued that international educators need to plan and pursue new realities for common local and global good. [vii]. Some have argued that keeping us informed about the most important changes in higher education and forecasts of what awaits higher education will help us reduce the risks it faces. [viii]. However, others argued that it was increasingly difficult to predict the future of AM, including the internationalization of MI [ix].

Based on the findings of nine case studies from Asia-Pacific, Europe, North America and Latin America, our special issue The internationalization of higher education in a pandemic period from a global and comparative perspective examined the general and specific challenges facing the internationalization of higher education in individual countries and how they respond to these challenges.

Based on the case studies above, we have identified four main conclusions.

First, key challenges such as the physical movement of students and teachers across borders; declining numbers of both incoming and outgoing international students; extensive implementation of online and blended teaching and learning activities; declining revenues of universities, which are mainly dependent on tuition fees for foreign students; enhancing virtual mobility and virtual research collaboration; and building online international student communities. Almost all case studies have provided strong evidence to support these challenges in different regions and countries. For example, a survey of Chinese students suggests that the number of Chinese students wishing to travel to Western countries such as Australia, the United States and the UK may fall sharply. The case of the UK shows that the pandemic has accelerated the delivery of international education programs either entirely online, through local education partners or through a locally supported hybrid model.

Second, the challenges of the internationalization of higher education vary greatly from region to region and country to country. The case of Australia shows that a country that has been preferred by a large proportion of international students is suffering more from the pandemic than any other country in Asia-Pacific. In continental Europe, the pandemic has had a direct impact on the implementation of the internationalization strategy and has widened the gap between strategy and implementation. It should be noted in particular that, even within a single national system, the effects of a pandemic vary greatly depending on the type of higher education institution. In Canada, COVID has affected colleges worse than universities. U.S. community colleges have also been much harder hit by the overall decline in student numbers.

Third, the case of Japan shows that the academic activities and life of an international faculty have only a positive impact. According to a case study from mainland China, many students benefit from online teaching and learning activities through virtual mobility.

Finally, many different new strategies have been developed. The case of Hong Kong shows that the global community should work together to promote the diversity of higher education and reduce the growing gap in access to higher education for disadvantaged groups through an innovative / creative mix of traditional and high-tech HE. The case of the UK underlines the importance of using online and blended learning in future models of higher education and focusing more on internationalization at home, expanding participation, decolonising the curriculum and consolidating sustainability.

Our study has some implications for research and institutional practice. It is important to explore why the challenges from pandemic to the internationalization of higher education vary across regions, countries, institutions, and individual students and academics. Furthermore, how is the “new” norm of internationalization of HE understood, implemented and enforced in individual regions, countries and institutions? Are there any models of institutional practice or examples of good practice that could be adapted to different national contexts or higher education institutions to meet the challenges of a pandemic? And how can an effective risk management system be established at the institutional level if the internationalization of HE is disrupted in the future?

Biography of the authors

Futao Huang is a professor at the Hiroshima University Institute of Higher Education in Japan (e-mail [email protected]).

Daniela Crăciun is a researcher at the Center for Higher Education Policy Studies (CHEPS) at the University of Twente (Netherlands) (e-mail: [email protected]).

Hans de Wit is a Professor Emeritus and Honorary Fellow at the Center for International Higher Education at Boston College, USA (e-mail: [email protected]).


[i] QS (2020). The coronavirus crisis and the future of higher education. Coronavirus crisis and the future of higher education ( (August 18, 2020)

[ii] Altbach, PG, and de Wit, H. (2020). “COVID-19: A Revolution in Internationalization That Doesn’t Exist.” University world news 2020 March 14

[iii] Martel, M. (2020). Impact of COVID-19 on US higher education campuses: from emergency response to future student mobility planning. Received from

[iv] Morris, A., Hastings, C., Wilson, S., Mitchell, E., Ramia, G., and Overgaard, C. (2020). The experience of international students before and during COVID-19: housing, work, study and well-being. Sydney: Sydney University of Technology. Received from

[v] BridgeU (2020). How will COVID-19 really affect the admission of international students in 2020 and 2021? Free Report: How COVID-19 Will Really Affect International Student Admission in 2020 and 2021 (

[vi] Study portals (2020). International Student Plans: The Impact of COVID-19. International Student Plans – Impact of COVID-19 Study portals

[vii] Marginson, S. (2020). Pandemics show the need for HE for the common good. University world news. 2020 July 25

[viii] Huang, F. (2020). “Be one step ahead of the potential impact of COVID-19 on HE”. University world news. 2020 September 9

[ix] de Wit, H. (2021). “It simply came to our notice then. University world news. 2021 January 16

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