As the 21st month of the Covid-19 crisis begins, universities are preparing to welcome their second pandemic cohort. While much has changed for the better since the first intake of the crisis, including over 5 billion vaccines doses administered, the world and the international education sector seem far from a pre-pandemic sense of ‘normal’. Some signs point to a rapid recovery in student mobility to the UK, but close inspection raises more questions than assurances:

  • Will most international students arrive on UK campuses this autumn?
  • If not, when?
  • What risks could derail the recovery over a longer period?

To address these questions, this report considers:

  • student mobility trends of the recent past
  • the upcoming academic year, and
  • the long-term future.

The overriding finding is hopeful – if cautiously so. While the journey back to pre-pandemic trends will likely be longer than expected, the demand for international study has proved durable during the pandemic and the surprising successes of UK universities in 2020 are a testament to the flexibility and innovative capacity of the sector. It is also possible, however, that these attributes will be tested to an even greater degree over the next few years.

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