News Release

Change is constant: How the COVID-19 pandemic may shape the future of studying abroad

Education researchers from China give their views on what the current crisis could do to international higher education

Peer-Reviewed Publication

Cactus Communications

Shaping the Future

image: How will the pandemic affect the international student? view more 

Credit: East China Normal University (ECNU) Review of Education

The COVID-19 pandemic has deeply affected our daily lives and put individuals, institutions, and societies to the test in several regards. The new policies adopted by governments to contain the pandemic, and the economic and psychological impact it has had on people, have caused significant changes in higher education systems.

The international travel restrictions, growing fear and anxiety, increasing prejudices, and burden of economic slowdowns, among other factors, could become obstacles for international students willing to attend university abroad. However, the present situation is highly dynamic, and predicting the lasting impacts of the COVID-19 crisis on international university education is difficult.

In the latest issue of the East China Normal University (ECNU) Review of Education, four education researchers provide their unique perspectives on how the pandemic will affect international student mobility (ISM) and identity.

In the first article, Dr Jiao Guo from ECNU, China, focuses on how Chinese students and their families are reacting to the pandemic. She recognizes that many Chinese families are understandably stressed not only because of the health risk that COVID-19 poses, but also by the anti-Chinese sentiment that has sadly become more noticeable in many Western countries.

Dr Guo argues, however, that the effect of the current crisis on Chinese student applications to universities abroad will vary. Based on an emotion-moderated sunk cost theory, a concept borrowed from the fields of economics and business decision-making, she speculates that some Chinese families will remain on course towards a university education overseas, perhaps with a destination change or a delay of a year or two. She says, "These are families with children who have nearly finished their K-12 education in international Chinese schools, who feel that they have already invested too much time, money, and effort into their children's education to change plans. On the other hand, working class families with children in public schools should be more inclined to opt for local education in one of China's universities."

In the second article, Dr Hantian Wu from Zhejiang University, China, analyzes the prospects for ISM from a historical perspective. He argues that internationalized higher education systems will have to re-predict their development trends and that studying how previous global crises affected the education sector is a plausible strategy for doing so. He goes over several medieval and premodern crises, including the Black Death and the Spanish flu outbreak of 1918, to prove that higher education systems are remarkably resilient. For instance, Chinese student inflow into western countries increased considerably in the immediate aftermath of the Spanish flu. Modern history also seems to be consistent with this trend, as observed, for example, post the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.

Nonetheless, Dr Wu cautions against taking historical events as conclusive evidence: "Discussions about recurring issues in modern history may be convincing, but they also should not be regarded as persuasive evidence for proving that history repeats itself. Still, it seems appropriate to conclude that a single sudden crisis can hardly bring fundamental changes to the overall trend of student mobility."

In the third article, Dr Jie Zheng from ECNU holds forth that the current pandemic might change how students and policy makers view neoliberal globalization. Dr Zheng argues that the optimism surrounding globalization has been a driving factor for the explosive growth of ISM in the past few years. "In the past two decades, we have been proud of our 'global village' and global vision. We have enjoyed a deterritorialization of social life and free mobility worldwide. Indeed, imagination has been transformed by the media and those narratives of possible lives and fantasies might have stimulated people's desire for movement," she states.

The ongoing pandemic challenges this neoliberal logic of "free trade, free market, free mobility." The focus, she concludes, has inevitably shifted to developing online education systems that could, in the future, open doors to possibilities for a more inclusive and environmentally sustainable society.

But such a society will also depend on the global citizen that emerges from the pandemic. In the fourth article, Dr Tao Wang from ECNU argues that the breakdown of neoliberal globalization and the dual stigmatization of the Chinese student, both by Chinese nationalists and by nationalists of several other countries, had made the cosmopolitan identity complex.

Yet, he remains optimistic. He says, "I predict that a new generation of 'glocal' citizens will emerge who can navigate smoothly between their local and global identities, understanding global challenges, respecting cultural diversity, and participating in cross-cultural communication. These citizens will bring about the beginning of a shared positive global future."

The COVID-19 pandemic is certainly changing the education landscape for good. But what the new landscape will look like when the dust settles, remains to be seen. Perhaps these new perspectives will prove useful to individuals and organizations who must take action and, willingly or unwillingly, shape the future.



Authors: (1) Hantian Wu, (2) Jiao Guo, (3) Jie Zheng, (4) Tao Wang

Titles of original papers:

(1) Higher Education Development and Student Mobility During Crises: From a Comparative and Historical Perspective,

(2) Tendency of Student Mobility During Crises: The Sunk Cost Theory Moderated by Emotions and Family Decisions on Studying Overseas,

(3) International Student Mobility in Crises: Globalization and Foucault's Rhetoric Question,

(4) The COVID-19 Crisis and Cross-Cultural Experience of China's International Students: A Possible Generation of Glocalized Citizens?

Journal: ECNU Review of Education

DOIs: (1) 10.1177/2096531120923662,

(2) 10.1177/2096531120923664,

(3) 10.1177/2096531120924048,

(4) 10.1177/2096531120931519


(1) College of Education, Zhejiang University

(2) East China Normal University

(3) East China Normal University

(4) East China Normal University

About ECNU Review of Education

ECNU Review of Education (ROE) is an international and open access scholarly journal initiated by the East China Normal University (ECNU) in Shanghai of China. This peer-reviewed journal aims to publish impactful research and innovative articles related to current educational issues in China and abroad. The journal encourages articles using interdisciplinary perspectives and embracing contextual sensitivity. The journal seeks to build a global community of scholars interested in advancing knowledge, generating big ideas, inducing deep changes, and bringing about real impact in education.

About the authors

About Dr Hantian Wu

Dr Hantian Wu earned his doctoral degree from the University of Toronto, Canada. He then went on went on to conduct postdoctoral research at East China Normal University in Shanghai. He is currently a Professor and doctoral supervisor at the College of Education in Zhejiang University, China. His research focuses on comparative higher education, higher education internationalization, higher education development in emerging economies, and academic knowledge production.

About Dr Jiao Guo

Dr Jiao Guo has had an eventful career, having founded an organization dedicated to promoting innovation in education, been a part of Teach for China, and served as Academic Director of MyCOS Institute in Beijing in China. She earned her PhD in Education from Harvard University and is currently a Research Associate Professor at East China Normal University in Shanghai.

About Dr Jie Zheng

Dr Jie Zheng earned her PhD in Educational studies from McGill University, Canada, in 2017. Since then she has gone on to take part in several research projects in the field of education worldwide. Today she has over 25 publications to her name and is part of the community of the East China Normal University in Shanghai.

About Dr Tao Wang

Dr Tao Wang received his PhD in multicultural education from the University of Washington in 2015, and soon after joined East China Normal University as faculty. He is currently Associate Professor at the Institute of Curriculum and Instruction there. With interests in multicultural education, equity, and curriculum studies; global migration, citizenship, and cultural identification; and rural migrants and social integration, Dr Wang has over 30 publications to his credit.

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