Post Covid-19 revival of the study travel industry in the UK

“Hybrid working helped cushion the study travel sector from the disruption caused by the pandemic”

Travel restrictions swept across the UK in response to the coronavirus pandemic, which disabled the movement of international students and the operational ability of the study travel industry.

Countries across the globe closed their borders and transitioned to a traffic light system that ranked countries according to their Covid risk level. The UK immigration system was also pushed into limbo which sparked fears that the international student population in the UK would drastically reduce, writes Keith Tully is a partner at Real Business Rescue.

But yet, the study travel industry showing resilience in the face of Covid-19.

The Home Office released Immigration for Study statistics which found that the number of student visas granted in the 12 months to September 2021 hit a record high. The report shows an upturn in sponsored visas since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic and highlights a 39% increase to the last record held in the year-ending June 2010.

The statistics also show a substantial increase to the pre-pandemic period, as in the year ending September 2021, 428,428 study visas were granted. This is 143% (252,327) more than the previous year and 55% (152,077) higher than the year ending September 2019.

The dramatic increase came down to year-on-year growth, the relaxation of both coronavirus and Brexit-related restrictions and the resumption of in-person learning. The growth pattern for the number of visas granted to international students, however, can be put down to a number of reasons: annual growth; changes to immigration legislation due to Covid and Brexit; the end of Covid travel restrictions; the release of Covid induced pent-up demand; study grants; the resumption of courses following pandemic deferrals; and of course, the return of in-person learning.

In addition to the challenges put forward by Covid, the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union also created a shift in the way international students went about arranging education in the UK and vice versa. Brexit marked the end of the ambitious Erasmus+ programme, now replaced by the new Turing Scheme.

On the whole, insight gathered by HESA on the Impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on 2020/21 student data found that demand from international students remained consistent as the pandemic disrupted education delivery.

The report states, “While the biggest increases in first year student numbers are among UK-based students, it seems clear that, despite the pandemic circumstances, UK higher education remains an attractive option for international students”.

How did education providers adapt? 

The study travel industry was rocked with uncertainty as the country entered a lockdown that restricted all essential travel and mass gatherings. This led to the mass roll-out of varied learning styles that comprised distance learning, remote learning, and face-to-face learning. Hybrid working provided a lifeline to the industry as it supported the consistent delivery of education.

This helped cushion the study travel sector from the disruption caused by the pandemic; however, education providers experienced a host of challenges, such as tuition scheduling for students in different time zones and investing in innovative technology to facilitate interaction with classmates and tutors.

The impact on the mental health of international students

A study, coined Mental Health Impacts of the Covid-19 Pandemic on International University Students in the UK and the US  from Asia, found that of those interviewed, 85% of students reported moderate-to-high perceived stress. 12% had moderate-to-severe symptoms of anxiety and depression, and 18% had moderate-to-severe symptoms of insomnia.

As international students return to face-to-face learning, or blended working that incorporates remote and face-to-face learning, education providers want to deliver an education plan that is resilient in the face of further Covid restrictions and safeguards the mental health of students.

About the author: Keith Tully is a partner at Real Business Rescue, an insolvency and restructuring expert supporting limited company directors across the UK in financial distress. Keith regularly writes for industry websites and provides professional commentary on industry issues, such as Covid-19 company debts.