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The Biggest Stories From Higher Ed in 2023

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Thaís Roberto
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As 2023 comes to a close, the higher education industry is undergoing changes that will redefine how universities operate going forward. The year has been marked by events that cross borders, from political decisions impacting international student mobility to technological challenges in student recruitment.

In this article, we delve into the biggest stories from higher education in 2023 and explore their impact on the industry.

Netherlands restricts English-taught programs

The Dutch Freedom Party (PVV) won the majority of seats in the parliament in the latest election, along with the right-leaning NSC, raising concerns among universities due to both parties’ stance on limiting immigration, particularly affecting international students.

Following a housing crisis that has increased since 2020, the new leadership is looking for ways to reduce non-EU student numbers, proposing a bill restricting English-taught programs and establishing Dutch as the main language of instruction. Gerrit Bruno Blöss, founder of Study.eu, predicts that, “Any such measures would likely drive applicants to surrounding countries. For non-EU students, the next choice might be the UK, where tuition fees are at a similar level.”

The uncertain climate has already begun obstructing universities’ international recruitment. Amaranta Arteaga shared on Keystone’s latest State of Recruitment webinar that the uncertainty and misinformation spreading about the bill is already impacting their international student numbers.

She added: "Universities are reading this new bill differently, and we don’t have a joint strategy on international recruitment. So, at the University of Groningen, we are not supposed to actively recruit international students as we don’t know what is going to happen yet.”

 

Hear more from Amaranta and watch back our State of Student Recruitment UK & Europe webinar here

 

 

International students won’t be able to bring dependants to the U.K.

A new temporary measure to reduce net migration restricted the ability of international students to bring family members to the UK. Starting January 2024, only students in postgraduate research programs – meaning Ph.D. and some graduate students – will be allowed to bring dependents. The restriction will fall upon all taught courses, which include most undergraduate and graduate programs.

According to Jamie Arrowsmith, director of Universities UK International, the changes will likely have a disproportionate impact on women and students from countries like Nigeria and India – markets that rely heavily on the ability to bring dependants abroad.

For UK universities, the measure poses new challenges in recruiting.

Elliot Newstead, Head of UK Student Recruitment and Outreach at the University of Leicester, told Keystone that universities are shifting to offer more online provision where possible.

He adds: “It is a concern particularly for us. We have a big January intake and are pretty active in the markets you mentioned. I am not sure anyone has ‘super cracked’ it yet.”

Sadiq Basha, CEO at Edvoy, believes these student markets may move away from the U.K. to more welcoming destinations for family members. He told the PIE News: “We have some concern for the future, particularly in South Asia and Africa markets, that we are more likely to see a shift in 2024 and beyond towards Canada and Australia.”

Norway introduces tuition fees for international students

As of June 2023, the Norwegian parliament ruled that all non-EU students attending university in Norway will have to pay tuition fees. The Ministry of Education expects the measure to cause a 70% drop in international students in Norway.

Ola Borten Moe, Minister of Research and Higher Education, justified the decision: “Norway is one of very few countries that has offered free education to all international students. At the same time, Norwegian students in the vast majority of cases have to pay tuition fees in other countries. There is no reason why it should be any different in Norway.”

For Maika Marie Godal Dam, leader of the Norwegian students’ union NSO, in addition to crippling internationalization in higher education, the measure could be a sign of the end of free education in Norway: “We’re concerned that this is the first step in a process where more and more people will have to pay for higher education in Norway – it’s a domino effect.”

U.S. institutions prepare for the upcoming 'Search Cliff'

In addition to the “Demographic Cliff,” American higher education faces a potential crisis known as the “Search Cliff.” The College Board’s transition to digital PSAT and SATs, combined with privacy laws, will result in a nearly 40% drop in available names for licensing in the Student Search Service over the next four years. 

This service is a primary lead source for national student recruitment at numerous colleges and universities, making the loss of 40% of leads a significant challenge. Projections show that 2026 will see a 32% drop from the 2023 cohort – totaling 700,000 fewer names available. To navigate this massive barrier to recruitment, enrollment offices will need to diversify lead sources and overhaul marketing and communication strategies.

Read: 8 Ways to Kickstart Your Student Recruitment in 2024

Vinay Bhaskara, co-founder of CollegeVine, comments on the new model’s varying impact: “For a college that’s got a small endowment, where it’s kind of an operating-at-break-even sort of place, this is setting up for them to be a financial apocalypse. For other schools, it’s going to be, you know, business as usual. And then some schools are somewhere in between.”

The US Supreme Court bans affirmative action

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled against the use of race in college admissions, deeming affirmative action programs unconstitutional. The decision reached on June 29 stems from lawsuits arguing that race-conscious admissions discriminated against Asian American and white applicants. The ruling is expected to have far-reaching implications for diversity on college campuses.

The decision leaves a considerable gray area regarding considering race in admissions, potentially leading to future legal troubles. Shortly after the Supreme Court decision, the US Departments of Justice and Education published resources to guide universities through lawful practices to continue advancing diversity in admissions.

The publication clarifies that while affirmative action has been restricted, institutions can still consider students’ backgrounds and experiences when making a decision, reaffirming that “universities may continue to embrace appropriate considerations through holistic application-review processes.” For the foreseeable future, American universities will have to rely on new ways to promote diversity.

As the new year comes, it is becoming clear universities worldwide must remain resilient and flexible in the face of these challenges.

The events of 2023 serve as a reminder of the industry’s ability to adapt, learn, and transform in the face of adversity. For now, it remains to be seen how these stories will unfold and what new narratives will define the trajectory of higher education in the years to come.

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