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Sign of the times

A new report from Western Union Business Solutions following the COVID-19 disruption highlights how universities can evolve their approach to better meet the needs of a new generation of students, writes Hayden Scown

With travel off the cards for the foreseeable future as a result of the global pandemic, higher education institutes have had to move quickly to close the gap between location and learning. As universities continue to adapt to the new normal, the adoption of technology is a vital part of the deliverance process.

Institutes also need to evolve to accommodate the changing international student archetypes. The new generation of learners has skills and interests that need to be acknowledged throughout their student experience. Ongoing technological, social, environmental and economic shifts all need to be taken into consideration when planning for the coming decade in the higher education sector. 

International students are increasingly looking to align their personal beliefs to institutions that share the same principles. This includes everything from sustainability, politics, gender equality; the empathetic nature of future students will be the foundation for change within the education sector. The Western Union Business Solutions Future of International Education Report found that 58% of students would boycott an educational institution with bad sustainability credentials.

Similarly, students are looking to be a part of a conscious campus that advocates for the issues that they believe in, with 72% identifying that they felt more engaged with universities that take a stand on social matters, ranging from politics to feminism or racial issues.[1] This idea bleeds into learning requirements, with increasing importance on the narrative of a traditional curriculum supporting emotional learning. Educational institutions need to be able to not only express their stance on issues that are important to students but showcase their ability to support their academic and emotional wellbeing. There is an opportunity to create an inclusive ecosystem by utilising various platforms and amplifying key messages and interests through social channels.

Having grown up immersed in technology, international students in the 2020s and 2030s will continue to be digitally minded. Their online and offline experiences are often intertwined through shareable commentary and they are not bound by geographical locations when making friends or having experiences. This digital understanding has been a pivotal part of connecting throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and has allowed students to seamlessly adopt online learning practices. Limited flights and travel restrictions have left many students dependent on online classes until they can move on campus.

While it’s currently a necessity, 64% of international students from Asia expect digital learning.[2] This desire for online solutions is reflective across the whole education experience, and institutions need to be able to deliver traditional services online from procurement and payments, to class scheduling and ongoing communication with the institution.

This being said, while there is a clear acceleration of digital services and online teaching solutions needed for the new wave of students, the university experience still needs to accommodate and champion traditional social interactions. Unsurprisingly, 86% of students believe it’s important to socialise with friends in real life as well as online.[3] Higher education institutes that adopt a blended approach to learning will be able to meet the varying needs of students and create an environment that is nourishing both on and offline.

This blended approach of online and traditional learning options allows for students to configure a schedule and plan that suits their needs, and its hybrid nature reflects the changing nature of work. Experiences are no longer determined by location as the lines continue to blur between work and play, and it’s driving the trend of professional nomadism amongst the new workforce.  Our report noted that more than one in four (26%) international students do not plan to work in the same country for their whole career.[4]  This trend will be reflected over the next decade within the education sector, as it transforms to incorporate the best, most inspiring and most useful elements of the digital revolution to drive flexible thinking, learning and living.

Accommodating the students of the future includes adapting and deploying tech solutions that support the way they interact – an example would be peer-to-peer payments. Institutes must leverage information-sharing capabilities of social and digital platforms, as digital channels can be supported for better bilateral communication between institutions and students.

The successful, future-facing higher education institutions of tomorrow will be multidimensional, multicultural and ultimately interactive, both digitally and physically. Based on the findings from our research and the trends we’ve identified, higher education providers will need to skilfully combine digital and social revolutions to adapt to a new world of education.

Western Union Business Solutions is supporting education institutions globally to provide financial infrastructure so that they can readily welcome academics and students from overseas with ease.  

Download The Future of International Education report.

Hayden Scown is Director of Financial Institutions & Education at Western Union Business Solutions APAC


[1] The Future of International Education Report

[2] The Future of International Education Report

[3] The Future of International Education Report

[4] The Future of International Education Report

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