- Despite growing COVID-19 cases and many European countries re-entering lockdown, student demand for accommodation has not changed much since September results of the BONARD and The Class of 2020 collaborative research
- Universities are delivering learning at an 80:20 ratio online to in-person compared with 50:50 ambitions in September
- Uncertainty over student departure and returns of holiday period remains
When The Class of 2020 and BONARD co-research on this topic was released in September, we quoted Forrest Gump’s famous adage of uncertainty- “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”
Indeed, the unprecedented start of the academic year amidst a global pandemic threw the European higher education and PBSA communities into a period of unknowns. Three months later, this uncertainty has reduced to some degree as nations and regions have maintained more consistent methods of containing the virus, students and parents have become less afraid and operators have demonstrated competency in preventing and managing outbreaks. However, as we head into the holiday period, question marks remain over which home countries and destinations will accept in and out mobility and what impact this may have on return numbers.
This joint research project with our legacy partner BONARD aims to provide up-to-date information to assist industry leaders in making further strategic decisions to create more sustainable knowledge ecosystems for global talent amidst the pandemic. In this second phase, the coalition releases a snapshot of the current situation in nine key European study destinations; Austria, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, and the UK. This takes into consideration multiple variables that can impact student mobility, with the information gathered from trusted sources as of December 2020.
International students with valid residence permits can arrive in Austria but depending on whether they are considered to come from a safe zone, they may be subject to a mandatory COVID-19 test and quarantine for 10 days. Certain Austrian embassies and consulates are issuing visas, students from third countries holding a valid “residence permit – student” from another EU member state and participating in a mobility program are entitled to enter and stay visa-free in Austria for up to 360 days. On September 4, the Austrian government presented the new Corona Traffic Light System that will guide Austria, and specifically schools, in the future. The system consists of four lights – green, yellow, orange, and red. Only schools with red light are a subject of distance learning. Thus, the majority of schools still operate with a mix of online/on-campus classes with restrictions specific to each traffic light. Restrictions apply particularly to gatherings, social distancing, and the wearing of masks in public spaces. Most social activities are permitted, incl. on-campus life under precautions and health and safety measures. Accommodation services are resumed as well incl. student residences. From November 3, lockdown measures to be introduced. They include, inter alia, a national surfew, restrictions of travel, and distance study at the universities. As most international students in Austria come from Germany or other EU countris (more than 70% of international students) the mobility will not be largely impacted. Still, some Austrian universities have already faced a decrease in international student numbers.
Flights to France have been restored, but the frequency of flights has reduced. All international students are exempt from the travel ban to France and can return. Issuance of study visas has been resumed as a priority. Students coming from red zone countries have to show a negative PCR test and proof of their accommodation in France. Students coming from the green zone are not subject to any restrictions. Local curfews came into force starting at midnight on October 17, to curb an alarming rise in coronavirus infections. The curfew is now in place in 54 departments. All private parties such as weddings or student parties that are held in public halls, multipurpose rooms or any other public venues are prohibited. The academic year at HE institutions started between 14th and 21st of September. Currently, universities may accommodate only 50% of their normal capacity. French Governement and Campus France have launched innitiation to allow students choose what form of studies they prefer – online programmes or hybrid learning (mix of face-to-face attendance and online classes) if local restrictions in their countries do not allow them to return. Thus, France has opened itself to international students despite the COVID-19. New restrictions were introduced on October 30, with a national curfew, universities were asked to continue education online, and restrictions on travel.
International students with valid visas are allowed to return to the country if their university requires physical presence in lectures. Visas will be issued only to students whose presence is required in Germany for studies. This measure affects international students and their mobility to the country, many of them having an issue to get an appointment at a German embassy. International students might be subject to quarantine or testing upon arrival, depending on whether they come from risky zones. The restrictions in Germany are tightening, as the numbers of new cases continue to rise, each Federal state applies its own rules to fight against COVID-19. From November 2, a national lockdown began. The universities are still open for students, however many classes are tought solely online. Germany was evaluated as one of the destinations handling COVID very well and was expected to drain the proportion of international students from the UK and USA. This measure may affect the mobility of international students eventually. On the other hand, universities adapted to hybrid learning, which will allow the majority of international students to arrive. The academic year 2020/21 was postponed to start on November 1, 2020, – one of the latest among destinations screened.
Flights to Ireland have resumed and there is no travel ban as of now = only a quarantine for 14 days or a validated pre-departure test for passengers from orange list countries. From the originally planned 39 airlines, 32 will be operating from November to Dublin under certain limited conditions. International students can return to the country, but depending on the ‘traffic light’ system for international travel, they might be subject to self-isolation for 14 days. Issuance of new/renewal of visas inside Ireland has resumed, resumption of outside VAC is subject to local restrictions. The Visa Services has recommenced issuing decisions also on certain long-stay visas which include categories such as Third level study at primary degree and postgraduate level. Students with visa or residence permits that are expiring are automatically extended. Restrictions are tightening, the government has announced new Level 5 restrictions commencing on 21 October for 6 weeks, they are the highest in the country’s alert system. Because of the worsened situation with coronavirus contagion, only teaching which cannot readily be delivered online should be delivered in person. There is a suspension of extracurricular activities that require physical gathering for the present time, and only coming on campus if students have face-to-face teaching activities is possible. PBSA providers allow students to return to accommodation, but students need to maintain preventive measures and should consider whether they truly need to travel to rented accommodation in light of new restrictions that limit on-campus activity. The government issued a roadmap to recovery and supports the IE sector, and allows international students to return. This can impact the students’ decision on study destinations. The popularity of Ireland among non-EEA students rises. Compared with 2015, there is a 45% rise in non- EEA international students in Ireland.
Italy lately imposed new restrictions that influence services such as shops, bars/restaurants, cinemas, pools, etc. In some regions, they were forced to implement night curfews because of the worsening situation. Italy promotes regional rather than national measures, among them also distance learning. International students are allowed to return to Italy as they are exempt from travel restrictions. Italy still has travel restrictions for non-EU countries that are not on the safe list, also some restrictions on EU countries still apply for those countries which experience a high increase of COVID19 cases. Universities implement mostly hybrid forms of learning – when possible on-campus lectures but enhanced with digital experience. PBSA and student houses are open and apply special precautions on health and safety – such as social distancing. Visa application centers have reopened and students can apply again – VAC however are open mostly according to local restrictions in individual countries and with limited operations. In December 2020 and March 2021 all international flights should be resumed. The international student proportion is relatively small but the number of students originating from non-EU countries is high – 77%. These international students can return or enter on a valid RP or visa to Italy.
Traveling to the Netherlands is allowed only on specific occasions. International students with valid residence permits and visas can return because they are exempt from restrictions as a specific category. They need to have a residence letter from IND. Students from some countries – red zone countries in EU and 3rd countries which are not on the EU safe zone need to undertake self-quarantine for 10 days, even if they show negative test results upon arrival. Issuance of new visas is still subject to local restrictions in individual countries. In general, the Netherlands has resumed processing student visa and considers it as a priority. The restrictions tightened in December, travel is discouraged, there are limitations on gatherings, shops, bars/restaurants, and almost all events are banned. The method of teaching is fully online as of December 15th until at least January 19th. Most international students in the Netherlands come from the EEA area, so the problem with visa-restricted arrivals applies only to approximately 28% of international students.
International travel from the EU countries is allowed without restrictions. The restrictions apply to travelers coming from non-EU countries, but do not apply to students and researchers. Currently, the rules applicable to the red zones in Poland, are applicable to the whole country. International students with valid visas can return. In places like Belarus, Moscow, and Ukraine, visa centers have resumed operation. These countries also are sending most of the international students to Poland. Restrictions in the country influence social distancings, gatherings, events, sport, and education. Masks are mandatory outside and inside, including universities. Additionally, cultural events are limited in number, celebrations, and night clubs are forbidden, most schools are teaching remotely; shops are open; recreational facilities are closed with some exceptions. When it comes to learning, it is conducted remotely. Some exceptions are classes and activities which cannot be conducted online, as well as classes of the last year of studies. Universities and student residences allow students to return and accept student applications for accommodation for 2020/2021. The Ministry of Science and Higher Education of Poland has projected a decrease in foreign student admissions due to the restrictions related to COVID-19.
Travellers coming from the EU and selected countries may enter Spain without restrictions. Travellers from other countries may only enter Spain if they fall under the specific category of essential travel. Those students from 3rd countries can return on their valid residence permits/visa. Visa issuance is possible, but the work of the centres may depend on the local restrictions. Spain has declared a national state of emergency and imposed a night-time curfew. The local and regional authorities were allowed to introduce additional measures on mobility and businesses. International students in Spain can safely return to PBSA and student residences. Spain still has a relatively small proportion of international students (8.8%) as of 2018/2019, but 60% need a visa to come to the country. This trend can be mainly influenced by the high popularity of Spain in the Spanish-speaking world (South America). The situation in these countries is risky and this may impact the student mobility in the following semester and shrink the international student population.
There is no particular travel ban, but rather a Travel Corridor list. The situation in the UK allows international students to arrive, but some restrictions may apply, such as a 14-day self-quarantine in case the student comes from a country, not on the Travel Corridor List. Visa issuance has resumed in most countries but local restrictions may apply. If VAC is not open in a particular country, the application can be submitted online. UK will launch a new visa system as of 2021, and applying the EU settlement scheme for those who are in the transition period. There is no information now on how the new immigration system will look like and what measures will be taken for EU students. 3 COVID alert levels apply in UK – medium, high, and very high. People may only socialise in groups with a maximum of 6 people, and there are more restrictions on bars and restaurants, exercise classes and organised sport, places of worship, weddings, and funerals, all based on the specific alert zone. Officially, schools and universities remain open. Because of the numerous coronavirus outbreaks across the UK, some universities were forced to move to online teaching. Students are being prevented from leaving their dorms due to local outbreaks. From November 5, a national lockdown begins bringing new restrictions on free movement, travel, running of the business, but with very little influence on the education system. Despite early predictions that the coronavirus pandemic would cause international student numbers to decline, the decline seems to be averted due to the record increase of enrollments from non-EU international students.
The above regional snapshots present some assurance that global student mobility is less volatile than was experienced during the early months of the pandemic, as many countries have maintained more predictable approaches to international movement and in some instances, students have been treated as exceptions in visa issuance or quarantine requirements. As a result, student demand has so far proven to be neither positive nor negative in this climate. In some markets, this has left occupancies oscillating between financial feasibility and unfeasibility, while others see more stability. In terms of investment and capital demand, the relative normalisation of the pandemic conditions, evidenced in this data snapshot, assures many investors and operators that more students will be back on campus in September 2021. While timelines for vaccine delivery vary per country, the recent advances in vaccination support a positive long-term outlook.
However, the upcoming holiday season will present a test for PBSA operators, universities, and destination countries, especially given the dramatic reduction (in some cases down 50%) in flights between home and destination countries across Europe and a lack of certainty surrounding how policymakers could treat greater cross–border student mobility during this time. It could be that a decline in occupancy is experienced in the next semester if students decide to travel to and remain in their home countries, especially given the higher–than–expected rate of online teaching.