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International Students of the Future Will Demand Mix of Online and Offline Education

A new report has identified five areas where colleges and universities will have to develop strength in order to woo future generations of international students: social engineering, sustainability, mindfulness, savvy use of technology and the ability to deliver a "transnational" education. The report was developed by the Future: Laboratory and commissioned by Western Union Business Solutions, a company that handles payments for international transactions, including for some 600 education institutions.

"The Future of International Education" report, still timely even though it was developed before the coronavirus pandemic struck the global higher education market, has predicted the onset of transnational education, where international students try on multiple cultures in different formats throughout their college careers, mixing online learning with "offline" educational opportunities.

The report has identified five international student types:

  • Social engineers. According to the report, 72 percent of students feel more engaged with schools that take stands on social issues, including politics, environmental issues, racial issues, gun violence and gender equality. Universities supporting "good causes," offering student support and an inclusive environment "will gain respect among these young activists, and become favored destinations among social engineers over the next decade."
  • Greener graduates. Fifty-eight percent of international students would boycott educational institutions with "bad sustainability credentials." Among the current generation, a majority of students use public transport specifically to act more sustainably and do recycling; and nearly half said they intentionally cut back on their waste.
  • Mindful scholars. This group is tuned into how their decisions and behaviors influence their wellbeing. The researchers found that 84 percent of students practice mindfulness. And even though students admitted that they check their social accounts every hour, two-thirds have tried "digital detoxes" of one or two days, and 92 percent have thought about the importance of switching off from social media.
  • Digital learners. Future international students will see technology as an extension of themselves, the report noted, "seamlessly integrating it into their relationships and actively socializing in mixed-reality, smart sensor-enabled environments." Currently, 58 percent of international students said they consider their online and offline presence "equally important." On the school front, most future students will find a campus more appealing when it "embraces technology to learn and adapt to people and places."
  • Hybrid thinkers. These students blur work, play and rest and are, the authors wrote, "the first truly global generation, constantly connected to culture from around the world via their digital devices." Also, they are " distinctly localized, proud of their heritage and broadcasting this across borders."

As the competition for international students heats up around the world among colleges and universities, "it will be those [institutions] that strike a balance between digital transformation, sustainability and emotional wellbeing, that will be best prepared to weather challenges like the COVID-19 storm, while ensuring they continue to meet the expectations of the new generation of international students," the report stated. Wooing those students will require a combination of engagement that's "multi-dimensional, multi-cultural and ultimately interactive, both digitally and physically."

The report is available with registration on the Western Union website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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