Trendspotting 2022: What’s Next for International Education?

Eleven leaders in the field offer their perspectives on what’s in store for international education in 2022.
By considering pandemic-related shifts and the overarching trends that were shaping the field beforehand, we can begin to make sense of what’s happened—and forecast where we’re going. Photo: Shutterstock

As we’ve learned in the last 2 years, predicting trends can be an exercise in absurdity. In the 2020 version of this article, many of the projections became irrelevant within a couple of months of publication as COVID-19 swept the globe. International education continues to grapple with the short- and long-term effects of the pandemic, some of which will only become clear years from now.

However, considering these changes and shifts along with the overarching trends that were shaping the field prior to the pandemic, we can begin to make sense of what’s happened—and forecast where we’re going.

We asked 11 international educators about their outlook for 2022: one key trend they anticipate, the implications of that trend, and a related challenge and opportunity.

Lindsay Addington, EdD

Senior strategic engagement executive, Duolingo

Trend: Mobility shifts affecting enrollment market shares

“Universities in top study destinations will likely see the pent-up demand for international degrees result in surges in enrollment; however, their prepandemic market share may not fully recover as English-medium education options continue to grow. Mobility trends will continue to shift as students who desire to pursue degrees in English have more opportunities in non-English-speaking countries. Duolingo has witnessed this shift, as the geographic mix of higher education institutions that now accept the Duolingo English Test continues to diversify. In 2020, universities in Germany, Japan, and Kazakhstan, for example, began utilizing the test. With this investment in English-medium programs, countries that traditionally sent students abroad, particularly in Asia, may find their prospect pools grow. As we emerge from the pandemic, international students may find staying closer to home more attractive—for financial, safety, and cultural reasons—than it once was. Students now have more choices for finding the institution that’s the best fit.”

Challenge: Increased competition for international students

“As competition among destination countries increases, institutions will need to determine how best to reach and market to this new generation of postpandemic students. Virtual recruitment helps institutions reach students in cities that they would never be able to travel to in person, while physically meeting students in their home countries helps to create a strong connection to an institution; striking the right balance between these strategies will be key. Last year, prospective students took the Duolingo English Test in 12,000 cities across the world, demonstrating the global depth of interest in international study. How will institutions reach all those who want a chance at furthering their education?”

Opportunity: Fertile ground for new partnerships

“With thousands of new English-medium programs around the world, there are fresh opportunities for pursuing strategic institutional partnerships and exchange programs. Collaboration that leverages resources to broaden opportunities for research, teaching, and learning and exposes students and scholars to diverse ways of thinking will be key to addressing the world’s next greatest global challenge.”

Rosa Aronson, PhD

Former interim executive director, TESOL International Association

Trend: Growing disparities

“One key trend that will considerably affect the field of international education in 2022 is the growing disparities affecting populations of the world. A 2020 report by the United Nations, "Inequality in a Rapidly Changing World," outlined growing inequality among and within developed and developing nations. Those inequities are evident in the United States as well as in many different contexts and are exacerbated by climate change, pandemics, forced migrations, gender, racial and socioeconomic injustices, and the rise of political extremism. The notion of education as the great equalizer may have always been aspirational, but as international educators face a future marked by this trend, [this ideal] may become even more elusive. As the world continues to move toward more disparity, international educators will be confronted with a professional, ethical, and even existential dilemma. What role will we play as educators in reversing this trend?”

Challenge: Competition as a divisive strategy

“One significant challenge will be to unify and collaborate in order to offer more educational opportunities, even as competition among institutions and organizations seems to be the modus operandi. We need to rise above the perceived threat from others to close the divide and speak with one voice. Rather than competing for the few students who can afford to engage in international education, let’s demonstrate how a more equitable and inclusive international education system can benefit society.”

Opportunity: Empowerment through collective advocacy

“Professionals in international education have an opportunity to raise their collective voice in support of more equity [within] and access to their programs. There is currently a global movement to raise awareness about diversity, equity, and inclusion issues in all areas of society. International educators can harness this effort to show the necessity of an inclusive and equitable education system to reverse [the growing disparities]. As the United Nations report outlines, the trend is not irreversible, but it needs our attention, intention, and action.”

Alejandra Barahona, PhD

Executive director, Veritas Study Abroad at Global Studies Institute Online, Universidad VERITAS

Trend: Students’ changing expectations

“The pandemic has made Gen Z students recast their expectations regarding their higher education career and the value it brings to their future employability. Students participate in international experiences with a critical perspective to find answers on how to contribute to solving many of the uncovered systemic global crises of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion. Students transitioning from experiencing college-level courses in full virtual environments to a first-time study abroad experience expressed explicit recognition of the need for and importance of human interaction.”

Challenge: Resistance to change

“Many authorities in higher education are still resistant to change. The outdated pedagogical models proved inadequate in the new virtual and hybrid modalities implemented during the pandemic. Virtual environments created opportunities for students who, in other years, couldn’t participate in international experiences. However, there is still much work to do to strengthen institutional partnership collaboration to focus on preparing and supporting underrepresented students by sharing accountability, strategies, and policies.”

Opportunity: New ways to attract and retain students

“Higher education needs to change the outdated models rapidly and at the same time rely on international education as a means to attract and retain students who already see value in intercultural skills, exploration of global trends in industries, and social practices in other countries.”

Rajika Bhandari, PhD

Founder, Rajika Bhandari Advisors; author, America Calling: A Foreign Student in a Country of Possibility

Trend: A focus on the full international student experience

“A confluence of events over the past few years—a renewed social justice movement; emphasis on access, equity, inclusion, and diversity; and the pandemic—have led to an increased focus on students, who are the ultimate beneficiaries of the work of the international education sector. Going forward, institutions, providers, and nonprofit organizations—especially those who serve international students—will have to center their work in the reality of the student experience, ensuring that students thrive and succeed individually, academically, and professionally through the entire pathway of student-to-alumni. 2022 and beyond will call for a shift away from a front-loaded paradigm of recruitment, admissions, enrollment, and entry, to one where international students arrive and thrive. This shift is critical because students, too, are increasingly asking how their future institutions and host countries will serve them and what sorts of opportunities will be available to them. Because the pandemic has opened the door to multiple models of international education, students and families simply have far more options than before and are in a position to assess the return on investment of various educational opportunities.”

Challenge: Engaging the whole campus

“Ensuring the success and well-being of international students ultimately requires a coordinated and comprehensive approach to meeting their needs. International students should not be the responsibility of just the international student and scholar services office, the office of global engagement, or the various [offices through] which international work is structured—or, some would argue, siloed—on many campuses. Bridging the gap and serving the student [will not be] possible without a campuswide, holistic approach, which means integration and collaboration across international student and scholar services; admissions and enrollment; career services; alumni services; and the many ways in which a university serves all of its students and ensures their success. This student-centered approach and message of cohesion can be a powerful tool for attracting and recruiting future international students.”

Opportunity: Increase accessibility

“As we think [about] issues of diversity and increasing access, the pandemic has refocused our attention on who gets to partake in international opportunities and who doesn’t. Even though it has been a financially difficult time for our sector, it is also an opportunity to rethink the mission of higher education and how to make it more accessible to a wider range of students. To truly diversify—racially, economically, geographically—we need to rethink models of revenue around international education: very often the students who have the greatest need and aspiration for global experiences are also the ones who are least able to afford such experiences.”

Pink and blue arrows on a pink background

William I. Brustein, PhD

Former special assistant to the president for global affairs; former vice president for global strategies and international affairs; Eberly Family Distinguished Professor of History, West Virginia University

Trend: Establishment of micro campuses by foreign higher education providers

“In the face of a persisting global pandemic, rising xenophobia in the United States, and the growing recognition of excellent universities in Asia, Canada, Europe, and Oceania, the number of degree-seeking international students (most notably from China) opting to complete degrees in the United States will, at best, remain flat or, more likely, decline in the ensuing years. This new reality will prompt more U.S. public universities to consider international dual degrees and joint institutes where the overseas students spend their entire 4 years, or perhaps 3 of the 4 years, earning their international degree in situ.”

Challenge: Course mapping and course delivery

“Establishing the international dual degree will require labor-intensive course mapping by both partner universities as well as a commitment from the U.S. university to deliver a specified number of courses taught by its own faculty or by carefully vetted visiting faculty on the campus of the overseas partner.”

Opportunity: Win-win scenario for both partners

“These new international dual degrees have the potential to create a win-win situation for both the overseas and North American partner universities. The potential benefits for the North American universities include increased enrollment, future alumni, freed-up classroom space at the home campus, and a new revenue stream. For the non-U.S. partners, the potential benefits include the possibility to attract more domestic students (by promoting the opportunity of earning a degree from a prestigious North American partner university), planting the seeds for future faculty teaching and research collaborations, and offering those students, who opt for the dual degree, a stay-at-home university experience at significant cost savings.”

Cheryl Delk-Le Good, MA

Executive director, EnglishUSA

Trend: Many paths to reach goals

“One key trend that is shaping international education in 2022 is that prospective students are seeking out more diverse paths to achieving their academic, personal, and professional goals. Furthermore, students who are able to travel to study in the United States are also more diverse and goal-oriented; those who pursue English language study on its own or in pursuit of academic or professional credentials are seeking programs that integrate all of their goals.”

Challenge: Engaging throughout the student experience

“English language programs in the United States have always excelled in offering a wide variety of programs for short- and long-term academic, personal, or professional pursuits and are usually in the forefront of helping communities and institutions be creative in establishing additional opportunities and connections for students. Rajika Bhandari, in a recent AIRC [American International Recruitment Council] plenary session, reminded the audience [of international educators] that the lifecycle of the student begins with the entry point, but we need to focus beyond when (or if) the students arrive and also focus on helping them ‘arrive and thrive.’”

Opportunity: Advocating for international education

“English language programs are critical in the journey of students and professionals; they contribute in helping with the challenges and successes of those journeys, having always adapted quickly to meet the needs of the institutions and communities. However, we in international education need to continue to call upon our government officials to create new policies, and fine-tune previous policies, that are welcoming to academic, professional, and tourist visitors. EnglishUSA continues to increase its advocacy efforts and influence [in the United States] and abroad to safeguard the interests of our industry as an integral part of international education.”

Karin Fischer

Journalist covering international education, Latitudes and Chronicle of Higher Education

Trend: U.S. higher education’s relationship with China

“For more than a decade, U.S. colleges’ ties to China have been among their most significant. As Chinese universities have become academic powerhouses, colleges prize their research and programmatic ties with them. Efforts have sought to expand the number of young U.S. students studying in China, while the number of Chinese students on U.S. campuses has dwarfed international students from any other country in the world. Yet, the pandemic has severely disrupted student and academic mobility with China—perhaps more than with any other country in the world, given early and enduring travel restrictions. And the anti-Chinese sentiment incubated by the pandemic—encouraged by some elected leaders in the United States and finding its way into government policy, such as through visa restrictions and the China Initiative investigations of researchers—has the potential for lasting damage.”

Opportunity: Deepened engagement with China and other countries

“Much of the Sino-American higher education relationship has been opportunistic, and a pause could give colleges the window to be more thoughtful and intentional about their work with China. Those ties have also been one-sided, with the number of students coming from China to the United States many magnitudes greater than U.S. students going the other direction. A more reciprocal relationship would be welcome. It’s also important that international education not be synonymous with China, and this moment could spur more engagement with other parts of the world, both in student mobility and educational partnerships. Finally, despite the setbacks, higher education offers the greatest possibility for developing deep and meaningful ties between the next generation of leaders in the world’s two superpowers. That potential shouldn’t be squandered.”

Challenge: Public opinion on Chinese students in the United States

“The pervasiveness of this [anti-Chinese] messaging and the extent to which it has taken hold is troubling. It is true that the Chinese government seeks to advance through innovation and may be taking advantage of certain vulnerabilities in its collaborations with U.S. colleges. But the extent to which this has been absorbed by the U.S. public is worrisome. While the American public is broadly supportive of international students in the United States, a recent Pew Research Center study found that a majority of U.S. citizens favored restrictions on Chinese students coming to this country. Chinese students and researchers may be internalizing these messages and could opt to go elsewhere, a loss to U.S. higher education and to scientific and technological advancement.”

Jane Gatewood, PhD

Vice provost for global engagement, University of Rochester

Trend: Changing mobility patterns

“Changes in mobility patterns globally—for students, but also for scholars, researchers, and educators—will shape this year. Historically, the majority world (Global South and East) has traveled to the minority world (Global North and West) to pursue education degrees as well as teaching and research posts. This has reinforced knowledge creation and higher education development in these locales (Global North and Global West), creating a feedback loop to draw more students and scholars there. Though with many borders closed and travel arrested, the pandemic has allowed for something that has been predicted for years: a decline in international student mobility to so-called ‘traditional’ locations. Whether this will hold remains to be seen, but it does provide an opening for the patterns to shift in profound ways.”

Challenge: Navigating and adapting to these shifts

“International educators will have to contemplate these possible mobility shifts, changing various strategies and tactics, from student recruiting and marketing to modes of degree and credential delivery and engagement strategies in-market. We will have to consider scope, scale, breadth, and depth of offerings, as well as regulatory regimes and legal matters in new markets. Trusted partnerships will likely become more important, as they can help us navigate this changing environment.”

Opportunity: Growth at institutions in the Global East and South

“Will students still travel for degrees? Of course. But they may also be pickier about where they will go and how far. Prestige will continue to draw students, and talent will move. But I think we can also expect that students may contemplate more intra-regional moves, and this provides an opportunity for more institutions in the Global East and Global South to grow.”

Pink and blue arrows on a blue background

Frances J. Santiago-Torres, PhD

Director of institutional rankings and global alliances; coordinator of immigration affairs; and vice president of academic affairs and research, University of Puerto Rico

Trend: Correlating internationalization, rankings, and sustainable practices

“Although mobility will remain an important aspect [of international education], identifying and activating creative ways to continue internationalizing our campuses is fundamental for the future of international education. Correlating internationalization practices to how and why universities participate in regional and world rankings, as well as, supporting sustainable practices, is key to the future of the field. Universities need to place themselves within the reach of students and faculty, local and international, by actively promoting research and collaborative initiatives, but also, and most importantly, health, well-being, inclusiveness, and lifelong sustainable practices.

Rankings are not only a race to position ourselves at the top, or as high as we can; they are also a way to look at our own data and help our universities become a better place for everyone in the university and the community at large. More and more, ranking companies are taking into consideration the ways in which institutions of higher education are fostering sustainable practices. As we navigate institutional ranking platforms, we become aware of the impact we have, where we excel, what needs to be improved, and what we have not done yet. Thus, this correlation between internationalization, rankings, and sustainable practices allows for more comprehensive and inclusive perspectives that will continue to impact the evolving field of international education.”

Challenge: The desire for “normality” or “going back to the way it was”

“Universities still struggle with the desire of going back to the way things were. Yet, we need to take this opportunity to innovate and refresh our perspectives and practices to expand and enrich the field of international higher education. We also need to decompartmentalize all things as we used to see and do them. We must continue advocating for innovative and creative ways to move forward bringing administrators and staff on board. Although we have evolved so much in the past year and a half, we still face many challenges ahead in terms of resources (technological and human), as well as local and global health issues directly related to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Nevertheless, we can still see the glass half full. Yes, I am an optimist at heart! I truly believe that embracing this change in paradigm, will allow us to continue growing, evolving, and contributing to a changing, more diverse, and comprehensive international education field.”

Opportunity: Change of paradigm

“At the University of Puerto Rico, we have discovered how much internationalization we have been engaging in for a long time, yet many of these activities seem to have been flying under the radar. Only the people directly involved in such activities were aware of them. A wide range of these initiatives are not necessarily related to student and faculty mobility but have consistently been promoting international collaborations and creating connections between local and international students, faculty, and staff. As a result, we have also seen an increasing interest in diversifying how we perceive internationalization, and we are looking for new avenues to continue engaging our students in global perspectives, inclusive practices, and diverse cultural experiences that enrich their views and reflections regarding social issues. There is much to be gained with this shift in perspective that combines internationalization, institutional rankings, and sustainable practices. This change of paradigm also provides a holistic view of the educational process and its outcomes. This is an opportunity for universities to build internationalization into their mission, vision, and objectives.”

Scott Tayloe, MBA

Chief strategy officer, CIS Abroad

Trend: Centralized internationalization efforts

“Campus consolidations and reduced staffing have previously prompted the idea of centralizing international efforts on campuses. Over the course of the past 6 months I’ve seen these conversations resurface at many institutions as they determine how best to manage the risk associated with traveling abroad during a global pandemic. Reducing duplicated efforts in any organizational structure should ultimately reduce the chance of missing key information or details that are even more important in times of a crisis.”

Challenge: Changing circumstances

“A challenge that could present itself with this trend is the magnitude of processes, agreements, [and other functions] that would need to be centralized. We’re in a continual cycle of reviewing and readjusting when it comes to policy and process. Directing all decisions through one channel could cause slower response times, and as we’ve found throughout the pandemic, changes are now happening on a daily (sometimes hourly) basis. A travel protocol or procedure could be approved one afternoon, and by the next day a new country restriction has presented itself, meaning the latest decision is already outdated and needs to be reviewed again.”

Opportunity: Reassess partnerships

“It’s quite common for a plethora of relationships (provider, exchange, recruitment agencies, and others) to exist on any given campus. Often these relationships have agreements that are either outdated or expired. Centralizing efforts provides the field an opportunity to reassess who they work with, determine parameters in establishing new relationships, and foster those partnerships to a level of trust that has become even more important given the global events of the past few years.”

Hilligje van’t Land, PhD

Secretary general, International Association of Universities

Trend: Virtual internationalization

“One major trend shaping the field of international education in 2022 is virtual internationalization, especially the increase of Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL), which can result in increased and improved internationalization at home. The pivoting online of most higher education activities since the world was hit by the impacts of COVID-19 includes the profound transformation of a field that called primarily for physical mobility between geographical spaces. Internationalization at home and COIL existed prior to March 2020, yet they received significantly increased attention during the pandemic. The quality of virtual exchanges and the maximization of opportunities to ensure the internationalization of the higher education experience on campus has multiplied over the last 2 years, yet much still can be done to improve it.”

Challenge: Habitus and cost

“The challenge would be to teach both the educators and the students how best to use the often untapped potential and rich diversity of approaches to knowledge systems, while valorizing this new approach in the teaching and learning experience. Virtual internationalization also comes with the challenge of access; technology and internet connection are not accessible to all, and the risk of new digital divides is a reality. It cannot replace all other forms of internationalization, nor should it be seen as a replacement for mobility. Yet it is a promising complementary approach in a field of interest to all.”

Opportunity: Breaking down silos and fostering inclusion

“Enhancing the international experience on campus requires further education of academics (teachers, researchers, and students) in order for them to learn about the opportunities on offer and ways to implement new dynamics in teaching and learning and in research. COIL and internationalization at home offer many different opportunities for more people to benefit from international higher education than those offered only through mobility. One opportunity that could benefit from enhanced attention is to maximize on the internationalization potential in individuals that compose academic classes today. The student body in most universities is intrinsically diverse and international. Educators everywhere could call on their expertise and personal culturally diverse perspectives on the academic field they study in to enrich the learning experience of all. This multiperspective approach in higher education would also help address the need for better inclusion of diverse student populations and lower the barriers to access.”  •

About International Educator

International Educator is NAFSA’s flagship publication and has been published continually since 1990. As a record of the association and the field of international education, IE includes articles on a variety of topics, trends, and issues facing NAFSA members and their work. 

From in-depth features to interviews with thought leaders and columns tailored to NAFSA’s knowledge communities, IE provides must-read context and analysis to those working around the globe to advance international education and exchange.


NAFSA: Association of International Educators is the world's largest nonprofit association dedicated to international education and exchange. NAFSA serves the needs of more than 10,000 members and international educators worldwide at more than 3,500 institutions, in over 150 countries.

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