December 5, 2023

In his speech at the International Higher Education Forum 2023, Marginson said that predictions focused on online education and intra-regional mobility have not been realized.

“There is no evidence yet that there will be a fundamental change in the post-covid situation compared to the pre-covid situation,” the University of Oxford professor told attendees.

“One of the lessons of the last two decades has been that online education is never a substitute for on-site learning,” he said.

Marginson argued that “widespread” predictions, including by those who “want to monetize online learning”, that digital learning would replace face-to-face education were wrong. Instead, virtual education complements and supports those who have less access to traditional education.

Similarly, students still choose long-distance mobility over destinations closer to home, despite expectations that this will change as a result of the pandemic.

“Online education will never replace on-site learning”

“I think people will continue to seek to come from the global South and East and Southeast to Europe and the Anglophone world,” Marginson said. “The socio-economic benefits of that haven’t really changed.”

The UK and US are expected to continue to be strong draws for students, while growth from India is likely to continue in a “volatile” manner. As an example of this ongoing turbulence, he cited recent restrictions imposed by Australian universities on students from certain areas of India.

“The stronger India is economically, the stronger its higher education will be, but also the stronger its ability to send students out of the country, so you’ll see both continue,” Marginson predicted.

The professor also discussed the geopolitical shift towards a “less Western dominant world”, with countries such as India, Turkey and Brazil taking a “middle position” in the face of political tensions.

“All of this will have a long-term impact on mobility,” Marginson said. He he pointed to events of the past decade, including Brexit, the US’s separation from China and the Russia-Ukraine war, as having “spectacular and immediate effects on student mobility”.

The Universities UK International event was held online over two days, with representatives from the sector discussing topics such as the financial sustainability of universities, the role of higher education in responding to humanitarian crises and the challenges of international acceptance.

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