More than a third of prospective international university students are considering changing their study abroad plans, according to a new survey, suggesting the pandemic could cause long-lasting financial scars on institutions worldwide. 

Figures published on 14 April by Studyportals, a comparison website for overseas university programmes, showed that 40% of respondents to a survey were revising their plans to study in another country in light of global Covid-19 outbreaks. This figure had risen from 31% a few weeks prior.

The growing number of students out of the 850 respondents willing to alter their study abroad plans because of Covid-19 signals financial headwinds at universities in the UK, US, Canada and Australia, many of which depend heavily on incomes from foreign students, who tend to pay inflated tuition fees.

Students surveyed were mostly from key source markets, including Nigeria, India, Pakistan, Kenya, Ghana and Bangladesh.

Of the 307 students who told Studyportals that they were re-evaluating their options, 152 wished to postpone enrolment until next year or the year after, while 128 were considering enrolling on an online course. Some 66 respondents said they would not go abroad and would instead enrol at a university in their home country, while 36 were considering a different destination country and 33 would not pursue university studies at all.

At present, international travel remains prohibited in most parts of the world.

The survey’s findings were published a week after Moody’s, the global ratings agency, issued a research announcement saying that “the virus outbreak will negatively affect finances at rated universities in the US, Canada, UK, Australia, Singapore and Mexico this year”, as “lower-than-expected enrolments will reduce tuition fee income and put pressure on institutions’ budgets”. Moody’s had already downgraded the credit rating of the UK’s higher education sector in November last year, suggesting that the country’s universities would face a rise in borrowing costs.

Last month, industry body Universities UK warned that institutions could face a £7 billion “black hole” come September, as the sector prepared to ask for a government bailout to cover widespread income losses from international students, particularly those from China. At the University of Manchester, for instance, one in eight students is Chinese.