Will COVID-19 Change International Student Travel?

Listen to episode #13 of NAVIGATE to learn how important international travel is to students and universities.

Will COVID-19 Change International Student Travel?:

 Liz Newberry clip

0:00:00 – 0:00:16

We’ve gone from approximately 10,000 trips a year to I get excited when I have five a week. So we have our researchers, our academics going off internationally, we have our undergraduate students who we normally like to go off and have a semester overseas. And then we also have our international students coming in. So you can imagine when we’ve stopped international travel, it’s really hit us and is quite devastating.

Rodger Cook

0:00:21 – 0:01:18

Hello and welcome to navigate the travel podcast brought to you by World travel Protection. I’m your host, Roger Cook, and you just heard from Liz Newberry, the travel manager for Queensland University of Technology on the impact COVID-19 has had on their travel program. We’ll hear more from Liz throughout the show, as we focus on education in international travel in today’s episode.

As Liz mentioned, travel is an important part of the university curriculum of study abroad programs, academic research, and inbound international students all forming part of a University’s travel program. Prior to the pandemic migration data show that there were over 5.3 million international students studying abroad, which helps to generate over 300 billion to the global economy. With borders opening across the world, we ask the question, will student travel resume? And if so, what will it look like? Before we go there, it’s important to understand some of the factors about student travel. How important is international travel to the student? Is it critical for their understanding and education? Or is it just something that universities use to entice students to study at their institution. In order to explore this in more detail, we spoke with Dr. Andrea Reid, who is the Global Education Manager for WTP about her own study on this topic.

Dr Andrea Reid

0:01:18 – 0:03:01

My PhD research was centered around how we make meaning from experiences and life experiences that don’t have a formal curriculum. So I did this research in the context of study abroad. So I interviewed a bunch of study abroad students who’d been studying in a university overseas for one or two semesters after they returned home. So some of the key messages from what the students said was how important study abroad is as a kind of personal learning journey for them.

And when you think about students at that, in that age group, they’re kind of in that sort of 18 to, you know, 20 to 23 year, age group, and a lot of them are even if they’re living out of home, it’s their first experience of independence, it’s that experience of, of being somewhere new. So having global mobility experiences, or opportunities, whether they’re short term or longer term, and it’s so valuable for students in terms of being somewhere new, and something that’s almost impossible to replicate in a kind of virtual environment when you’re not there. I mean, obviously, we had to do things like that in universities in the last year or so because of the pandemic, but I don’t anything really replaces that that first-hand experience.

Rodger Cook

0:03:01 – 0:3:04

Yeah, absolutely. The firsthand experience is vital not only for personal growth, of course, but also professionally. You know entering the workforce with practical in-country experience can provide the edge in some circumstances. So how important that is, for these study abroad programs to return?

Dr Andrea Reid

0:03:04 – 0:04:16

I think offering study abroad and other short-term global mobility experiences, that’s a big part of what attracts a lot of students to a particularly university. And I know there’s a Bachelor of International Studies at UQ where a study abroad is a compulsory part of that program. And of course, you have the students who are studying languages where you know, being able to immerse yourself in the language while you’re studying away for six months is a huge boost to your learning so so there’s I guess there’s there’s risk there in terms of how you improve or enhance the learning experience, but, but for students yeah, that’s what they’re looking for in a degree and looking for that extra thing.

The other important part of study abroad or any kind of global mobility is employability development. I mean, a lot of employers are looking for students who have had a global experience. They’re looking for, even to to use a kind of cliched word, a well-rounded individual, that degree is not enough anymore. So you have to offer something to an employer beyond just a set of marks on an academic transcript. And the learning that students gain especially of what I found in my PhD research is so valuable personally as well as professionally, you know, giving you confidence, faith in yourself, an ability to work with people from all different backgrounds, contacts that you make, those kinds of things.

So I think it’s it’s a key part of of learning in terms of students personal learning, but also for their employability and helping them on their careers, which is – or their career path – which is what you know, universities are there for to, you know, to support students in that way so, so I think it’s really it’s super important that we’re able to get you know, travel up and running as soon as possible so that, that we can help students broaden their experience of university beyond just their studies in the classroom.

Rodger Cook

0:04:16 – 0:4:27

That was Dr. Andrea Reed, the Global Education Manager for World Travel Protection, sharing her insights into study abroad programs and how vital they are for personal and professional growth.

In order to explore in a broader context, the impact that COVID has had on the university sector, I asked Liz Newberry of QUT what their travel program looked like and how it was impacted throughout COVID.

Liz Newberry

0:04:27 – 0:05:06

We’ve gone from approximately 10,000 trips a year to I get excited when I have five a week. To put them into perspective, of my 10,000 trips, probably 75% of those are international. And they they are very important to us because we have both inbound and outbound International. So we have our researchers, our academics going off internationally, we have our undergraduate students who we normally like to go off and have a semester overseas. And then we also have our international students coming in. So you can imagine when we’ve stopped international travel it well, you worked with us last year, so you know what it’s like. So it’s really hit us and quite devastating.

Rodger Cook

0:05:06 – 0:05:46

I know it’s been absolutely been devastating on the sector. You know, as we start to see the vaccine rates increase, and when we start to hear talk of the borders opening, are you seeing a renewed interest from staff and students to get back out there and start traveling again?

Liz Newberry

0:05:46 – 0:06:41

Most definitely the the students would be long gone, if we would let them. The parents of the undergraduates might have a bit of a say in that. But our researchers, a lot of them are doing collaborative research with international institutions, and look while you can do a lot on teams and a lot on online – being face to face, and if they want to work in the labs with them, it’s really a bit hard. So yes, we’ve certainly got appetite, I think it will be different, but I don’t think it’ll be hugely different. The professional staff traveling will be a different thing, but I think for academic travel and student travel, it will bounce back fairly quickly.

Rodger Cook

0:06:41 – 0:06:43

I’m interested in your thoughts on what you think might be the biggest changes in this sector going forward with regards to travel.

Liz Newberry

0:06:43 – 0:08:25

I think moving forward, we will be I think our academics will be keener to do one destination rather than multiple destinations in one trip because I just think it’s going to be very difficult. I don’t think we’re going to see really long trips. And I think we’re going to see less multiple destinations. The undergraduates, I’m not really sure where they’re going to go, but I think they will still want to go to Europe or the US and do a semester. I can see our researchers resuming very quickly because they’ll have deadlines on their research. They’ll need to collaborate.

We will see – the decline I see is the Liz Newberry going to London for a conference, the professional staff member. So if you think of a – we  will still have our marketing people, we will still have our student recruitment officers traveling, we still have our researchers traveling, but will we have Liz Newberry going to a conference? Probably not. So I think that’s where the difference is going to be until this all settles down. And also, we’ve got to think that universities have financially been very hit by by COVID as with the travel industry, as well. So it’s going to be discretionary spending probably at least ’22.

Rodger Cook

0:08:25 – 0:08:27

With this return to travel, do you think the processes that we had pre-pandemic will be maintained? Or do you think we’ll see a shift in how travellers organise and prepare to go on these trip?

Liz Newberry

0:08:27 – 0:09:54


So we’ve all gone from passive approvals back to online approvals, we’ve gone back to having much bigger risk assessments done for things, we’re making people declare things before they travel. And that’s across the university sector. So it’s interesting from three years ago, where we all throw away everyone having to have a, an online approval to just having an email to we’re all going back to have you done a risk assessment? Have you got the right entry conditions? Very, very different. I’m working now with a panel of our health and safety people, with our research areas, with our international DVC on what do we put in place to reopen safely. So we’ve paused all international travel currently. So what we want to do is what is going to be the best way for us?

Now we know today, out of the blue, Qantas have said all the staff have to be vaccinated. So we’re gonna sit back a little bit and wait and see. And we will use world travel protection, a lot of times to give us this intelligence of what do people need to go where and when. We will be treating it much more like a visa. So you’re going to the US or a country that requires a visa, it is your job to have done the research with the tools we’ve given you to know when you present an airline to fly there, or at that country to enter, you can make the requirements. And I think that’s where our partnership with you will really allow us to give them the tools to make the decisions. I think for a while we will continue as we have now a very high-level approval. So rather than a Head of School, being able to prove that we’re up at executive dean level, or for international at the moment, it’s going right through the vice chancellor.

We’re going to be relying on them being able to get accurate updates, changes to – and this is why I think multiple destination trips are going to be difficult, at least in next year. I’m not sure about the year after but I was just reading an article this morning where people are traveling all around Europe, with a with a vaccination passport, and they’re going in and out of every country. So you know, hopefully that’s where we’ll get to. But the big thing for us is they’ve got to have the knowledge, they’ve got to be able to do it before they go and we’re working with our travel management company as well on that. And then they’ve also got to know what to do when they get somewhere and it goes pear shaped. And we’re finding that even domestically.

Rodger Cook

0:09:55 – 0:10:10

That’s a really good point, you know, we talk about international travels was being the focus. And that’s that’s where a lot of the risk lies. But in the last 18 months, domestic travel has definitely had its complexities and required organsations to change the way they manage that.

Liz Newberry

0:10:11 – 0:11:05

Yeah, that’s totally changed. And while I think we’ve always worried about international and when you have four to 500 people a week away, in every continent in the world, that’s always been where we focus, but for the last 12 months, I mean I got a call the other night to find out who was in Byron Bay, because it was going into lockdown. Never even thought about monitoring who you know, would have driven from Brisbane to Byron Bay. It is much, much, much higher up on our list. And the policy changes, have a look around that – who’s gonna pay quarantine? If someone goes to Sydney and then has to quarantine in Brisbane, does that come out of their grant? Does that come out of university funds? But we need to know who it is there and who it is.

So while we’ve never really worried greatly about domestic travel. It’s really high. I mean, it’s it’s the only travel we’ve got but we need to know these border closures just so impact us and again, getting that information in getting help to people. And getting it quickly and getting it accurately. And I think, as you know, we work very strongly with World Travel Protection last year with the number of our students who were away on one-way tickets. So that’s one of the policy changes, you’ve got to have a return ticket. Because they were all overseas with no money and couldn’t afford a ticket. So it’s interesting the things COVID has shown us that we didn’t do well. And we’ve had this pause to fix that.

Rodger Cook

0:11:05 – 0:11:13

It’s great that you’ve captured the lessons learned from COVID-19 and use these to improve your your travel program. What else have you managed to do, given that we’ve had a bit of a hiatus with regards to travel?

Liz Newberry

0:11:13 – 0:11:29

It has given us that pause, to reevaluate absolutely every part of our travel program, but with a huge emphasis now on risk management, and that is really the highest priority for us now. Price and all of those things are important, but our people have suddenly become really important to us, because we need to know – because we’re going we’re liable for them while they’re traveling – so we need to know we’re giving them the tools and that those tools are good quality tool that they can get the right information from and that we showed them how to find that and how to use it.

And then once travel does go, they know what to do if something happens and they’re they’re to me the key things. I’m just putting a paper forward to our senior executives now on from our little travel recommencement group on what we will probably have to look at, what will be our key – and risk management is the number one.

Rodger Cook

0:11:29 – 0:11:37

That was Liz Newberry the travel manager at Queensland University of Technology. This is it for our episode today on how COVID-19 has impacted the education industry and the importance of rebuilding these travel programs for the students, academics and for the universities themselves.

I’d like to thank Liz, Andrea and Cheryl Hood who have helped put this episode together. For more information on how we protect millions of global travellers and students each year. Please visit worldtravelprotection.com or follow us on LinkedIn. Finally, if you enjoyed this episode and you want to hear more from our experts, be sure to subscribe. Keep traveling and stay safe.


In this episode, host Rodger Cook turns to one sector that’s been greatly impacted by border closures during the pandemic: universities.

From students studying a semester abroad to staff travelling for conferences through to incoming international students, universities are oftentimes coordinating hundreds of trips at any one time.

While staff and students have managed to continue their research and education online, will we see international travel resume once borders are open? Listen to the episode now for answers to that question, along with others around how the pandemic has changed university travel.

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