Impact of COVID-19 on Prospective Students Considering European Business Schools

growth of masters enrolment in European business schools

In the last two decades, the Bologna Process coupled with the increasing pace of globalisation propelled the growth of master’s level enrolment in the business and management programmes in Europe.

Many European business schools benefited from the mobility of learners from within Europe and overseas. According to Eurostat, every one out of four students enrolled in business, administration, and law in EU-28 countries (including the UK), was from abroad. This higher participation of international learners translates into 195,125 mobile students in master’s level programmes in business, administration, and law in EU-28 countries in 2018, an increase of 18 percent from 2013.

An analysis of GMAT™ test-takers data shows sustained growth in the proportion of prospective candidates considering studies in Europe. Emerging countries in Africa, Asia-Pacific and Latin America drove much of this growth. For example, the proportion of candidates from Africa sending reports to Europe increased from 23.3 percent in TY 2011 to 30.2 percent in TY 2019 (testing year runs from 1 July 2018 to 30 June 2019).

However, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic is shifting the global mobility patterns and influencing the choice preferences of prospective students considering studies in Europe. In order to gauge the impact of COVID-19 on the journey of prospective business school students, GMAC has been tracking and reporting the findings based on the Prospective Students Survey. The results reported below are based on a subset of survey respondents who indicated a preference to study in Europe. A total of 829 prospective business school students responded to the survey between 1 March and 30 June 2020. This included 637 international candidates based on their citizenship and 192 domestic candidates.

When asked about the impact of COVID-19 on their plans to pursue a graduate degree, 41 percent of the respondents reported that they are extremely concerned or very concerned (on a five-point scale). By looking from the lens of citizenship, 42 percent of international candidates and 36 percent of domestic candidates reported that they are extremely concerned or very concerned. This suggests that overall concern levels for domestic and international candidates are only slightly different. However, this comparability in the level of concerns masks the differences related to the underlying reasons for concerns about the impact of COVID-19 on prospective students plans to pursue graduate management education.

Unsurprisingly, travel bans are among the top reason for the concerns, and it affects international candidates (60%) more than domestic candidates (42%) due to visa and related reasons. Likewise, international candidates (48%) are more concerned about the job market status than domestic candidates (36%) due to higher investments in education and expectations for career advancement.

prospective business masters students and perception of Europe GMAC Choudaha Rahul

The contrast between domestic and international candidates becomes more apparent when comparing the perception of the impact of COVID-19 on Europe as a study destination. A similar proportion of domestic (27%) and international candidates (21%) identified as a concern that the region where they live is highly affected due to the impact of COVID-19. However, a significant gap appears in the perception of how the region where they want to study is affected (Europe). Nearly half of all international candidates reported that they were concerned about the impact of Coronavirus on the region where they want to study (Europe) as compared to 31 percent of domestic candidates.

In sum, while the overall concern levels for domestic and international candidates are high, it is essential to recognise the differences in the reasons for their concerns. One direct implication is that business schools need to communicate and address the diverse concerns of prospective students related to the visa, travel, and job markets. There is even more intentional effort required to address the perception among international candidates about how severely Europe is affected due to COVID-19. This proactive communication and engagement strategy would help international candidates overcome their concerns, and European business schools sustain their enrolments in these uncertain times.


Dr. Rahul Choudaha is Director of Industry Insights & Research Communications at GMAC in the Washington DC area. As a subject-matter expert on mobility trends, student choices, and enrolment strategies, he evangelizes trends and insights related to global graduate management education and careers on the foundations of research and intelligence. He has presented more than 150 sessions at professional conferences and has been quoted over 300 times in global publications. Follow him on LinkedIn and Twitter.