What hasn’t changed in 2020? Students still want to go to university
What hasn’t changed in 2020? Students still want to go to university
What hasn’t changed in 2020? Students still want to go to university
Jane Larsson Executive Director
Nico Evers


By Jane Larsson and Nico Evers



It’s extremely heartening that so many secondary school students worldwide still want to forge ahead with their university plans despite all the challenges they have faced in 2020. As they continue to encounter unforeseen obstacles to their progress, how are we helping them to overcome them and move ahead?

As part of our commitment to supporting them, it was our great pleasure to welcome more than 1,000 university admissions representatives and school guidance counsellors across our global community to our virtual Global Forum on International Admission & Guidance in November.

Members heard from inspiring keynotes, they presented and listened in as colleagues shared updates, they networked. And this year, they eagerly joined virtual hangout rooms to talk about a year when almost all your practices have changed. As they learned from their colleagues and compared their experiences, did their assumptions change? What will the future look like?

One thing was clear from our speakers and our participants: the importance of building community. ​


CIS Higher Ed Team Global Forum 2020

Our Higher Education Team, first to post on the participant photo wall at our virtual 2020 Global Forum


Three themes that unite us

These three themes emerged from our 2020 Forum:

1. Connectedness

What impressed us the most was what the Forum means to our school and university community. We could clearly see how participants came to the Forum to be inspired, to be informed, to learn, to be supported, to connect and to share. Participants clearly found it enjoyable to spend time with like-minded professionals and colleagues and showcase their leadership in the field. Many people came to the 'hangout lounges' where we could witness how actively engaged they were with each other—they had a lot to talk about!

One of the great things about a virtual event was that schools and universities could open up the event to all their staff via the group registration, rather than sending one representative in person.

As one head of global recruitment told us: "I registered my entire team and we really liked the accessibility of the interface, the way to connect with counselors and others, the photo wall, the availability of the presentations even if you weren't up to view them live, etc. Particularly noteworthy to us was both the way I was able open up this event to my entire staff, which I think engenders organizational loyalty as more people are allowed in—but also our ability to access the entire program and list of attendees so that we can cultivate our contacts with counselors worldwide; this networking component is particularly critical now as we see more and more virtual meeting fatigue and high school counselors encountering difficulty motivating their students to attend university presentations. It all, in my opinion, was a smashing success!"

The Forum was a great reminder of how important it is for all of us to connect and share—and that is exactly what CIS as a membership organization is about.

2. Forward thinking

“There will be change. We need to create a resilience generation.”

These words from Taha Bawa, Founder of Goodwall, a next-generation community for students and young professionals, opened the Forum and echoed throughout the sessions. It is clear that people are ready for change. We could see colleagues mutually reinforcing their changing perspectives, describing new practices, and beginning to accept and design an admissions and guidance future that will be different.

What a good time it was to learn from Taha and two other change-makers, Luis Von Ahn, a pioneer of crowdsourcing who founded Duolingo and created an English Language Test to improve access through technology, making the process more efficient and less expensive. Luis observed, “Education brings equality. Education also brings inequality.”; and Patrick Awuah, Founder and President of Ashesi University in Ghana with a vision to develop ethical leaders for the African continent, reminded us to set our sights high, to “push through the performance horizon”.

We can also tell that our participants are eager to look to the future by their choice of sessions—the most popular sessions at the Forum were all about new realities, planning ahead, adapting to change, and our shared commitment to planning for the unexpected. Such as "Student Recruitment changed for good: effective and sustainable ways to move forward in the ‘new normal’ and beyond", "IB: Our approach to Summer 2021 and beyond", and "The world keeps changing at tweet speed: How can the admission and guidance community prepare students for it?"

Just ahead of the Forum, we asked Jasmine Seah, Director of Admissions at Yale-NUS College in Singapore what message she has for the CIS community right now, she encouraged us in this way:

“Have faith and persist. Take this incredible opportunity to change. Re-think technology and don’t be afraid of multi-modalities.”

3. Well-being

Unsurprisingly, in a year ravaged by health fears in relation to a global pandemic, well-being was an important theme for many participants. The Forum offered a space for likeminded colleagues from around the globe to share their well-being concerns—of their students, staff and of themselves. To help us all deal with the profound changes underway in international education, Natasha Devon, Mental Health activist, returned to discuss how we talk about our mental fitness and to consider ways to cope with the seemingly endless days that virtual and hybrid education can bring. Her always practical advice:

“If you are working difficult hours, make sure you divide your day into morning, afternoon, and evening, and only work during two of them.”


The Forum is also about celebration

One of the highlights of our CIS Global Forum each year is the celebration of outstanding work across our community of universities and schools via the Higher Education Awards. This year, amid such a challenging time, it gives us enormous pleasure to celebrate, recognise, and thank the following individuals for their exemplary service in the international admission and guidance community.

Congratulations to Amy E. Markham from Mount Holyoke College, Massachusetts, USA our 2020 recipient of the CIS T. Michael Maybury Award,

And c​​​​​​ongratulations to Patience Fanella-Koch from Aiglon College, Switzerland our 2020 recipient of the CIS Peggy Templeton Strong Award.

Read more about the awards and Amy's and Patience's nominations.


What our members had to say 

It reminded me that education is a powerful tool for good, but continues to represent many forms of inequality. This will stay with me as I advocate for practices and policies within my university. There were some great reminders as well as new information about the current state of students, as well as professionals. I appreciated the honest and open dialogue about the challenges and opportunities we are all facing.

Great topics, opportunities to chat, hangout rooms and agenda gave plenty of room to meet whilst learning new things. Loved the synchronous/asynchronous feel and the ability to download presentations.

1) I loved the hangouts sessions. Good chance to chat with folks from all over the world. I wonder if maybe I interacted with even more folks than I might have had we been in person?! They were most successful when someone proposed an interesting topic of discussion. 2) Virtual booths. At past forums I would never have had the opportunity gain so much info about universities and their reps. Thank you! 3) There is a bright side to technology, also: thanks for making the videos and slides available in the resources section to review later. I'm going to re-watch a few where I ran into "freezing screens," as well as a few I didn't get to see because I was in another workshop. 4) The people. What an amazing and inspiring group. Great CIS team, great uni reps, great college counselors!

Well-paced over an extended daily schedule thoughtful in providing networking sessions calm tone overall - what we all need more of right now!
The platform was awesome and probably one of the best ones that I have experienced for a conference.


Don't forget! All the recordings and keynotes are still accessible

Forum participants can still log in to access all the presentations and keynote speaker recordings. Return to watch them at your leisure.


Save the dates for next year’s Forum on 16–18 November 2021

Stay tuned for more information.


Also read about the 3rd Summit of University and School Leaders where outcomes align well with the Forum themes.

What hasn’t changed in 2020? Students still want to go to university
  • Networking & learning
  • School & university collaboration
  • University admission & guidance
What hasn’t changed in 2020? Students still want to go to university