Although the Covid-19 crisis is now having a profound and very disruptive impact on global higher education, an impact which will likely persist for many weeks if not months, it is nevertheless important to start planning for the future. But what will the world of higher education look like after the Covid-19 epidemic subsides?
AppliedHE ventures some predictions, some of which may turn out to be wrong, as is the nature of predictions, but which can nevertheless help students, educators and industry partners prepare as they look towards the future. We consider what will remain unchanged, challenges, opportunities and the big questions that remain unanswered at this juncture in time.
Demand for Quality Higher Education will persist. In an ever more technologically complex world, acquiring the right skills will continue to be a great investment, especially for young people. No matter how the pandemic changes the world, advances in automation, information and communications technology will not suddenly be reversed.
Stakeholder Focus on Employability will also continue as for many students, parents and governments employability is the primary goal of higher education. Institutions will continue to strategize to ensure high employability enabling them to meet this demand. That this now includes a greater focus on working from home, teleconferencing and online business processes does not discount the core value of employability.
Importance of Rankings & Branding in Higher Education will persist, especially as more higher education moves online due to social distancing measures. Students and other actors will be influenced by rankings, ratings and other indicators of quality, and in an online world they may be more inclined to take a global perspective.
On-Campus Delivery of Programs will likely be suspended for some time, as online learning has proven itself to be quite successful. The public and personal health benefits that online learning provides outweigh the loss in personal interaction during the Covid-19 pandemic. Therefore it is not inconceivable that mass-lectures will remain suspended for some time. From some pedagogical perspectives, the effectiveness of mass lectures was already being questioned, and so parts of a typically on-campus degree may permanently shift online, not least because of cost: lecture halls are expensive to build and maintain.
Decline or Deferment of International Study is a trend that is already showing itself and major recipients of international students (and their tuition fees) are already preparing for a steep decline for the coming academic year. This will put a strain on some universities in the US, UK, Canada and Australia, but also on private universities in a countries like Malaysia, which rely significantly on international student fee income, or private universities in rural South Korea, which have used international students to make up for falling local enrollment. The decline in international study could in some cases be permanent.
Growth for Local Institutions in Sending Nations as students from major sending countries like China, India or Vietnam decide to defer or adjust their plans for international study, local institutions that offer a high quality education stand to benefit. This could help local top-ranked institutions and those offering high quality international degrees attract talented and relatively well-off students who would otherwise have pursued their studies abroad. Students will continue to seek a world class experience, but will want it closer to home.
Growth in Online Study (including International) may be a lasting legacy of this crisis. With the demand for high quality education unchanged but a greater awareness of the potential risks of international study, online degree programs may finally have their moment. Since universities from Harvard to the National University of Singapore have now started to teach online the stigma of an online education has quickly worn off. While not all programs will be suitable for online study, or some can only partly go online, the flexibility and safety of online learning may attract many more students, including undergraduates. Key prerequisites for the success of online study are quality delivery and a credible examination framework.
What Part of On-Campus Delivery will permanently move Online? Are we seeing a permanent shift, or can we expect universities to go ‘back to normal’ a few months from now? If the pandemic lasts for at least a year, some of these changes may well become permanent and the role of a university campus may permanently change. Students might expect certain modules to be online, with personal interaction reserved for experiential, interactive and hands-on-learning. A mixed online and offline degree may become the norm.
Will Full-Degree International Study convert to Short-Term International Study? Students will still want to discover the world, and while full-degree international study may decline, students who instead opt for local or online programs may still want that international experience. So instead of spending 3-4 years abroad, spending a semester or a few weeks abroad, possibly in multiple locations, may become a new norm.