While the higher education sector has been hit hard by the pandemic, there is still significant potential for growth in key areas. Read on to find out more.
The coronavirus crisis has significantly impacted the higher education sector.
As countries moved into varying degrees of lockdown in 2020, university campuses were forced to close, and events were cancelled to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
Unfortunately, as we near the end of 2020, there still exists a large degree of uncertainty for many institutions, with coronavirus cases on the rise across the globe.
The total financial impact of the pandemic on the higher education sector won’t be known until sometime after countries return to normality, though estimates of losses are high.
A recent report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies into the impact of the pandemic on the UK higher education sector estimates “long-run losses could come in anywhere between £3 billion and £19 billion.”
The UK government attributes these financial difficulties to a range of factors, including the “losses in income from lower home student numbers, a drop in research work, and less revenue from accommodation, catering, and conferencing.”
While the disruption to the higher education sector has been significant, the pandemic has also shone a light on areas of opportunity for institutions.
Institutions who are proactive in their response to these potential areas of growth, evolving to meet the changing demands of staff and students, are likely to bounce back quicker from the pandemic when the time comes.
The shift to online learning in the early stages of the pandemic was an unexpected and sudden move for many institutions, with no choice but to rely on virtual means to connect staff and students.
While online learning was steadily gaining attention in the higher education sector prior to the pandemic, recent events certainly accelerated the transition to this new way of learning.
This rapid shift didn’t come without its challenges, with reports of students struggling to adapt to online lectures, and questions raised about how the requirement for new technology might disproportionately affect students from low-income backgrounds.
However, as institutions began to improve their online learning offering, the benefits of this approach became clearer.
Online learning provides students with the option of flexible study and the ability to fit lectures and seminars around personal commitments, such as work and childcare.
As a result, institutions are potentially presented with a range of new student markets, including those with care duties, mature students, and those in full-time employment, as well as expanding reach within global markets.
Advanced technologies that can accompany online learning, including machine learning, also allow for more optimized learning pathways for students.
By analyzing data on student performance, machine learning can develop personalized learning pathways, helping students reach their full potential.
Institutions who invest in this technology may see greater student engagement and lower drop-out rates as a result, explored in our previous blog: How Machine Learning can Boost Student Retention.
While there are still many questions surrounding the role online learning will play at higher education institutions in the future, it’s clear that the crisis has highlighted the opportunities it might offer institutions.
Institutions that continue to invest in online learning after the pandemic subsides may have access to a greater variety of student markets and could position themselves as innovation leaders.
In order to diminish the critiques of staff and students, many institutions still need to expand and improve their online learning capacity, as well as ensuring no student is left behind in the transition process.
However, what can be said with relative certainty is that, whether adopted fully or as a hybrid method, online learning is here to stay at many institutions.
Not only does the advancement of online learning provide access to a greater variety of domestic student markets, it also allows for further reach within global markets.
International students who wish to achieve a qualification from a specific university overseas would be able to do so from their own country if their chosen university offered fully online courses.
In fact, the 2020 QS Global International Student Survey demonstrates that international students are open to virtual learning, with 58% of students declaring some level of interest in completing their course online.
However, institutions still have a lot of work to do if they want their online learning offering to appeal to international students even after campuses fully reopen and travel restrictions are lifted.
According to Open Campus, “the most obvious headache is time.”
Most international students must navigate time-zone differences when attending virtual seminars and lectures, as well as having to accept the effect this might have on the time they have to complete their assignments.
And while some international students might have access to a laptop or computer to complete online learning, they have limited control over the strength of the internet connection in their local area.
For example, in January 2020, The New Daily reported that Australia “has fallen to 68th in global internet speed rankings, making it the fourth slowest country for broadband in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).”
While it’s clear that there is potential for growth in international student numbers as a result of online learning, institutions need to first address the issues facing these students studying online from overseas if it’s going to successfully appeal to the market.
Experts have revealed that changing habits as a result of the pandemic has had several indirect positive effects on the environment.
According to a report in Science of the Total Environment: “There is a significant association between contingency measures and improvement in air quality, clean beaches, and environmental noise reduction.”
Some countries, such as the UK, are viewing the post-pandemic recovery period as an opportunity to redirect the country towards a more sustainable way of living.
The ‘Build back better and build back greener‘ campaign, established by the UK government, plans to accelerate efforts in “clean energy, clean transport, nature-based solutions, adaptation and resilience, and underpinning everything, finance.”
While the pandemic has been an incredibly disruptive period for institutions, it has also been a time to reflect on how institutions can sustain the period of environmental revival even after the pandemic settles.
The hope is that, in doing so, institutions will place climate action at the forefront of their decision making as they look beyond the crisis.
This is exactly what University College London is planning to do with their ‘green return to campus’ strategy.
The university says: “Since we started working remotely, we have been identifying spaces for low-cost greening interventions around Bloomsbury to make the campus more inviting for both wildlife and UCL staff and students upon our return.”
Institutions who are committed to reducing their negative impact on the environment should look to the coronavirus recovery period as a time to accelerate and expand their sustainability efforts.
Doing so not only contributes to climate action, but it helps your institution build a socially conscious image, something that is of increasing importance to prospective students.
To find out more about how higher education has evolved this year, please download your free copy of the QS report, Higher Education in 2020: How COVID-19 Shaped this Year.