Are higher education institutions ready to adapt to the post-pandemic world?
By Avantika Tomar
Crisis often forces society to transform, sometimes in disruptive ways. The Covid-19 pandemic is one such crisis that is disrupting economies and radically transforming key sectors, higher education being one of them. While Higher Education Institutions (HEIs), albeit under pressure, are undergoing sweeping transformations driven by the need to digitize learning in record time, challenges exist.
More than 5 million students are enrolled in HEIs outside their home countries (UNESCO, 2020), generating a global economic impact of nearly $300 billion per year. China and India, emerging as top source countries, make up nearly half of international students at US universities (UNESCO, 2019). The pandemic has either wiped out this segment or led to delayed admissions at best.
The good news is that these numbers have started to improve and global student mobility patterns have started to return to pre-Covid-19 levels. According to a report by the Ministry of External Affairs, India recorded the highest number of students traveling abroad in 2021. The number rose from 589,000 in 2019 to over 750,000 in 2021. have improved considerably, HEIs will still need to think about ways to capitalize on this momentum.
The next challenge is cash flow, especially for universities heavily dependent on tuition fees from international students. These institutions not only lose restaurant sales, parking fees, and other revenue, but they also face unforeseen expenses, including partial or full fee refunds and the need to upgrade teaching infrastructure. virtual. Students who are dissatisfied with the current online learning experience or cannot afford fees in the current economic climate will drop out, further compounding the cash flow challenge.
The third challenge is the fate of educators who have been driven to experiment and master virtual teaching at record speed. While most HEIs have adapted by partnering with education technology (edtech) providers, is this the start of an academic revolution? Well, we haven’t seen that yet.
Road to post-pandemic transformation
While some experts believe that HEIs will globally return to the pre-pandemic era in a year or two, others predict the mass extinction of universities in person. Both are at the ends of the spectrum. However, somewhere in the middle of these extremes is the sweet spot for HEIs to keep internationalism alive:
Provide blended learning: Online education provides universities with treasure troves of data to decide which aspects of their courses can be augmented or replaced by digital media. They can also determine the different degrees of online and in-person experiences required for each course. The hybrid model will provide the benefits of an on-campus learning experience while reducing the cost of education.
Ensure optimal student engagement and experience: One of the biggest factors that can make or break a student’s experience is their sense of belonging. This aspect has suffered the most during the pandemic. Without a strong sense of belonging, students often struggle to stay engaged in their studies. To provide a pleasant student experience, some universities in the UK, Australia and New Zealand are said to have organized charter planes to bring students. Kent State University has set up a one-stop-shop website, with a hotline and contact addresses for all Covid-related questions, including telehealth services.
Commenting on the importance of collaborating with partners and making learning more accessible to students, Rachit Agrawal, co-founder of AdmitKard, said, “To ensure an enjoyable student experience and build a strong future, four components must work. together: office, testing agencies, government officials (immigration office) and edtech players. Countries that have found a way to work together are seeing an increase in the number of international students.
Collaborate with policymakers and regulators: Universities will need to develop innovative ways to increase the attractiveness of their courses. The United States, for example, was the preferred destination for 32% of eligible students wishing to pursue higher education. That number has now fallen to 9%, fueled in part by restrictions on opportunities (mainly visa sponsorships) for international graduates entering the country.
Build digital marketing capabilities: Education fairs, once gala events with giveaways and discount offers, are now hosted online. For example, APAC universities spend almost 58% of their marketing budget on online events. Georgia Tech University runs a popular YouTube channel with guide videos, student profiles, and engaging “day in the life” type of content.
Collaborate with edtech companies: Universities should pay attention to strategic collaborations with edtech providers. Most content produced by edtech companies would require investments beyond the content creation budgets of most individual universities. Several European universities are pooling resources and partnering with edtech companies to develop curricula, learning materials and other student activities.
The next few years will likely see significant changes in the higher education landscape, but the pandemic has revealed the sector’s potential to adapt quickly. We may eventually see a “back to school” environment, but the blended learning model will prevail for the foreseeable future. To thrive in the post-pandemic world, HEIs will need to build resilient strategies, be open to collaboration, and embrace digital transformation to forge a transformed identity.
(The author is associate partner (Education), EY-Parthenon)