This is not an article about the 300 million people worldwide who are not in workplaces or classrooms because of COVID-19. This is not an article about locked down cities, overwhelmed medical facilities, stock market declines, travel plans in tatters or cancelled conferences, sporting events and concerts.
This is an article that will attempt to calculate what the worldwide economic and higher education landscape will look like after the threat of COVID-19 has dissipated; what remains.
The lens through which I look is cloudy, at best. Disruptions and upheavals are not the usual companions of logic and reason. And the dark alchemy of fear and unpredictability walk the halls of corporations and universities alike, making it difficult, no impossible, to predict with precision what remains.
Recognising that it is unwise to make predictions about the future, I nevertheless believe there are at least five residuals that will remain after COVID-19 is no longer a major threat to human life and an economic and education disruptor.
1. Diversifying supply away from China
Supply chains of both goods and the internationally mobile students have been disrupted and will require diversification in the future. About five million companies worldwide have Chinese suppliers, according to the data company Dun & Bradstreet. COVID-19 has exposed the fragility of overreliance on Chinese suppliers.
Apple, Amazon and Microsoft, as well as many Japanese companies, are actively seeking to diversify their supply chain away from China to other countries.
The COVID-19 virus has taught the world hard lessons about a China-only supply chain.
Colleges and universities worldwide, especially those heavily dependent on Chinese student enrolments, such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States, can no longer expect Chinese students to enrol in the numbers they have for decades.
According to the Institute of International Education, three-quarters of American colleges and universities have reported the negative impact of COVID-19 on recruitment this year. It is important to keep in mind that 370,000 students, or 33.7% of America’s total international students, are from China.
Decreased enrolment of Chinese students has already impacted the economies of Australia, New Zealand and Canada.
The COVID-19 virus has taught the higher education community hard lessons about a Chinese-dependent student supply chain.
Conversely, the Chinese master plan to become the #1 importer of international students is in question. University deans and recruiters will be hard pressed to recommend, without reservation, future exchange programmes on Chinese campuses.
In a survey of more than 2,000 students from Africa, Asia and Australia, conducted by QS, nearly three in 10 said their plans had changed due to the virus. It is impossible to estimate what percentage of the students responding to this survey would have studied in China.
2. A wider role for online learning
The list is too long and changes daily of the number of colleges and universities worldwide that have suspended, or ended, in-person instruction and replaced it with online teaching.
The wisdom and necessity of increased online and MOOC learning options can no longer be denied. Presidents, vice-chancellors, provosts and academic deans will be forced to reconsider what part of their educational delivery will be offered in person and what part will be offered online.
3. Embracing online recruitment methods
Recruitment and admission practices will change. Across Asia, entrance examinations have been delayed, which will eventually affect the 2020 autumn intake of first-year students. For instance, China’s cancellation of SAT, TOEFL, GRE and GMAT examinations will impact future undergraduate and graduate school enrolment in the United States for the fall semester.
Admission deans and recruiters in the future will embrace online outreach to prospective students. Flexible application deadlines and a review of qualifying credentials will require re-evaluation of current recruitment and admission practices.
Prior algorithms, attempting to calculate expected yields of accepted students, may no longer be valid. College fairs may no longer be valid. Accepted student receptions and traditional orientation programmes may also no longer be valid.
Nunzio Quacquarelli, QS’s CEO, stated: “The global higher education sector should aim to be flexible on application deadlines and delayed start dates.”
4. Rise of teleconferencing
Most companies and colleges and universities have banned all non-essential travel for employees. Teleconferencing opportunities will partially replace long distance travel as both faculty and administrators re-evaluate recruitment travel and attendance at academic conferences.
5. More will study closer to home
Specific cohorts of students will opt to study closer to home. According to a report published by QS, prospective Asian students may increasingly look to intra-regional universities for tertiary study. Spencer Hawkes, director of special projects at BMI, told The PIE News: “I think there is a clear trend that more Asian students will look to study in Asia. This is happening already.” Currently, Malaysia is the leading study destination in Asia.
Simon Emmett, CEO of IDP Connect, told The PIE News that a significant number of students are exploring study options in Malaysia, South Korea and Singapore.
We live in a world where norms are constantly unravelling around the edges. At the intersection of disruption and unpredictability will emerge a new model for the world’s economy and for higher education. COVID-19 has created a new world order requiring a shift in perspective and necessitating thinking in different ways.
For heads of state and corporate global leaders, as well as higher education administrators, a shifting perspective will hopefully encourage different perspectives and eventually encourage re-alignment of markets and students.
There are several opportunities that will also be residuals from COVID-19. But that’s another article with a different lens.
“In 1665, Cambridge University closed because of the plague. Isaac Newton decided to work from home. He discovered calculus and the laws of motion. Just saying,” said Paddy Cosgrave, chief executive of Web Summit.