The rapid spread of the Coronavirus outbreak has affected all parts of our lives and almost all sectors worldwide. Universities and college campuses have been significantly impacted by the pandemic too.
The traditional model included in-person lectures, on-campus social engagement, physical participation in college activities, and generally students living and studying close to each other.
Now, the college experience as we know it is getting transformed in front of our eyes.
The growing pandemic forced education officials to resort to some drastic measures. The classes have been canceled, and the doors to campuses worldwide were closed. In the U.S. and other countries, a shift was made to online learning.
At this moment, it is uncertain how things will unfold in the future, and it’s difficult to predict whether the COVID-19 will lead to long-term disruption to the higher education system.
Cuts in higher education funding
Most governments are expected to cut their higher education funding due to COVID-19 related financial issues. The main focus for most countries at the moment is improving national strengths, and some estimate that the universities will be asked to accomplish more with less funding and restricted budgets.
Unfortunately, it is also predicted that in those countries that are unable to recover from the impact of the pandemic, the higher education system will suffer even more as a result of the financial crisis.
The impact on the internationalization of higher education
The Coronavirus outbreak’s impact on the cross-border movement of students, academics, and scholars is severe. It is pretty clear that the numbers of international students and scholars globally will see a big decline.
Universities and colleges that mostly rely on international students’ tuition fees will be the most affected by this trend. To survive, they will have to find other ways of funding.
Maintaining access to learning
Maximizing online learning should be the number one priority for all educational institutions. Online courses are the most effective tools to provide students with access to knowledge. Universities all over the world are making an effort to adjust their programs to current circumstances.
For example, in the U.S., the remaining two weeks of in-person classes at Stanford University were called off, and professors were urged to move the remainder of their lessons online.
Other universities, including the University of Washington, Seattle University, New Jersey’s Princeton University, and others, are beginning to switch to virtual classes.
Virtual teaching methods are not likely to replace traditional ones, but their role will become more critical.
Luckily, some education providers are keeping up to date with changes and trends. Healthcare professionals can get ACLS and PALS online during the pandemic. The courses are industry-approved, top-quality, and self-paced so that students can fit them into their schedules more easily.
There are even simulations of real-life emergencies in an online setting, so students can apply what they’ve learned.
The courses provide practical knowledge you can use, and getting certified is affordable. That’s what virtual classes should be about.
Including IT departments in the process
Transferring all programs online may turn out to be quite a challenge, especially for the smaller universities. The majority of educational institutions worldwide have already integrated some form of online education into their programs.
Working with IT personnel may be useful for university course creators, making it much easier for courses to be supported online.
For instance, with its 7,000 plus lectures, the University of Southern California is in the process of testing whether its online platforms can handle the volume of online lessons.
The financial impact
The financial impact of novel Coronavirus on American colleges and universities was estimated to exceed $120 billion. But, one month into the fall semester it’s clear that this amount is greatly exceeded. Many of the students and their families are facing reduced incomes and job losses.
As a result, there is an increased need for student aid, amounting to billions of dollars.
The American Council of Education (ACE) and other organizations representing the nation’s colleges requested a supplemental funding bill that would include at least $120 billion for education. This financial injection would reduce the struggles the students and institutions are dealing with.
Many universities are faced with substantial budget holes due to reduced operations, decreased state appropriations, and lower enrollments. As a result, they are forced to take severe measures, including layoffs.
The University of Maryland’s leaders have said that this institution faces the largest financial crisis in its history. As a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, they need to make massive budget cuts, worth a staggering $292 million.
The financial relief bill would help the higher education system manage the immediate financial crisis. But, as the Coronavirus pandemic continues, and these institutions struggle with multiplied costs, their budget crisis will likely persist in the coming years.
What does the research say?
Researchers from the University of Ljubljana launched a large-scale survey across the world to capture significant implications of the pandemic on the way students live and work and their physical and mental wellbeing.
This comprehensive global study included 31,000+ students from six continents. The students demonstrated concern about study issues and their future professional careers.
And they cited a lack of computer skills and relatively high workload as obstacles in adapting to the “new normal”.
The teaching staff and universities’ public relations offered them the most important university support during the virus outbreak.
The students from America were highly satisfied with sending presentations, written communications, e-mail communication, providing course assignments regularly, responding to questions promptly, and informing students on what exams will look like.
According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center (NSCRC),Black and Hispanic students were hit harder than white and Asian students. Their leave or absence in the spring term was increased by 206% and 287% compared to 70% and 59%.
Universities as places of innovation
Higher education institutions need to find a way to provide the optimal student and faculty experience while at the same time keeping their budget in check.
More and more parents are wondering why they should pay the full tuition, room, and board if the students are only attending courses remotely from their dorm rooms.
Since the students could participate in online lessons from their homes, schools need to justify their tuition cost structures.
So, the challenge is preserving existing academic standards and transforming the funding models.
Offering tuition levels depending on the course type or function (online, hybrid, in-person, degree, or non-degree) is an excellent example of forward-thinking. Also, repurposing classrooms, learning spaces, and buildings is a great way to deliver new revenue streams.
These spaces can be leased to local entrepreneurs, for example.
Of course, schools need to prioritize online events, student and staff chats, and virtual meetups to give their students a sense of belonging.
Students entering the first year will, unfortunately, miss out on the vibrancy of campus life. Still, higher education institutions need to prepare to meet students’ needs and industry challenges as well.