COVID-19 has affected most, if not all, spheres of life. One dimension where the impact has been particularly visible in higher education. From tensions regarding the value of higher education solutions to shrinking prospects for traditional universities, the worries are many.
How has the pandemic affected higher education?
The sector is undergoing major upheaval. Lower numbers of international students are enrolling in education programs, and there have been major cutbacks in funding for academic research. This has threatened the very business model of traditional education solutions for higher education, with universities trying desperately to keep their heads above water and their enrolments from declining.
Why is online learning not helping higher education?
The consensus appears to suggest that education management needs to find a solution for limited attention spans when higher education is delivered through the online mode. The company of co-students in class as well as in other extracurricular events is something that students miss as part of the overall experience of higher education, such as in the best executive education programs.
The fallout from the absence of this core element is that students are looking away from traditional higher education solutions, as despite paying the heavy fees they entail, students are bereft of the core interactive experience. Given how many countries have seen students reeling under massive education debts, they are questioning how valuable getting this experience is if it is only online, with all the attendant restrictions.
What could be the further effects of the downturn in higher education?
If education solutions in universities as they are practiced do not work, global education levels are bound to take a hit. Elitism will reach new peaks, and there will be a wider chasm between students who can afford the burden of highly expensive yet limited – in its experience – online education. There will still remain the elite group of students who can take on the monetary load and sign on for programs at the top tier of universities, even if what they take away is far from the full experience that is highly focused and in line with pandemic realities and features very limited – if any – human interactions face to face, looking instead toward online lectures.
The best executive education programs and other programs from universities lower than the top tier could possibly collapse. Students of current generations are already expected to earn less than previous generations, with further declines in funds available for education solutions at universities, job prospects, and if they make it through all that, lower salaries when they are finally hired.
From the 1950s when universities started growing to the 2000s, infrastructure became much better, and more students joined leadership and management programs at universities, among various disciplines. There are now thousands of universities across the world, ranked in different ways, and connected to other industries as well.
What do industries want?
Given multiple holders of university qualifications, the prestige of the tag has definitely gone down. The discussion about how valuable it is is also getting louder, with many employers emphasizing they need not the degree but the skill and technical competence. Taking higher education to more people seems to be reducing the value rather than growing the attendant opportunities.
Why must universities be sustained?
They produce intellectual capital. Education solutions for higher education bring about mature and sophisticated thinking and a more refined way of approaching problems and finding solutions. There is after all a reason why dictatorships look to capture and control major universities.
For free thought, high intellect, and common values tying together civil society, universities must be enabled to fight through the pandemic and keep their rightful place under the sun.