Post COVID-19: Student Mobility And Future Of Higher Education

Implications and impact of Covid-19 on the higher education sector. A perspective enabling article into tomorrow's world of higher education, student mobility and opportunities


Various educational authorities are attempting to study and understand the impacts of COVID-19 on education. The aim is to assess the long-term effects on students' lives, despite the apparent ambiguity of the situation. Technology enabled and driven learning has seen large scale adoption. It appears that this is now here to stay. Student mobility however might suffer significantly. The international student mobility will be advserely impacted a lot more than domestic mobility of students. One explanation for this hypothesis is the fact that international travel has been the most dominant cause of the crisis. 

What are the primary consequences of COVID-19 on higher education?

The most apparent consequences are, of course, the disruption caused to the academic calendar (including the semester-end exams, admissions, internships, placements / joining dates for graduate hires at various companies, etc). The timing of this disruption has had profound effects. Institutions across the world have shut down while attempting to utilize online resources to proceed to the extent feasible. The mental stress  faced by every student, parent, teacher and management members of educational institutions due to the uncertainty cannot be undermined nor ignored.

The short-term effects include the alteration of traditional teaching models, from face-to-face lectures to online classes. Student evaluation and examinations are facing delays, with no guaranteed updates. Moreover, considering the large population of the working class in India, technology is not able to answer every student's requirements.  

Various authoritative bodies are conducting surveys to collect data and analyze the primary repercussions on education. The following section compiles the results achieved from the various studies to understand if and how much student mobility is likely to be affected.

British Council's Senior Advisor on Education Research, Michael Peak is quoted as saying This (2020-21) will be a challenging year for international higher education, globally and in the UK.   We know that international students are incredibly resilient, but like everyone at this time, they need support and reassurance that whenever they engage with UK education, they will be part of a high-quality learning experience

McKinsey's report titled Coronavirus: How should US higher education plan for an uncertain future? begins with this as subtext - With American campuses largely empty of students, higher-education leaders need to shift their thinking to what happens next.

An exercept from University World News article quotes a student, Avneesh Sharma, an engineering graduate from Jaipur, admittedly stating that his parents and family members prefer that he stay closer home. He says, "I was planning to go to Australia for a Master's degree but abandoned the idea given the grim situation in that country"

Way forward is transformation not incremental change

Dr. Rajan Saxena who teaches at SVKM's NMIMS, a deemed university in Mumbai and served as its Vice Chancellor has in an article shaed his forecast that this situation (of covid-19 and its aftermath) is likely to exist for a period of 3 to 5 years comparing it to 1918-20 period. He further rightly states that, "the opportunity in higher education is one of transformational change and not just incremental. This requires brave leadership that is willing to dismantle today and create a new tomorrow"

Impact on international Student Mobility & Opportunities

Most pertinent implication, as he sees it, will be on the international student mobility. The effect of Corona is that a large number of students who went to the US, or Europe for higher education may not pursue their dream. The opportunity now arises for top institutions like NMIMS, BITS, Jindal, Ashoka, Symbiosis and the like to target them. Applications for these Universities are likely to see a spurt especially in undergraduate programmes in business, design, liberal arts, and performing arts. Postgraduate applications in management and technology, especially ones that are offered in dual degree mode in partnership with a well-known US university which also offers internship opportunity in the US, will also see a spurt and so will be the online degrees like online MBAs.  

Branding & marketing of India's Higher Education in the world market

In such times of crisis, it evokes hope when the siliver linings in the form of collateral benefits are discussed. While opining on the need to prepare Indian higher educational ecosystem to draw students from different parts of the world, Dr. Rajan Saxena lists out what we need to do and says: "this requires extensive marketing effort in the world market. Top institutions like IITs, IIMs, NMIMS, XLRI, VIT, Symbiosis, Thapar etc which have a global ranking or global accreditation from AACSB, Equis, AMBA or ABET can be the prime movers. So can the new age universities like Ashoka or Munjal or Shiv Nadar"

Some measures being taken in the education sector

With the passage of few months since March, now Higher Educational sector is slowly attempting to plan for future from the thusfar state of flux. 

The Emergency Student Fund (ESF) has issued a call for institutions under the IIE to assemble students in the US unable to return home. They plan to provide a grant of $2,500 to each one of them. Similarly, the Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie (AUF) issued a global call for projects aiming to support pandemic-oriented student initiatives. 

Other than that, numerous prominent organizations are providing student-oriented tools and solutions to assist education during such conditions. UNESCO has created a support portal for vulnerable countries to settle the disturbances and promote continuous learning. They compiled a list of 10 recommendations for distance-learning solutions. They also compiled lists for education resources, including applications and platforms. Finally, UNESCO IESALC has also provided a list of recommended higher educational institutes. 

Organizations across America, Africa, Asia, and Europe are providing e-learning resources, issuing guidelines, and compiling recommendations lists. These include the Association of African Studies (AAU), the AUF, and the American Council of Education (ACE). Countries like the Philippines, Bangladesh, the Bahamas are actively participating in the same. The Association of Indian Universities (AIU), which operates under the International Association of Universities, has created an online platform for sharing strategies and resources.

Finally, prominent establishments and authorities like the World Bank and Erasmus have developed various initiatives. They aim to assess the impact of COVID-19 on higher education while suggesting solutions for long-term issues. 

Indian students on going abroad for studies

Kriti Rana, a student of B. A. Honours English from Miranda House, DU, planned to pursue her masters while studying abroad. She had settled upon the SOAS University of London to specialize in Post-Colonial Studies. However, unsurprisingly, she had to change her decision entirely because of COVID-19. Her concerns are like any other Indian student's at the moment. The course she prefers has a duration of one yera only, and she hopes to prusue a higher degree later. She says: "Everything is extremely uncertain, and I don't even know if the course would begin when planned or how. I don't want to take the risk with all the uncertainties right now."

On the other hand, Vrinda Sharma, an honors student of Economics from Kirori Mal, DU, is set upon going abroad.  She plans on studying Quantitative Economics, with a specialization in Public Policy and Development, from the Paris School of Economics. Since the degree has a duration of two years, she does not mind staying home for a while before leaving. Moreover, she does not prefer deferral since she has planned no other alternative. That is not to say the plausible after-effects of COVID-19 do not intimidate her. As she told me, "Of course, I'm scared of the logistics of things. Even if I'm able to go, India first needs to restart the aviation industry, and Paris should accept international students. It depends highly on the post-pandemic Government policies." 

As the QS Survey reveals, almost 50% of the Indian students planning to study abroad have changed their minds. The impacts would not only be apparent for international student mobility but inter-state mobility in the country as well. 

Summing up

The KPMG India report suggests that 37.5 million students and 1.4 million of the faculty will face severe repercussions. By the end of April, there has been a decrease of 30% in national employment. Thus, unemployment and decreasing incomes will directly affect the capacity of students to pursue higher education.

With uncertainties looming over students' futures, there is no saying yet as to which direction education might take hereafter. Students might begin to prefer online degrees, distance-learning, or alternative education models instead. Moreover, financial condition of students and parents would also have a role to play. Now, educational institutions, organizations, and authorities would have to come forward and help students to secure their future. 

Editor's note / comment: While there are no easy answers in this prevailing situation, a lot depends on the nature of growth in covid-19 positive cases across the country and indeed the world. Coming to the education, it is best to utilize the time well now and  consider education and internships as investment for future. The best decisions and actions pursued now would undoubtedly help as and when we have passed through this state of flux and normalcy is restored. For educational institutions, the task is cut out. Now is the time to act on speeding up the transformation programs, better branding and engagement with stakeholders!
The opinions, beliefs and views expressed by the various authors and forum participants on this website are personal and do not reflect the opinions, beliefs and views of or Genval Consulting Group Private Limited or any of its Partners.
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