It’s no longer business as usual for university leaders across the world. 

The effects from the COVID-19 pandemic have not only disrupted teaching and learning on campuses everywhere, but also the business of education, which has been largely immune to tough macroeconomic conditions in the past. Looking ahead, universities face many uncertainties, but one thing is clear: they must find new ways to adapt and innovate in order to survive.

For hundreds of years, higher education institutions have brought students together from around the world, to be in-person on campuses while they learn and interact. This business model is no longer feasible as the world grapples with a deadly pandemic.

New measures required to keep students and faculty safe in the coming school year, such as social distancing, health checks, and extensive sanitization procedures, will add stress to most universities’ balance sheets as they adjust their operations. But the financial losses from students who do not return or enroll in the fall, particularly international students, may hit some schools especially hard.

Over the past two decades, unprecedented demand from international students has been driven by a number of incentives, including burgeoning economic environments in developing countries, the lure of better quality education and prestigious degrees, and the opportunity to gain immersive experiences in new cultures abroad. Many institutions have leveraged this demand, along with international student fees and tuition, as a means of financing their operations.

Since COVID-19 arrived in the United States, more than one million foreign students who were enrolled in the 2020 spring semester have returned to their home countries and many are unsure if they will be able to make it back for the fall semester. Travel restrictions, difficulty obtaining visas, and even financial insecurity resulting from the effects of the pandemic are expected to reduce international student enrollments in the U.S by 25% — a potential revenue loss of $23 billion.

In the U.K., international students make up 20% of the country’s entire university student body. If enough of these students are absent in the coming academic year, the financial impact could mean closure or mergers with other institutions for some universities. 

Australian universities, which derive more than 40% of their annual revenue from full fee-paying international students, face even greater pressure to find solutions for the coming academic year and beyond. Failure to attract foreign students and innovate to protect their revenue streams could mean the closure of universities in Australia as well.

Every international student who decides to not enroll in a degree program abroad decreases the revenue universities count on, not just for one year but for the entire length of the degree program. At best, that revenue may be delayed if students enroll the following year.

Prospective international students face a great deal of uncertainty, but many are still trying to find ways to keep their plans to study abroad. And while universities are working to assist international students who want to be on campus in the coming academic year, they are also preparing to offer distance learning options and supplemental online experiences for those who cannot attend in person. 

In the U.S., a majority of colleges are, so far, planning for in-person classes to resume in the fall, according to tracking being conducted by The Chronicle of Higher Education. Seven percent of colleges have yet to make a decision, while a quarter are planning to begin the year with either fully online classes, a hybrid model of online and in-person learning, or a broader range of solutions. In the U.K., universities have similar plans that even include grouping students into clusters for the term to manage social distancing. The same goes for Australian universities, which are largely planning to return to campus with social distancing measures and remote learning solutions in place where needed.

Resilient Universities Can Survive

With many uncertainties in a time of unprecedented challenges, it is now essential that higher education institutions become resilient; they must adopt agile learning technologies that enable students to receive a high-quality education whether they are in the classroom or learning online. Video learning technologies, in particular, that may have once been a “nice-to-have” are now invaluable investments for universities competing fiercely for a shrinking pool of international talent. Without an elegant virtual learning environment to offer students abroad, schools risk losing a majority of their international campus community due to external factors caused by the pandemic that are beyond anyone’s control.

On-demand video learning solutions, such as a video management system, enable educators to deliver attractive online learning experiences to students in distant time zones that mimic learning in a classroom. Even international students who can be on-campus benefit from video-enhanced learning as it provides additional study materials that may help them better comprehend lessons that aren’t presented in their native language.

What’s more, a video management system also offers the potential to add new revenue streams and incentives for prospective students, such as subscription options for alumni to relevant course videos within a particular degree program, or access to videos for courses students are enrolled in that were taught by other professors.

While it is certain that resilient universities will also need to make plans to reduce spending and innovate their revenue streams, those that are able to attract and retain international students by offering both exceptional distance learning experiences, as well as video-enhanced learning on campus, will be far better prepared to weather the coming storm in the higher education market. 

Free On-Demand Resources for Supporting Video Learning 

Over the years, our team at Panopto has gathered tips, tricks, and best practices for how to deploy and use video to support higher education. We’ve compiled all this knowledge into a set of self-paced, on-demand webinars that can be used for planning and supporting various learning scenarios your institution may need to offer this fall.

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