Covid-19 to accelerate shifts in higher education
June 24 2020 06:47 PM
Dr Ali Malik
Dr Ali Malik

By Dr Ali Malik/QFBA-Northumbria University

In the backdrop of recent health pandemic, the social and conventional media has been contemplating the emergence of new world order and the likely shift of power from West to East.

Will this affect higher education too? Is West Europe and USA going to lose its long-held supremacy in higher education?

The geopolitical shift in higher education has in fact been an area of interest and discussion over the last few years. With Unesco’s estimates of over 594mn enrolment by 2040, the landscape of this sector warrants serious attention. The regions of South, East and West Asia have experienced the highest growth in higher education enrolment over the last ten years and remain strong favourite to continue the momentum over the next ten years as well.

The two-third population in this region is likely to live in urban areas by 2050, and this unprecedented scale of urbanisation is just one of the many reasons for continued growth in higher education enrolment.

China continues to grow in influence not only in trade and commerce but also in higher education. China is very much the reason why East Asia is forecast to be responsible for around 40% of total higher education enrolment by 2040.

The Arab states will also emerge as a significant sector with over 23mn estimated enrolment by 2040.

After the 2008 financial crisis, the Europe particularly UK and USA followed what have been labelled as anti-immigration policies.

The student visa restrictions, fee hikes and abolition of post study work visa opportunities discouraged students from South and East Asia and countries like Australia, New Zealand and Canada emerged as popular alternative destinations to students from these regions.

Where the USA and the UK keep a strangle hold on the top ten positions, the Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings have been throwing signals of late of likely change and shift in power.

There have been significant movements beneath the top ten positions, and many institutions form China, Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong and India have barged into top 200 rankings.

With growing trade and commerce dominance and the likelihood of money staying in Asia, the Asian higher education institutions are likely to attract massive investment necessary to build top class globally competitive universities.

The European and American universities realised the shift a long ago and adopted a ‘reach out’ strategy by establishing campuses and pathway options in Asia.

The presence of several European and North American universities in Qatar is an obvious example to support this view.

The recent health pandemic interrupted the learning and teaching provision across the world and universities had to abruptly shift to online provisions. Some universities including Cambridge and Oxford have already announced to stay online for the 2021 academic year.

The technology, particularly digital disruption, is seen by many as the way forward for affordable, flexible and quality higher education in the future. The Unesco published a report in April 2020 on Covid-19 and higher education. Where the report has been skeptical of what will be the long-term scenario, it does see the need to gear up digitization, hybrid and ubiquitous learning.

This is where Asian universities can compete with the American and European universities. The pandemic led financial crisis erodes income for millions of middle class families and is likely to have a significant effect on student mobility over the next five years and beyond. The health security will also be a major factor in decision making in this regard.

It will be inappropriate to come to a firm conclusion, but it seems that ‘stay east, young man’ appears to be the short-term scenario, and this can lead to a rapid transformation in Asian higher education institutions.

It is also highly likely for European and North American universities to accelerate strategies and reach out provisions to head across the continent to Asia.




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