The Impact of COVID-19 on Higher Education

 THE IMPACT OF COVID-19 ON HIGHER EDUCATION                                      



           “The world is changing. Understand what’s ahead.”                                                     The Atlantic                   



In the book, The Innovative University, authors Clayton M. Christensen and Henry J. Eyring defined disruptive innovation: The theory of disruptive innovation asserts that in industries from computers to cars to steel those entrants that start at the bottom of their markets, selling simple products to less demanding customers and then improving from that foothold, drive the prior leaders into a disruptive demise. In higher education, the authors write, the new form of disruption will require traditional universities to change fundamentally. Belt tightening and incremental enhancements will not be enough.

In this same book, Gordon Gee, then president of Ohio State University wrote: “The first instinct in responding to economic crisis is to hunker down and wait for the storm to pass. That is the instinct, but acting on it would be a grave mistake.”

Both the book and the quote were written in 2011. 

COVID-19 has disrupted every aspect of higher education, including how students are recruited and admitted, to where and how students are taught, to the measures needed to safely re-arrange classrooms.

For vice-chancellors and presidents’ immediate concerns center around the fall 2020 academic semester and the spring 2021 term. These concerns are shared worldwide and certainly need to be addressed. But for the reimagined chief executive, the concerns are longer term. Most realize that even with a vaccine, the residuals of this pandemic will impact higher education for an indefinite period of time. There is no going back and there can be no new normal. There can only be the normal that each chief executive creates in the future. 

Three questions for presidents and vice chancellors

What is your vision for your institution?  Thinking from the end, what would your school “look like” in the future? How will you create that future?

How has your governance style changed? In his book, On China, former U.S. secretary of state Henry Kissinger, explained the difference between American and Chinese foreign policy. American policy, he wrote, is like a game of chess, and controlling the center of the board. Chinese policy is one of strategic flexibility. Are you leading at the margins or planning with innovative leadership?

What are the opportunities, and there are many, to create both enrollment and financial stability in the future?  

The former president of Babson College, also wrote in 2011: “We must recognize that the ground is shifting in fundamental ways for higher education. We must reframe our approach to managing colleges and universities in the face of the new normal.”

True in 2011 and even more true in 2020.


In a recently published survey of college presidents in the United States, conducted by Inside Higher Education and Hanover research, 55% of the presidents polled are planning to reduce the number of academic programs offered at their schools. That same survey revealed the concerns of many chief executives about the effectiveness of online teaching and their ability to ensure a safe and comfortable physical environment for the fall semester.

Furloughs, temporary layoffs, permanent layoffs, unspecified layoffs, contract nonrenewal, permanent reduction in hours, all define the same thing: across the United States and probably worldwide, both academic and administrative staff will be reduced to help meet the financial difficulties created by declining enrollments, fewer international students enrolling in some countries, reduced federal and state funding, decreased federal research spending and declines in donations.

At least 50,000 higher education employees in the U.S. have already either been terminated or furloughed.

One of the greatest concerns for higher education employees is the real threat of de-funding of pension plans.

The latest QS research on prospective international student study plans revealed that global interest in study abroad remains high for prospective international students and these students are more are willing to study on-line for three to six months before in-person classes resume.

This same survey listed New Zealand as the country with the best handling of the virus crisis. The U.S. came in last in the survey.

Spain’s IE university organized with thirty-three countries from around the world, an agreement to support the preservation and fostering of cross-border knowledge through: leveraging technology, streamlining cross-border flows of talent and global collaboration of effective health-related protocols.

“Care Counts in Crisis” College Admissions Deans Respond to COVID-19.” Twenty admissions deans came together at the Harvard Graduate School of Education to raise their support of mental health care for higher education students. 

Smile Section

One entrepreneurial retailer, bowing to the inevitable, is selling a “STUDY-AT-HOME ZONE” for college students. The kit contains everything students need to turn rooms into the perfect college study space! 

It’s now eventide. Time for me to stop writing and for you, depending on your time zone, to stop reading.


This entry was posted in Colleges, Foreign Students, International Education, International students, Universities by Marguerite Dennis. Bookmark the permalink.

About Marguerite Dennis

Marguerite Dennis has been recruiting internationally for over 25 years, first at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. and then at Suffolk University in Boston, Massachusetts. During that time she was responsible for establishing a branch campus for Suffolk University in Dakar, Senegal and Madrid, Spain. Marguerite increased the international student population at Suffolk University by 193% from 1993 to 2011 and increased the number of study abroad programs by 135%, from 20 to 47. She monitored the recruitment programs for Suffolk University in 20 countries and hired a network of 10 international educational consultants. She signed agreements in Viet Nam, Hong Kong, Kuwait, Germany, Mexico, France and Argentina.

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