But the key change that will perhaps have the biggest impact for Indian students keen to study abroad will be the fall in the overall number of international students. The number of internationally mobile students will be depressed by the crisis, certainly in the short to medium term, and perhaps also in the longer term too, as students re-think their options after this period of extreme disruption. Major universities in the most popular destination countries for students, particularly those in the US, UK and Australia which depend heavily on international student fee income, will be working harder, and competing with each other to recruit international students. This may help put students and their families in the driving seat, giving them more consumer power, and potentially increasing their choices and opportunities.
Rapid rise in remote learning
Further to this, the rapid rise and development of capabilities in online, remote learning will get a wider range of options for international students. This could open up access to a range of prestigious institutions that may previously have been out of reach to many students, through the cost of traditional, on-campus learning, travel and the tough and often prohibitive visa processes.
Students in India will find that the world-famous Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings offer the biggest and most comprehensive view of global higher education to date – with more than 1,500 institutions from 93 countries evaluated across our 13 gold standard performance metrics. This year, the options and opportunities presented to ambitious students by the rankings could be the most promising and exciting ever.
Year of Innovation
There is a sense that perhaps a decade worth of development and progress towards remote, online learning has happened in just a few months, as a result of the pandemic. There will be rapid technological development, to ensure that online learning dramatically improves, and delivers great outcomes for students. In China, remote learning has improved students’ overall engagement and interactions in class. It is enhancing their overall learning experience. Done well, technology can help ensure a more personalised student experience, with highly tailored attention to individuals and interventions. It can open up more inspiring collaborations with other students.
Physical movement stopped
Movement of faculty and students has dropped due to pandemic and worrying rise in nationalism and even racism in response. While flights have been grounded and countries locked down, there has been a truly global collaboration among the world’s universities to develop the treatments, tests and ultimately, a vaccine for the virus. This crisis has shown that universities are the key to solving not just this crisis, but many of the world’s shared grand challenges, like climate change and food security. This means that the leading universities will stay global in their focus, and will continue to share and collaborate across borders, and will always welcome talent from all across the world.
Universities must re-engage with wider society to properly demonstrate their value. Universities come in for a lot of criticism, for being out of touch and elitist, and in public discourse facts and evidence and the critical thinking skills nurtured in universities are often crowded out in favour of opinion and prejudice. But this public health crisis has shown that universities are vital public assets – not just helping us find a way out of the current pandemic, but helping us navigate a way out of the profound, long-term socio-economic crisis that the pandemic has caused. Universities must be nurtured and supported by taxpayers and governments.
(The author is chief knowledge officer, Times Higher Education, London)