COVID and Post-Secondary Education – Canada’s advantage in international student attraction is at risk

For Canada to remain a global education leader that continues to attract the world’s brightest, our institutions will need to differentiate themselves says RBC Thought Leadership.

Canadian institutions historically lacked the resources or expertise to fully develop online learning

About 16% of university and 12% of college students learned primarily online in 2019, while more than one-third of undergraduates had at least one course with blended learning. Despite wider usage of online tools, funding and staffing issues have hampered digital education at half of universities and colleges, more so among smaller institutions.

Canada’s advantage in international student attraction is at risk

New international student permits dropped by 45% in March (year-over-year). Ongoing travel restrictions and visa-processing delays will likely stall international student arrivals in the coming months. These students pay about $6 billion in tuition alone to universities and colleges each year.

Digital spending comprised only 2.5% of global education expenditures pre-lockdown

Despite a 14x increase in EdTech venture capital since 2010, digital spending remains a small fraction of education budgets. Pre-crisis forecasts expected spending to reach 4.3% of budgets by 2025. Investment activity has been concentrated in China and the United States. Last year they attracted 52% and 33%, respectively, of digital education investments.

Will online learning in Canada still appeal to international students?

This remains to be seen, and is a critical question: international students are big business for our schools. If they are unable to enter Canada, we will need to find new ways of marketing a Canadian credential to non-residents.

At the start of 2020, over 640,000 foreign nationals held study permits; while at least 293,000 new permits were issued in 2019 alone, across all learning levels. In post-secondary, the international student population has doubled in the last five years to 500,000, nearly one in four students, contributing about $22 billion in GDP and about 11,000 new permanent residents annually.

Amid lockdowns, new student arrivals dropped in Q1 2020, while severe declines should be expected for the foreseeable future. To stem enrolment declines, the federal government is permitting new international students to begin their programs in their home country, complete up to 50% of their program via distance learning, and assuring access to post-graduate work permits. However, the shift to online learning greatly alters an international student’s experience if they’re unable to reside in Canada during their studies and make connections, while still paying nearly double the tuition of domestic students.

About 26% of study permit holders (or 168,000) come from countries with the most aggressive online censorship regimes. Access to Canadian education resources cannot be guaranteed for this group. Colleges and universities should prepare for a high degree of enrolment deferrals to Winter 2021 or later, and the resulting need to restructure course prerequisites and in-year bridging programs.

Colleges that offer career-transition programs for international students – which have experienced enormous growth in the previous 15 years – could be greatly impacted for two reasons. First, online learning won’t provide the hands-on, workplace-based learning that’s integral for these mostly health care workers or tradespeople. Second, uncertainty of the job market in Canada will dissuade many from taking the risk of relocating.

Are post-secondary institutions at an inflection point for their business model?

COVID-19 may precipitate the largest pivot in the delivery of higher education we’ve ever seen. Enrolment and revenue declines, combined with increased costs in technology, will force institutions to innovate. Those that can’t will be left behind.

First, we cannot ignore the transformation schools made to get over 2 million learners online in March. This is a major achievement, considering nearly two-thirds of Canadian post-secondary institutions cited faculty resistance as the main barrier to providing more online course options prior to COVID-19. Many educators believed online delivery limited outcomes, primarily that students were unable to self-regulate their learning. Any of these misgivings have given way – at least temporarily – to emergency measures, and institutions have been making strides on technology and course design.

Second, the institutions that had previously invested in online education are best positioned to pivot their operations. Université de Laval initiated its own learning platform in the late-2000s, through the Laval Academy of Digital Transformation; prior to COVID, 71% of its courses did not have an online component, but by end of March 95% of its courses transitioned to the online platform. At the University of Windsor, the Office of Open Learning quickly deployed resources and training for faculty to go “online in a hurry”. Bite-sized training through templates, tools, as well as blogs and podcasts, were shared across institutions. The University of Waterloo has hired over 300 summer students to work with faculty to transition courses online for fall 2020.

Finally, we will see a breakdown of the artificial barriers between Canada’s higher-education institutions. Many of which are already facing pressures to reduce costs, amid soaring public debts and expected enrolment declines. Stronger collaborations between universities and colleges will be needed to reduce duplication of and increase access to online resources. Sharing of course and learning materials is already practiced by the Maple League of schools in Atlantic Canada, the Tri-University Group in southern Ontario, and through Education City in Ottawa. Going forward, these types of partnerships will be necessary to coordinate online course offerings that maximize student options and experiences.

Chosen excerpts by Job Market Monitor. Read the whole story @ The Future of Post-Secondary Education: On Campus, Online and On Demand


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