International Higher Education Institutions should treat the “new normal” as a generational catalyst transforming their means of education delivery from the conventional to the globally encompassing.
Global education and pathway options in the new normal
Looking back, nothing could have prepared higher education institutions (HEIs) for what greeted them at the onset of 2020. According to a situation report released by the World Health Organization in April 2020, its findings suggested that COVID-19 started in a wholesale food market in Wuhan, China.
“Environmental samples taken from this market in December 2019 tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, further suggesting that the market in Wuhan City was the source of this outbreak or played a role in the initial amplification of the outbreak,” the report said.
A couple of months of attempted containment proved no match for the invisible enemy: “The Great Lockdown” commenced. For the rest of 2020, COVID-19 caused governments and economies a great deal of damage.
A joint statement released in October 2020 by the International Labour Organization, Food and Agriculture Organization, International Fund For Agricultural Development and World Health Organization called for urgency and unity.
“The economic and social disruption caused by the pandemic is devastating: tens of millions of people are at risk of falling into extreme poverty, while the number of undernourished people, currently estimated at nearly 690 million, could increase by up to 132 million by the end of the year,” the statement read. “Millions of enterprises face an existential threat. Nearly half of the world’s 3.3 billion global workforce are at risk of losing their livelihoods.”
Aside from the health sector, the international travel and tourism sector was also terribly hit next. On Jan. 22, the U.S. Travel Association released the findings of its research titled “Weekly coronavirus impact on travel expenditures in the U.S” and it reported that the U.S. travel sector lost $492 billion in 2020. Compared to 2019, this was a steep 42 percent drop.
It is safe to presume that this number is indicative of the entire global travel trend. The United States was Top 3 (only following France and Spain) in the statistical annex of “International Tourist Arrivals by Country of Destination” published on Dec. 20, 2020 by the World Tourism Organization. The same report also stated that the pandemic’s effect on international tourism “could result in an estimated economic loss of over US$ two trillion in global GDP, more than two percent of the world’s GDP in 2019.”
When it comes to matters of international education, the pandemic’s effects were just as devastating. The United States, the United Kingdom, China, Canada and Australia are considered as the top countries with most international students. With the travel bans and restrictions put in place, international student mobility also saw a huge drop for 89 percent of HEIs—this, according to the survey analysis “IAU Global Survey on the impact of COVID-19 on higher education around the world” published by the International Association of Universities.
The survey involved respondents from 109 countries and two Special Administrative Regions of China—Hong Kong and Macao. Fifty nine percent of respondents said that they had to close the campus due to COVID. Two-thirds have also admitted that the pandemic had greatly affected education delivery, seeing them shift from traditional classroom lectures to distance teaching and learning.
Expectedly so, several challenges were cited ranging from “technical infrastructure” to ”requirements of specific fields of study.” However, the majority remained optimistic in the medium term, realizing that the “forced move” had given educators, institutions and students alike the opportunity to embrace “hybrid learning. Countries around the world have embraced the incorporation of education technology (edtech) into its academe.
This brings to mind the importance of internationalization through education for future generations. HEIs from around the world have now turned a corner, empowered, ready to continue the good work of education through a fusion of traditional and technological means.
Unesco, for its COVID-19 Education Response, put it best: “The COVID-19 outbreak is also a major education crisis.” Unesco launched its Global Education Coalition, with the theme “Learning Never Stops,” bringing together more than 140 members from the United Nations’ family, civil society, academia, and private sector.
One solution for the international education sector to counter the effects of the pandemic are its “pathway” programs.
In higher education, pathway programs are preparatory courses designed to help students gain the knowledge and skills for a smoother transition for study abroad. History is blessed at this point with edtech, and HEIs are therefore expected to have the right tools at their disposal to ensure that education will continue even if it means teaching beyond the four walls of the classroom.
Pathway options provide a proven education model that the rest of the education system can learn from. Here are some of its highlights and benefits:
- Students can have access to international courses and programs delivered from anywhere in the world.
- Students save on study costs like tuition or accommodation expenses since most, if not all pathways programs allow them to study first from an institution close to home before flying out of that country for further studies.
- Students have the chance to complete a degree at a host college or university of their choice, and also experience for themselves the culture of the host nation.
- Students are exposed to an international community thus, improving their communication, language skills.
- Students meet other students and faculty from around the world, getting the chance to expand their networks.
The pandemic is making everyone take a good look at the education sector and how it is central to building human capital, which in turn, benefits individuals and societies. The truth is, there has long been a global learning crisis even before COVID-19. There are numerous factors to be taken into account ranging from economics and infrastructure to lack of teachers and proper training.
Global education is now at a tipping point of a complete and exciting transformation. However relatively comfortable the last past couple of centuries may have been for the education sector, 2020 could very well be a sort of a new Renaissance with technology at the helm. Imagine a new brand of education delivery without borders. The goal is a stronger public education system.
At the risk of closing down in 2020, schools have shown that they are more than capable of adapting to hybrid learning rather than shutting down their doors. Educators have displayed their dedication to their craft by adjusting in mere days.
This 2021, higher education institutions have shown flexibility in exploring pathways solutions that enable them to augment their enrollment and welcome a steady stream of international students in the face of challenges posed by travel and health restrictions.
With the ever-increasing importance of technology and pathway solutions today, international higher education, which is powered by the integration of technology and global partnerships, may very well become the most distinct offspring of this new normal.
Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) Situation Report – 94 (2020, April 23) World Health Organization. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/coronaviruse/situation-reports/20200423-sitrep-94-covid-19.pdf.
Impact of COVID-19 on people’s livelihoods, their health and our food systems. (2020, October 13) World Health Organization. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/news/item/13-10-2020-impact-of-covid-19-on-people’s-livelihoods-their-health-and-our-food-systems.
Weekly coronavirus impact on travel expenditures in the U.S. (2021, January 22) US Travel. Retrieved from https://www.ustravel.org/sites/default/files/media_root/document/TE_Coronavirus_WeeklyImpacts_01.22.21.pdf.
World Tourism Barometer (2020, December) World Tourism Organization. Retrieved from https://www.e-unwto.org/doi/epdf/10.18111/wtobarometereng.2020.18.1.7.
Marinoni, G. (2020, May) The impact of COVID-19 on higher education around the world (2020, May) International Association of Universities. Retrieved from iau-aiu.net/IMG/pdf/iau_covid19_and_he_survey_report_final_may_2020.pdf.
How countries are using edtech (including online learning, radio, television, texting) to support access to remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic (2020, June) The World Bank. Retrieved from https://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/edutech/brief/how-countries-are-using-edtech-to-support-remote-learning-during-the-covid-19-pandemic.
Global Education Coalition. Unesco. Retrieved from https://en.unesco.org/covid19/educationresponse/globalcoalition.
Pathways. MSM Higher Ed. Retrieved from https://pathways.msmhighered.com/.
The Education Crisis: Being in School Is Not the Same as Learning (2019, January 22) The World Bank. Retrieved from https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/immersive-story/2019/01/22/pass-or-fail-how-can-the-world-do-its-homework.
5 Reasons for the Global Education Crisis (2016, August 26) Edify. Retrieved from https://www.edify.org/5-reasons-global-education-crisis/.
Vegas, E. Global education: How to transform school systems? (2020, November 17) Brookings. Retrieved from https://www.brookings.edu/research/global-education-how-to-transform-school-systems/.