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International higher education institutions need to focus on solutions for sustainable operations

Higher education institutions with international students need to look into solutions to sustain their operations during the pandemic and beyond.

While the international student market sector enjoyed an exponential rise in the past two decades, COVID-19 greatly disrupted international higher education with border closures and cancelled flights, all in line with strict health and safety protocols. The question of whether or not sustainable university operations can continue is on the forefront.

Key Points at a Glance

  • In the coming months, maintaining a sustainable university or college from an operations perspective should be the focus of higher education institutions.
  • There are several elements that aid campus operations running healthily and smoothly: Student diversity, Financial flexibility, online learning, and strategic partnerships.
  • Even before the pandemic, the World Bank had highlighted that the world is undergoing an “education crisis.”
  • Focusing on sustainable campus operations is not only for an institution and its students to survive but to thrive in the near future.

Instead of focusing on the current challenges, however, a paper published in the Journal of Learning for Development suggests for higher education institutions to use this time as an opportunity to “develop and fast-track the adoption of disruptive models of international education that offer creative and sustainable solutions for the post-pandemic world.”

Indeed, a higher education institution needs to quickly pivot and address specific points in the short- to medium-term for it to be able to become a sustainable university.

Student diversity

One factor that could help in the sustainability of a higher education institution is through its efforts of internationalization, which is a result or initiative pursued based on its international student diversity.

Higher education institutions around the world are enjoying the growing diversity among their students. A report by the American Council on Education stated that students of color in the US made up only 29.6 percent of undergraduates in 1996 but increased to 45.2 percent 10 years later.

A campus with a diverse set of students allows for advanced growth and cultural interactions, which leads to an overall sustainable university. In effect, incoming international students will be less intimidated by the thought of having to study abroad, having noticed the global appeal of an internationally-involved college or university.

Financial flexibility

Even before the pandemic, the increase in international student enrollment numbers in the United States were already in decline. 

In 2018, there were a recorded 1,095,299 international students in the US. This was only a slight increase (0.04 percent) from the previous year, which recorded 1,094,792 international students. This pales in comparison from 2013 to 2014, when the US recorded a 10 percent increase in international student numbers in one year.

Outside of political tension from within the country and without, the US and their high tuition rates and cost of living are pushing students away, and making competitor countries like Canada and Australia more enticing. 

Australia reported a 58 percent increase in international student enrollment from 2015 to 2019. Meanwhile Canada recorded a 68 percent increase in the number of international students from 2014 to 2018.

Online learning

The very first thing that COVID-19 disrupted was face-to-face classes. Since the risk of virus transmission was high, on-site classes in groups were indefinitely suspended. From a health perspective, this was a good decision. However, students around the world now face an education crisis. To make matters worse, this crisis was already happening even before COVID-19, and that the pandemic all the more magnified the problem.

Maintaining a diverse student population may also be in peril, as travel and tourism during the pandemic, and perhaps, some time after, may not immediately resume to its bustling state.

Therefore, from an operational perspective, it has now become imperative for a higher education institution to integrate EdTech solutions into its framework of being a sustainable university. This solves multiple pressure points, and helps an international institution continue to provide borderless education through remote learning and delivery.

Strategic partnerships

To make room for exponential growth, higher education institutions should definitely consider entering into strategic partnerships with other institutions, most especially those from outside their own countries. These partnerships will aid them with their long-term goals of globalization and internationalization, and provide short- to medium-term relief to be able to sustain operations locally or abroad. Some of these partnerships allow an institution’s program delivery in multiple study centers, thus, opening the school up to market opportunities. Pathways programs must also be considered, as these allow students to pursue their education and career goals with lesser obstacles, and will eventually become contributing members of the global community.

Revisiting the factors that make an institution into a sustainable university or college from an operations perspective is important, most especially coming off an academic year like 2020-2021 which bore the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic.

EdTech Solutions to increase business efficiency

Data Sources:

Growth of International Student Numbers in Higher Education (2018, February 9). QS Quacquarelli Symonds. Retrieved from https://www.qs.com/growth-international-students-higher-education/

Kanwar, A. (2020) The Impact of COVID-19 on International Higher Education: New Models for the New Normal. Journal of Learning for Development. Retrieved from https://jl4d.org/index.php/ejl4d/article/view/467/522

Ilieva, R. (2014, March 29) Towards sustainable internationalisation of higher education. Simon Fraser University. Retrieved from http://crie.sfu.ca/content/dam/sfu/crie/publications/Towards%20sustainable%20internationalisation%20of%20higher%20education.pdf

College Students Are More Diverse Than Ever. Faculty and Administrators Are Not (2019, March). Association of American Colleges and Universities. Retrieved from https://www.aacu.org/aacu-news/newsletter/2019/march/facts-figures

Duffin, E. (2020, November 23) Number of international students in the United States from 2003/04 to 2019/20. Statista. Retrieved from https://www.statista.com/statistics/237681/international-students-in-the-us/

McCarthy, N. (2015, July 28) Where Foreign Students Face The Highest University Fees. Statista. Retrieved from https://www.statista.com/chart/3673/where-foreign-students-face-the-highest-university-fees/

International Student in Australia Statistics. Study in Australia. Retrieved from https://www.studying-in-australia.org/international-student-in-australia-statistics/

Building on Success: International Education Strategy (2019-2024) (2020, October 19) Government of Canada. Retrieved from https://www.international.gc.ca/education/strategy-2019-2024-strategie.aspx?lang=eng

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

Cobo, C. (2021, January 14) 

Remote learning during COVID-19 pandemic: How countries have faced the challenge of implementing multichannel education delivery strategies. The World Bank. Retrieved from https://blogs.worldbank.org/education/remote-learning-during-covid-19-pandemic-how-countries-have-faced-challenge-implementing

Strategic Alliances. MSM Higher Ed. Retrieved from https://msmhighered.com/strategic-alliances/

MSM Higher Ed Pathways. MSM Higher Ed. Retrieved from https://msmhighered.com/pathways/

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