While the world watches on anxiously for updates regarding COVID-19 (or colloquially coronavirus), higher education institutions across multiple countries have been impacted.
With travel restrictions and extended waits for visa approval, the international education market has ground to an uncertain halt.
Yet Kylie Colvin, Director of Strategy, Development and Delivery at the University of Nottingham in Malaysia, believes international issues like COVID-19 can present opportunities for universities that recognise them.
“Something like this is different to a terrorist attack, which is different again to a flood or a fire and we react accordingly” Ms Colvin explains.
“We have risk mitigation measures in place – for example safety protocols and communication – but we can never really be ready for [disasters] because they take a different form every time. But they do create a conversation about risk which is useful because strategy and risk are two sides of the same coin. And wherever there is risk there is opportunity.”
One university in Australia has recognised the opportunity, giving international students affected by the travel bans the opportunity to be temporarily educated online until the situation is resolved in China, the ed-tech sector has responded by developing thousands of online courses in a matter of weeks. Similarly, MOOCs and digital communications providers have stepped up to offer free access to Chinese students affected by quarantine requirements.
“They’ve leveraged this crisis to their own advantage,” Ms Colvin says.
“Having that conversation about what we need to do to mitigate risk and what opportunities that creates is really useful for universities who can tend to be conservative and complacent on the whole.
“There’s no disaster without some silver lining, I think.”
There are also long term benefits which could emerge, such as ensuring the educational experience is tailored for international students to ensure they continue to seek out Australian providers.
“I wouldn’t like to say we’ve taken them for granted for the past 30 years while we’ve had a constant stream of international students coming into Australia, but we’ve had a pretty big scare about our reliance on them. This might mean that we treasure them a bit more, that we proactively look at what their unique needs might be, what experiences they might value be in order to make sure that they still find Australia attractive as a destination.”
Traditionally universities engage strictly in research and education, but a dynamic marketscape and evolving expectations have seen tertiary education providers explore new diversification strategies.
“There are many ways now universities can add value to society, to government and to innovation, by focussing on non-traditional research, by working with government and industry on bespoke research projects.”
Ms Colvin is currently working on policy reform and influencing the government which, she says, has often occurred as a by-product of traditional research but never focused on as a diversification strategy or a legitimate income stream.
Another diversification strategy, she explains, is “tailored education for student segments such as government employees or corporations who want their employees to have a specific kind of tailored education.
“For example, legal upskilling for people that have been working in management for many different years, not legally trained but they realise they need customised training in legal contracts or IP knowledge in order to progress their career. That kind of bespoke, tailored piece in both research and education I think is where universities need to explore.
“It’s harder work to do it but you can really leverage your institutions strengths in a way that taps into new networks that you really want to connect with. We can demonstrate our value to communities and to society in a flexible and considered manner”
Ms Colvin is speaking at the 2nd Annual University Strategic Planning & Resource Management Summit, being held in Melbourne from 27 – 28 May 2020. Her session will explore frameworks for identifying diversification & growth strategies aligned to institutional values & purpose.
The conference will also discuss the recent impact of COVID-19 and the business continuity strategies you need to have in place, how to develop a strategic vision that delivers university-wide transformation, and how technology can transform the customer journey in the university operating environment.