04 May 2021
5 ways COVID-19 transformed higher education

The Higher Education sector was not nearly prepared for the effects of a global pandemic. Like the rest of the world, higher ed had to pivot, change, shift and navigate through the uncertainty that came with Covid-19. Not only did it have to cater to the urgent needs of its current students but the needs of its staff as well as its prospective students. A digital approach was urgent, necessary, and initially challenging. However once executed successfully it was an eye-opener and perhaps an involuntary, but much-needed shakeup. 

Once the challenges were overcome and the sector adapted to a digital-first approach, it became clear that the changes were welcome. And despite the negative criticism initially endured, it was evident that higher education had seen a positive shift in its traditional methods of educating and recruiting. 

We take a look at 5 of the positives from the pandemic that transformed higher education for years to come. 

The advantage for the disadvantaged

Virtual events and peer-to-peer platforms gave students from disadvantaged backgrounds the opportunity to access information and speak to staff and students from multiple universities. It meant they were able to attend various events and open days without having to think about the costs of paying for travel. 

A study by our partners UCAS shows ‘a record 28,030 18-year-olds from the most disadvantaged backgrounds across the UK have been accepted into university – up 8% on the equivalent point last year.’ Highlighting an increase in students from disadvantaged backgrounds attending university in 2020. 

The increase may be due to the fact that having access to a wide range of information online meant students didn’t have to attend universities in person. It meant they had access to all the information they needed without thinking about travel arrangements or being away from home. Prospective students that support their parents in caring for an elderly relative or young siblings, would have seen this as a huge benefit. 

Confidence for the less confident

As the pandemic got worse, so did our mental health and students were some of the most affected. Anxiety was at an all-time high and therefore having access to peer-to-peer recruitment strategies allowed for information to be easily accessible online. It meant prospective students were able to ask staff questions and gain all the insight into the universities they wanted without fear of leaving their house and exposing themselves or their parents to the virus. 

It was also a benefit for students who normally deal with mental health issues such as social anxiety as they may have felt more comfortable speaking up during a virtual open day, have the confidence to ask questions, and find out more about the university without feeling stressed or anxious. 

Improved skills via e-learning

E-learning was a brand new concept for many students. Traditional methods of learning have always taken preference and therefore students were unfamiliar with the approach. By giving them the opportunity to take all lectures online, they were able to learn independently, at their own pace, and in their own comfortable environments without the distractions of a busy lecture room. Thus creating an autonomous learning approach and a more proactive student. 

It also supports all the different types of personalities that may be affected by in-person learning. For example, introverted students may feel a lot more confident in asking questions and speaking to their peers. While those dealing with health/personal issues may feel less pressure than when being in a lecture room and have a more pleasant learning experience. 

An incentive for International Student Recruitment

International student recruitment suffered a great deal throughout the pandemic. However, with access to virtual open days and much more information online than ever before, they had a better experience and outlook on their institution choices. With the increase of universities adopting peer-to-peer they were able to speak to more students and staff across different institutions than they normally would have been able to.  

The fact that open days and events became much more reachable and sophisticated by adapting an online strategy, gave international students a better opportunity to get informed on courses, university culture, and current students and staff. It also gave them the chance to consider other options, such as overseas universities that were closer to home than perhaps those they would have originally considered. 

An improved student experience via Ed-tech

One of the most beneficial effects of Covid-19 on the higher education sector may have been the emphasis that was placed on Ed-tech. If there was ever a time we saw a fast forward in the use of education technology it was in 2020. Traditional methods of education and recruitment were challenged and those making the decisions were prompted to think fast, outside the box, and come up with resourceful solutions to a global problem. Initiatives that had previously been in the pipeline, were forced to fast forward, providing an updated digital approach to the higher ed sector. 

Overall, we’re pleased to note that despite the initial panic, there were many positives in the way higher education and student recruitment adapted during the pandemic. Demand for higher education increased, with a record of ‘515,650 students with a confirmed place – up 4% on 2019’ as suggested by UCAS.

We look forward to continuing to support you in navigating the new normal and adapt to a hybrid approach to education and recruitment. Register for our upcoming webinar The New Normal: a recruitment revolution to learn more.

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