When the Black Plague struck the world, it forced the heads of medieval European universities from Oxford to Padua to close down their institutions. What ensued was a drop in the quantity and quality of enrolment – the driving force behind any educational institute.
Fast forward to today, and the world has been hit by yet another pandemic – COVID-19. Universities all over the world are trying to deal with the short term disruption caused by this virus. Shutting down campuses, maintaining staff and student welfare, and adapting to teaching and exams conducted online are just some problems that have flummoxed university honchos.
But this pandemic isn’t the first problem faced by the education sector. Educational institutes have been in dire straits long before the world was hit by Coronavirus. Vincent Price, president of Duke University in the US, explains, “Even before we were confronted by Coronavirus, higher education was under notable pressures calling for decisions with far-reaching impacts. There will be institutions that were already struggling, which will find it a burden too heavy to bear.”
However, the full wrath of this virus is being faced by large market-oriented university systems in the US, UK, Australia and Canada. Universities in these countries have raised tuition fees and borrowed heavily to invest in things such as sporting facilities and accommodation for students. With a dwindling number of students now enrolling for higher studies, the future looks grim for higher education all over the world.
Prestigious universities are starting to lose their sheen thanks to lower research funding. Research is a vital business avenue for universities as it is the reputation that contributes to the international rankings, which help attract students and academics alike. With both student tuition fees and research funding below many institutions’ operating costs, universities are finding it harder to breathe.
Recently, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and many other US universities announced that they were moving all their undergraduate and graduate classes online. Several universities have even asked students to vacate the campuses until further notice. Suddenly, students, especially those who have taken loans and work part-time on campus to sustain themselves, have been left in the cold. Their only options are to find student accommodation outside campuses, which can be expensive, to stay back or return to their home country.
We, as student accommodation providers, are working around the clock to ensure displaced students have a safe place to stay at the cheapest rates possible.
Sayantan Biswas, co-founder of UniAcco, says, “The pandemic is not something we foresaw, but we did take assertive actions accordingly. We’ve put in place several flexible COVID-19 cancellation policies as well as other preemptive measures to ensure the safety of students when they move-in.”
Overseas students are crucial to many universities as they are a source of major revenue. To put things into perspective, Universities UK, the body that represents British higher education, has warned universities in the UK of a potential drop in revenue to the tune of £7 billion, that makes up a third of all tuition fees from international students.
Martin Parkinson, Chancellor of Macquarie University and formerly Australia’s top civil servant, says, “You might find that the growth in foreign students slows significantly because no one actually wants to leave home. At the end of this process, universities are going to have to rethink their business models.”
It’s not just the shape of the institutions that need to be changed but also the content of higher education. Leon Botstein, president of Bard College, a liberal arts institution in New York, explains, “The transformations brought about by Coronavirus could increase demand for higher education in general and for both the humanities and applied subjects such as healthcare”.
The good news, however, is that most international students whose university plans have been hampered, have chosen to defer their plan as opposed to cancelling it. This fact reinvigorates the potential of the Purpose Built Student Accommodation sector. We, at UniAcco, remain committed to becoming the world’s leading one-stop-shop for student accommodation booking.
If you think the education sector on its last leg, think again. If history is anything to go by, after the Black Plague, students at Cambridge switched their gaze from theology to more applied subjects such as medicine. The silver lining is that universities will eventually return to normal. Historically when universities have come through grave problems, it is because they have adapted to changes around them. This is the only way forward for the education sector.
Adapt. Overcome. Succeed.