The impact of the pandemic on the education sector as a whole has been profound. Whether it be school, colleges or universities, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced education authorities to adapt and improvise existing teaching pedagogies to better suit the imposed lockdowns and safety measures. With online learning becoming the new norm, schools and universities in most countries have adapted pretty well. However, this does not mean that all is well. There have been constant fears of school and university closures, as students defer their study plans, or drop out, or choose to avoid study abroad. These worrying trends have meant smaller expected revenues for universities.
However, a new report by the independent regulator of higher education in England called the Office for Students, which analyses financial data submitted by higher education (HE) providers have found that financial failures causing forced closures among universities have become a lower risk.
Surprisingly, most higher education providers have forecasted that although revenue generation from international students will take a dip in 2020/21, it will still be higher than previous levels in 2018/19. The report noted,” “Fee income from overseas students remains an important part of the financial model of the higher education sector in England”.
These surprisingly strong results may be due to HE providers handling their costs well, and controlling unnecessary expenditures. Moreover, a rising trend has also been seen in the number of international student enrolments, especially in the UK, in accordance to the new student and graduate visa regimes, which have made it considerably easy to work and reside in the UK.
Chief executive of the Office for Students, Nicola Dandridge said, “There are many reasons for this relatively positive picture. Universities entered the pandemic in reasonably robust shape. England continues to be a popular destination for international students. And universities have been able to access significant support from the government, including via access to government-backed loans. All of this means that English higher education finds itself in reasonable financial shape, and the grave predictions of dozens of university closures have not materialised.”
The report also acknowledges some areas of concern, “Issues that could impact on income include higher numbers of students dropping out, reduced income from accommodation and conference facilities or impact of COVID-19 restrictions.” Among these concerns, one major concern that still remains is the impact of the Brexit process, which is currently under the final stages of completion. The report comments,” 2020-21 is the final year that EU students can enter English higher education providers on the same fee and financial support terms as UK students. Aggregate EU tuition fee income has gradually declined since the 2016 referendum and in the run up to the UK’s exit from the EU. The detail of the UK’s future relationship with the EU will also have currently uncertain implications for other EU-related activities of the English higher education sector.”
Ms Dandridge also added, “There are a number of uncertainties which will continue to affect finances both now and into the future, not least the fact that it is still not clear what the overall impact of the pandemic will be. Where universities have immediate concerns about their finances, they must let us know straight away. The OfS will work constructively with any university in financial difficulties, with our overarching priority being to protect the interests of students. At this point in time, though, we believe that the likelihood of significant numbers of universities or other higher education providers failing is low.”