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Universities must improve ‘value proposition’ amid pandemic

Image: Rawpixel, via Shutterstock

OECD warns online courses could be seen as less attractive to international students

Universities must find a way to appeal to lucrative international students despite the switch to online learning, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has warned.

According to the OECD’s annual Education at a Glance report, published 8 September, the coronavirus crisis “raises questions about the value offered by a university education”, as the rapid move to online learning could weaken opportunities for networking and socialising.

In the report, OECD director for education and skills Andreas Schleicher said the pandemic had “exposed the value proposition of universities” and that students “are unlikely to commit large amounts of time and money to consume online content”.

“Students go to universities to meet great people, have inspiring conversations with faculty, collaborate with researchers in the laboratory and experience the social life on campus,” Schleicher said, adding that students “are already demanding a partial refund of their tuition fees” in many countries.

“Faced with these challenges, higher education institutions will need to develop a new value proposition that reassesses the quality of learning and delivery mechanisms in the classroom, and that addresses the needs of an international student population that may be less willing to cross borders for the sole purpose of study,” he said.

Schleicher explained that the pandemic made it harder for international students to travel abroad and had “severely compromised” enrolments, which will “cut into universities’ bottom line” and affect “not only their core education services, but also the financial support they provide domestic students, as well as research and development activities”.

“A decrease in the share of international students may, in turn, have severe repercussions on the funding model of some higher education institutions where international students pay higher tuition fees than domestic ones,” he said, explaining that countries including the UK “rely heavily on international students paying differentiated fees will suffer the greatest losses”.

The OECD ranked the UK fourth behind Luxembourg, Australia and New Zealand for reliance on international students, with just under 20 per cent of all UK students coming from outside the UK.