Postgraduate education opportunities after Covid-19

Educational institutions already have to assume as a critical factor in their planning, that they are going to live for a long time with a virus that will subject us to twists and turns; they will also have to design entirely new business models so that training does not become a collective failure.

That is why we are going to reply today to Marguerite Dennis, who is an internationally recognized expert in recruiting, enrolling and retaining international students.

She has more than 25 years of consulting experience with colleges and universities in the United States and around the world.

She says things like: “Pandemics trigger a radical change in consumer behavior. What we are seeing now is a tightening of consumer spending, based on fear not only of another virus outbreak, but also fear of the negative economic impact of the virus in the future”.

We cannot agree more, since, for example, in Spain we have fallen by 18% of GDP in the first semester.

She is based on information from financial leader Goldman Sachs that predicts that the unemployment rate in the United States will reach 15% in the second quarter of this year.

She also adds that there are several economists who predict an unemployment rate close to 25%. She reminds us that in 1933, during the Great Depression in the United States, the unemployment rate was 24.9%.

But once this macro-level presentation is made, she goes to the point and refers to the interruption of higher education, which says it in a way that we share, as a social problem for everyone in each country.

Then she takes us even further into a bleak outlook, since she says: “what we know today is that higher education, both nationally and internationally, has been interrupted. Forecasts for the long shadow implications of COVID-19 range from a five-year to a six-month outage”.

And this is the drama, as we see it, because it shows the confusion that we are seeing in the defensive policies of world authorities (political leaders) in their respective countries against the most powerful common enemy of the last hundred years.

Dennis says the forecasts predict a 15% to 25% decline in enrollment, depending on where in the world the calculations are done. (It took higher education two years to recover from the impact of the SARS epidemic.)

Which, in addition to confirming what Dennis says, we share his concern, because this virus has focused on outdated financial models, rigid admissions and registration procedures, and appalling student progression and graduation rates.

We think Dennis is warning us that we are sleeping too much when we should have embarked on a change some time ago, especially in postgraduate education.

Although Dennis says (we share), that the virus will also have ended up providing opportunities for higher education after the dangers of COVID-19 pass or a vaccine is already in place that makes it safe to finally resume normal activities.

Marguerite Dennis applies an orthodox methodology in terms of detailing which are in her opinion the assumptions that we will have to face, and then referring to the opportunities.

As for the assumptions for her they are:

• Vision planning will coexist with and complement strategic planning.

• On-campus face-to-face instruction will not begin until the spring semester of 2021.

• Obsolete business models will be retired.

• Several colleges and universities around the world will be forced to close.

• Small, poorly endowed, private colleges and universities will merge with other institutions.

For this description that Marguerite Dennis has made, which we think is accurate, we are going to replicate them in a general way and expand the scope of each of them:

Regarding planning vision in which she affirms as assumption number 1 that it will coexist with strategic planning and that it should be complemented, we from the AEEN understand that the first thing that we should review is our (collective) mission of postgraduate teaching and adjust the vision to a new reality that we still do not know how it will be in, for example 8 months.

Therefore, we share this complementarity between vision and strategic planning, although with reservations, because it will be necessary to create new adjusted business models (this she says in one of the assumptions) not only to adapt to the scenarios that are going to be configured, but anticipatory of what we consider a true paradigm shift.

And this had already happened to us, as was, for example, the impact produced by the International Financial Crisis of 2008-2009 and the measures that had to be taken by the Banking on a global scale and the adjustments that this represented that even today we are suffering, for better or for worse.

In other words, the comparison is valid, because the international financial system had to be retouched at its roots, that is, international regulatory institutions.

If we take this to the educational system, both undergraduate and graduate training (being specialists in the latter), we will see that it will be necessary to coexist simultaneously, adjusting the educational institutions in the very short term to the directives and requirements to protect the health of the students. when the face-to-face  educational activity starts again.

At the same time, much more flexible and adaptive business models will have to be implemented, especially designed to facilitate entity concentration processes so that they are not only operational and profitable, but also sustainable over time.

In another of the cases, Dennis says that the private, small and poorly endowed colleges and universities will merge with other institutions, and here we have a doubt and at the same time a claim: we refer to what are the educational legal frameworks of each nation within of our European environment, to facilitate and not restrict that freedom of association.

This suggests another element to integrate into our analysis, that in order to avoid the closure and termination of a number of small and medium-sized educational institutions, as well as their teachers and management teams, a transition period of at least between seven and ten years, while the European Commission should be the support and pillar of this cause, consequently, it should be included within the European budgets for postgraduate education.

A transition program of this type has already been carried out that aimed to achieve the highest level of European competitiveness against Asia-Pacific and the United States plus Canada, for which the educational program that was established was very ambitious and endowed with significant resources for each one of the EU partners. That program was Knowledge Management.

It is clear that the European Union cannot continue to lose competitive positions in terms of productivity in all areas of the economy, for which it requires the maximum education and training of the new generations of university graduates who are starting postgraduate studies.

And our concern is that, given the tremendous impact that the world economy is suffering, in particular the European one, priorities very focused on the short term are established that do not contemplate that visión and strategic planning referred to.

Dennis raises what are the opportunities that arise from Covid-19

• Vision planning will complement strategic planning.

• The academic year will last 12 months and will combine the best of in-person and online learning and contribute to improved progression and graduation rates.

• Recruiting activities throughout the year will allow applicants greater flexibility in selecting and enrolling colleges and universities.

• New business models and financing options will bring stability to the “bottom line”.

• All members of the academy will accept collaboration, not competition.

Therefore, Dennis argues that each institution should create a vision statement for their institution. What does it mean?

That it becomes a plausible statement of intent and is fundamentally different from a mission statement, which is a description of the path to follow to realize the vision. Vision statements require thinking from the bottom up.

In his book Start With Why, Simon Sinek urges businesses and organizations to create a “differentiating value proposition.” He asks the questions: “What do you do, why do you do it, and what do you do that no one else can do?”

If we take it to the university and graduate level, we would have the following questions:

– Why should an applicant enroll in a certain university or a certain business school?

– What are we doing better or different from other universities and / or similar business schools within our environment?

– What tools have we introduced and what business model have we adjusted to compete outside our environment, that is, in the European and / or world market?

– What do we know we do better than any other university or business school?

– How will our institution “look” after COVID-19 takes a back seat?

– What is the vision for our future students?

– How is this vision different from the current one?

Dennis rightly points out that when it comes to opportunities, create a one-year academic program that combines the best of in-person and online learning.

One interesting piece of information within the US market is that in an April 2020 survey report published by the American Association of Chartered Registrars and Admissions Officers, 58% of 262 colleges and universities surveyed were considering or have decided to remain fully in line during the Fall 2020 semester and 62% are considering decreasing, or have decreased, the number of face-to-face courses for Fall 2020.

Dennis believes, and so do we, that COVID-19 may hasten the end of the traditional semester-based system for college registration, progression, and graduation because Gen Z students are used to being online all the time. This clearly has implications for graduate education.

Hence, Dennis insists that we must insist on a third opportunity which consists in creating one-year recruitment programs for national and international students.

Together with her we also ask ourselves the following questions:

– What would your university and / or business school look like if its hiring and admissions policies and procedures were changed to reflect the realities of the post-pandemic world?

– Would your recruitment teams continue to travel nationally and internationally to attract students to your school?

– Would you pay agents to recruit for you around the world in the hope that they can replace international students who returned home during the spring semester of 2020 and do not plan to return for the fall semester?

Dennis argues that the answers to these questions are unlikely to be yes. If the academic year is restructured, the hiring year must also be restructured.

Antonio Alonso, president of the AEEN (Spanish Business School Association) and general secretary of EUPHE (European Union of Private Higher Education).