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COVID-19: The end or revival of international higher education?

Panelists said higher education institutions need to rethink and reinvent higher education

Berkeley Conversations
A panel of experts discussed the future of international higher education on Thursday. (UC Berkeley video)

Recent years have witnessed a rise in the level of nationalism in many countries with tightened immigration policies and stronger governmental oversight of multinational research collaborations. At the same time, competition among countries and universities for international students has increased significantly, while the demographics of young populations in many countries are shifting.

Now, the onset of a historic global pandemic, with its serious travel challenges and dramatic economic effects, raises yet another threat to the future of internationalization on U.S. campuses.

So, how can universities develop new policies and practices that respond to both the problems and the opportunities resulting from this unprecedented crisis?

That was the question three scholars of higher education examined Thursday, as part of a live online conversation sponsored by UC Berkeley’s Center for Studies of Higher Education (CSHE).

The panelists discussed other large-scale crises that disrupted society and impacted higher education, including 9/11, the Asian currency crisis of 1997 and the 2008 recession.

While all those major events negatively affected higher education, they also prompted changes that remade how the world considered higher education.

The same could be true for COVID-19, the group agreed. Panelists from UC Berkeley included Igor Chirikov, a senior researcher at CSHE and Margaret Heisel, a CSHE senior associate.

The other panelists were Tim O’Brien, a senior vice president with INTO University Partnerships, which specializes in setting up joint ventures between universities; Rajika Bhandari, head of the IC3 Institute, a volunteer organization that provides support to high schools around the world, and Hans de Wit, director of the Center for International Higher Education at Boston College.

“Driven by growth in middle classes in developing countries in Asia and Africa, the demand for higher education is set to increase from 160 million students in 2015 to over 414 million by 2030, according to UNESCO,” O’Brien said.

Panelists also said higher education institutions need to rethink and reinvent higher education.

“Universities need to rethink the value proposition of international experience, particularly how it prepares students for the workforce,” Bhandari said, adding that she foresees high levels of competition to enroll the world’s brightest youth, making improvements in education all the more important.

Panelists also discussed the question of whether online education can be developed to seriously compete with in-person education. Greater development of pedagogy and technological tools will be required in order to compete with in-person learning.

“Making such changes quickly is a guarantee of low quality,” de Wit said. “And quality drops further when many students are lacking sufficient equipment.”

Berkeley Conversations: COVID-19 is a series of live, online events feature faculty experts from across the UC Berkeley campus who are sharing what they know, and what they are learning, about the pandemic. All conversations are recorded and available for viewing at any time on the Berkeley Conversations website.