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More than a year into the COVID pandemic, the bigger than expected financial impact is starting to take its toll on both businesses and individuals. Universities and colleges have not been spared. While many institutions were able to adapt by moving tuition online, they still lost billions in revenue. In addition, the cost of tuition has been higher than expected and students are affected by job losses due to the economic downturn requiring increased financial aid.

To curb these costs and bolster budgets, many institutions hurried to open their doors to students for in-person lectures, but not without cost. On-campus COVID-19 testing and treatment facilities come at a steep cost, making many people question whether the return to on-campus learning is the best financial option when the end of the pandemic is still uncertain.

In lieu of this, many institutions have chosen to instead invest in digital in-person learning to survive the financial fallout of COVID-19. This includes the building of new, or expanding existing infrastructure, with faster, more robust networks, specialist training for staff, and embracing new technologies such as online testing. 

The cost of implementing these measures may place a further burden on already cash-strapped institutions, it’s an inevitable investment that may pay dividends in the long run. The COVID-19 pandemic in its current form will not carry on forever, but the digital revolution will. The pandemic simply accelerated the inevitable pivot to digital. More than that, it has forced institutions to not only implement these measures but to streamline it: 

WHY INVEST IN DIGITAL

According to the International Data Corporation (IDC) investment in digital transformation will grow by more than 15.5% year-on-year to nearly $7 trillion by 2023. In fact, they predict that 70% of all organizations around the world will have accelerated their use of digital technologies to drive productivity and customer engagement and improve resilience. This massive drive towards digital bears testament to the critical role that digital transformation will continue to play in not only business growth, but business survival!

It’s no different for educational institutions, if not more so. Investing in state-of-the-art, future-proof infrastructure can be extremely costly, but once up and running, the benefits of a fully digital-focussed learning environment can provide returns on investment that far exceeds the initial capital outlay. The more the system is used, the more processes can get streamlined, resulting in even greater returns.

ENROlLMENT & RETENTION OPPORTUNITIES

The closing of college and university campuses during the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in the loss of many revenue streams for tertiary institutions, including previously ‘consistent’ income like student room and board, but also state funding that has been re-directed towards COVID-related efforts. 

But it’s not all doom and gloom, as many universities and colleges have been quick to take advantage of other revenue-generating opportunities. Remote learning allows universities to enroll more students than they can accommodate on their physical campus, and New York’s Cornell University used this opportunity to attract more than 17,000 additional students by dropping their requirement of standardized test scores during the pandemic thereby significantly increasing revenue opportunities. 

One of the major opportunities for learning institutions during the pandemic is the increase in interest in learning, especially short courses, from predominantly adults concerned with re- and up-skilling to become more relevant and marketable in a strained job market. With a robust and streamlined digital infrastructure in place, institutions can take full advantage of these opportunities.

But it’s not just about attracting students, retaining students is a big concern and critical in maintaining a steady revenue stream. This means that the more students that graduate, the more money the university or college makes throughout the students’ learning careers. Institutions can boost graduation rates by offering targeted online remedial programs that are easily accessible.

STREAMLINING SERVICES

One of the major advantages digital solutions is the flexibility it provides in addressing diverse needs. The mistake many institutions make is to want to implement solutions that cater to every need resulting in vast overspending and a system that might not be very streamlined. An institution needs to identify the core tools and services that best cater to the needs of their academic focus, and implement a single, streamlined solution. This eliminates under-utilized and potentially redundant services that might slow down the system, degrade the user experience and make it more difficult for an institution to mine data to identify future trends and opportunities. 

THE MOVE TOWARDS SUSTAINABILITY

Sustainability is a huge priority for educational institutions around the world. By going digital, universities and colleges can save on things like energy consumption to maintain buildings and property, and also a decrease in the printing of exam papers and other administrative documents. And with fewer students on campus, the direct environmental impact is also reduced.

SUPPLEMENTARY TECHNOLOGIES

Tablet and laptop computers have all but replaced paper at universities and colleges. But it’s not just about replacing paper, these devices can provide powerful support for lectures and assignments, and can even be used for test and examination purposes. However, some students might not be able to afford these devices. Because of this, many institutions provide their students with free devices as part of course fees. While the upfront cost of the supply and maintenance of these devices can be quite high, structuring lectures to employ these digital resources can quickly offset the initial financial outlay.

BETTER TIME MANAGEMENT

In the past, staff at universities and colleges spent a lot of time doing administrative tasks such as setting tests and exams, preparing these for printing, drawing up student and lecture rosters, managing student grades, and the like.And while some of these tasks have been automated in the past, the majority of them required inefficient use of time, time which could’ve been spent on developing better learning materials and assisting students. By employing fully digital solutions, processes can be streamlined significantly, thereby reducing workload and allowing staff to focus their time where they are needed most. 

 

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on everyone and forces us to readjust our view of ‘normal’. But with the challenges also came new opportunities. The effects of the pandemic, such as lockdowns and restrictions on physical movement, served as a catalyst for a true digital revolution where individuals and businesses have been forced to embraced technology like never before. Contrary to what many may think, one of the biggest winners of this revolution has been educational institutions. Digital systems have brought learning institutions well and truly into the 21st century and are ready for all the opportunities the future might bring