Flexible admissions could mitigate Covid-19 impact

Experts say institutions should allow students to delay start date and relax entry requirements

March 18, 2020
Source: Getty

Universities should focus on introducing more flexible admissions processes and strengthening their communications strategies to mitigate any potential damage from the coronavirus crisis, according to experts.

Vincenzo Raimo, chief relationship officer at global student housing provider Unilodgers and an expert on transnational education, said the universities that will “come out best are those that have traditionally been more flexible” around student enrolment.

“Lots of universities have a September and a January entry point, but the January enrolment is tiny for most institutions. Those universities that are used to managing a January entry…and have traditionally been a bit more flexible around start dates and ways of supporting students will fare better as this continues,” he said.

Mr Raimo added that universities should consider lowering English-language entry requirements and “think about how [they] can better support students with their English-language learning once they’re with us”.

“It’s not about lowering standards, which would be the accusation. It’s about taking good students who haven’t had the opportunity to meet those requirements and supporting them as best we can while they’re on their course to improve their study skills and English language,” he said.

John Brewer, chief executive officer of the Northern Consortium (NCUK), which provides preparation and pathway qualifications for prospective international students considering study in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, the US and Canada, said the organisation was looking to offer a more flexible solution for students and institutions.

Overseas students who pass NCUK’s foundation year qualification, and are therefore guaranteed a place at one of its partner universities, may be given an offer to study the first year of their degree remotely in their home country before relocating to their institution for the second and third years, he said.

Janet Ilieva, founder and director of international education consultancy Education Insight, said universities’ ability to “communicate well with students and parents” and to offer “reassuring messages” was of “critical importance”.

However, she stressed that the coronavirus was “a temporary phenomenon” and was unlikely to have a long-lasting impact on enrolment.

Meanwhile, several massive open online course (Mooc) providers have announced changes to help universities boost their online provision and limit disruption in the wake of the virus.

Last week, Coursera made its entire course catalogue free to universities worldwide, while edX launched its Remote Access Programme, which will provide students of its partner institutions with free access to courses and programmes from all edX partners participating in the initiative, not just their own institution.

Now, FutureLearn has rolled out a new feature, FutureLearn Campus, that allows universities to provide their own students and staff with unlimited access to online courses delivered through the platform, in addition to courses for the wider public as previously.

Justin Cooke, chief content and partnerships officer at FutureLearn, said the launch of the feature was brought forward rapidly in response to the jump in demand for online education since the coronavirus outbreak.

ellie.bothwell@timeshighereducation.com

POSTSCRIPT:

Print headline: Coronavirus: a ‘make or break’ moment for universities

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