Times Higher Education’s most read articles of 2020

With just a few notable exceptions, it’s no surprise to find that this year’s most popular stories were dominated by one particular topic

December 29, 2020
Goodbye 2020 coronavirus mask
Source: iStock

When producing an end-of-year list such as this, there would usually be a variety of topics and talking points to reflect on and chew over. The ebbs and flows of the year would usually fade in and out of memory depending on one’s perspective and areas of interest. But this year, as we are all painfully aware, was very different indeed.

It is no surprise to find that most of our most read stories of 2020 were Covid-related – not least because it dominated THE’s (and the world’s) news agenda as pervasively as it dominated our lives. From a high-profile lack of compassion from the Australian prime minister to a number of pieces speculating on what the coronavirus might mean for higher education, it was a strong year for THE’s news section, with the usual opinion pieces that garner so much interest pushed largely out of the top 15.

15. Covid-19: universities treating staff in ‘vastly different ways’

With jobs looking precarious even just one month into the pandemic, back in April we reported on how some institutions had made serious efforts to protect staff welfare during the crisis, while others had implemented – or said they planned to implement – job and pay cuts.


14. Most prospective overseas students ‘not shifting plans’

Also in April, we revealed how research at that time was indicating that the majority of prospective international students had not yet changed their study plans because of the coronavirus outbreak. As we write in December, however, new figures suggest that a group of English universities is forecasting drops of almost half a billion pounds in income from overseas students this year.


13. ‘Step up’ for foreign students, Australian government urged

The first of many Covid-related stories from Australia in our list, this article came hot on the heels of our most read piece of the year and explained how Australia’s international education lobby was pressing for government support after Prime Minister Scott Morrison infamously said that international students in financial difficulty should leave the country.

12. German humanities scholars enlisted to end coronavirus lockdown

“Following the science” became one of the phrases of the year in 2020, but over in Germany it became apparent they were doing things a little differently, when it emerged that philosophers, historians, theologians and jurists had been playing a major role in advising the state as it began to ponder loosening restrictions.


11. Pandemic to redistribute international student flows: report

With the battle for overseas derrieres and dollars likely to rage more fiercely than ever in the wake of the pandemic, it was speculated in June that international education success stories Canada, Australia and New Zealand could look forward to a foreign enrolment windfall as they brushed off Covid’s effects quicker than heavyweights the US and UK.


10. Australia maintains coronavirus travel ban

This news story from way back in February makes fascinating reading given what was to come, betraying, as it did, some of the panic being felt across the sector, as we revealed that a shocking (at the time) coronavirus-related travel ban would remain in place and continue to jeopardise Australian international education.

9. What might Covid-19 mean for the future of Harvard and Stanford?

This wide-ranging interview with Miguel Urquiola of Columbia University covered controversial ground such as the importance of inequality to the US college system, but it quickly alighted on the topic du jour, when he predicted that even a significant economic downturn would be unlikely to put students off paying high fees to attend massively oversubscribed universities such as Harvard or Princeton.


8. Universities ‘may have to close’ to prevent spread of coronavirus

Another piece that now seems endearingly naïve given the mayhem that has come to pass in just nine months since, but back in March, there was great interest in the fact that “Western universities should be prepared for the possibility that they may need to close their campuses to help limit the spread of the novel coronavirus”. Possibility? “Novel” coronavirus? How times have changed.


7. Australia set to ease virus visa hardship for foreign students

More from Australia, and more from the race for overseas students, in this piece that revealed how the Australian government was allegedly planning to announce new visa arrangements the following week as it tried to match up its rules with those in competitor countries.

6. Mark Griffiths: the professor who publishes a paper every two days

Ten stories in, and we finally reach our first non-Covid article in the list. An interview with “the UK’s most prolific psychologist”, Mark Griffiths, captured many an imagination, as readers sought to get to the bottom of how he had published 161 times in 2020 by mid-October and racked up an unbelievable 50,000 citations in the past five years alone.


5. Will the coronavirus make online education go viral?

Yes. That is the short answer to the question posed in this article’s headline. The immense challenge of shifting online has rarely been far from the higher education headlines ever since this piece went live in early March. The article described how China, “the world’s largest higher education system, has been thrust into an e-learning experiment of unprecedented scale and scope”. The rest of us wouldn’t be far behind.


4. EU students lose home status and loan access in England from 2021

In any normal year, a political upheaval as controversial and transformative as Brexit would have dominated the news – but in 2020 it barely registered. The fairly seismic news, however, that from 2021, students from the EU would no longer be eligible for home fee status and student loans in England, did get enough traction to make fourth on our list.


3. Why the UK must implement an integrated study visa

We’ve got just enough space for one more non-Covid story before normal 2020 service is resumed. This time, it was the turn of the great on-again, off-again romance that is UK study visas to steal the limelight, with James Pitman of Study Group making the case for a streamlined, integrated study visa to both maximise international student recruitment and alleviate some pressure on the Home Office.


2. Covid-19 could be a curse for graduates but a boon for universities

In this year like no other, everyone was left scratching around for even the most meagre crumbs of good news – and Nick Hillman of the Higher Education Policy Institute offered his own silver lining with this piece speculating that the incoming, Covid-induced recession might at least result in more school-leavers choosing higher education and, eventually, a more highly skilled workforce.


1. ‘Time to go home’, Australian PM tells foreign students

Our most-read article of 2020 – by quite a distance – involved some spectacularly unsympathetic leadership by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Australian education leaders (and, it appears, our readers) looked on aghast as the country’s premier told the country’s overseas students to “make your way home” and announced that “they’re obviously not held here compulsorily…Our focus and our priority is on supporting Australians.”

to read this article.

Register to continue

Get a month's unlimited access to THE content online. Just register and complete your career summary.

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments

Related articles